Our Community - Easter - "A Religious Celebration"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 11            March 21, 2002

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The Holy Procession

Easter is a time of the year celebrated by people throughout the world. Although the methods of celebrating vary in different countries and cultures, what is common in each is the religious observance. In San Pedro, Easter is considered the most holy time of the year.

    Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season for Catholics on the island and is their time of preparation to receive Jesus Christ. Many observe this period as a time of abstinence, a time of sacrifice (either by fasting or giving up something one enjoys), and a time to make acts of charity. Every Friday during Lent, children and adults congregate at the Roman Catholic Church to re-enact the Stations of the Cross (Christ's journey to Mount Calvary where he was crucified).

    The Sunday before the resurrection of Jesus Christ is observed as Palm Sunday. This is the day when Jesus Christ triumphantly entered into Jerusalem and was welcomed with palm leaves placed as a pathway for him to walk through on. To commemorate this day, pieces of palm are blessed and handed out to Catholic congregations who make crosses out of them. A procession around the church is also performed. The Thursday before Easter Sunday is known as Holy Thursday and a very symbolic mass is held. Twelve members of the community participate in the "Washing of Feet" ceremony in commemoration of The Last Supper. As the ceremony implies, the priest washes the participants' feet as Christ did during The Last Supper. After the ceremony, an all-night vigil is observed at the church so it is not abandoned, as a symbol of the followers accompanying Jesus Christ when he was taken prisoner.

    Good Friday is one of the most religious days observed in San Pedro. In days gone by, families would remain at home and prepare for the religious services. Children, in particular, were urged to stay home, asked not to argue or fight with their siblings and were even discouraged from swimming in the sea. It was the belief of their ancestors that something tragic would happen to those who disobeyed or behaved "rudely" on Good Friday. The common myth used to discourage the children from going to swim was that they would turn into mermaids/mermen. This practice seemed to work as the village was transformed into a "ghost town" on this specific day. 

    At midday on Good Friday, the "Celebration of the Seven Words" would commence. This is a two and a half hour service concentrating on readings of the seven times Christ spoke before he died. This is followed by a Eucharistic Service and the Adoration of the Cross before the Holy Procession begins at about 5:30 p.m. The Holy Procession was and still is the largest annual procession held in San Pedro. The entire congregation is divided into groups led first by children and followed by teenage girls, women and lastly, the men. The young ladies take turns carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary while the men carry a casket (symbolizing the death of Christ) as hymns and prayers are chanted throughout the main streets of town.

    On Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil Mass is held in the evening. This, too, is very symbolic as a bonfire is lit outside the church from where the Cirio Pascual (Easter Candle) is lit and taken inside the church. The lights inside the church are shut off and the Easter Candle is used to light the individual candles of those that gather inside. Water is also blessed and all the Catholic followers renew their baptismal vows.

    On Easter Sunday, Catholics rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by attending mass either in English in the morning or Spanish in the evening. The celebration continues on Easter Monday as other services are held.

    Although during the Easter holidays, the locals welcome the many visitors from Belize and abroad who come here to enjoy their vacation, to the religious people of San Pedro, this period has a different meaning. It is the time when they proclaim their faith and a time when they strengthen their ties with God. Easter is indeed an important celebration in the lives of all the faithful in "Our Community."

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