Crowded streets, churches attest that Holy Week and Easter have never been more alive in this El Salvador city

SOYAPANGO, El Salvador — The Easter Bunny doesn’t live here. There are no egg hunts, no large bags of candy for sale or Easter baskets or bonnets in these crowded streets. But there are crowded churches and the advent of Easter has never been more alive.

Good Friday crowd in Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Crowd gathers on Good Friday in Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

In El Salvador, which means “The Savior” in Spanish, and which is named after Christ, Holy Week leading up to the Easter Vigil, the big event here, is bigger than Christmas, New Year’s and Easter combined.

In Soyapango, people take most, if not the entire week off of work, and attend about 30 different public acts.

“It’s not a family holiday in the sense that people don’t spend their time around a table with food,” said Father Estefan Turcios Carpaño, the parish priest at San Antonio Parish in Soyapango, the third largest municipality in the country with about 290,000 predominantly Catholic residents.

Parishioners spend their time at a different table, the table of the Lord, he said.

Lines for those waiting for the sacrament of reconciliation have been long, leaving many to wait an hour or two, or longer, for confession. On Thursday, the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador ran out of hosts for those who attended the chrism Mass in the capital nearby.

It’s hard to move through the streets because they’re swollen with the faithful participating in the religious processions, and even the smaller events, such as the re-enactment of Jesus in the olive grove. There are crosses everywhere, reminders of how special this time is, even inside the small sauna of a nearby holistic center.

Women stand in line for Good Friday services  Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Women stand in line for Good Friday services Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

San Antonio can only accommodate about 2,000 to 3,000 at a time in the main church. While it would be enviable to any pastor, the parish faces a problem of physical space.

The church swells so much during Holy Week that Father Turcios has had to employ the help of other priests to celebrate Mass and Holy Week events in separate events in nearby neighborhoods, to stave off people from the main church.

He has found a way to broadcast parts of the celebration on a Facebook page, so that everyone will be comfortable and able to listen and reflect during this important holiday.

Helen Girón, 27, was born and grew up in the United States, until her family moved from Texas to El Salvador about a decade ago. Back in Texas, the celebrations focused on one day, Easter Sunday, she said. And it always felt a bit more focused on the material, on what Easter accoutrements could be bought and sold in the stores, she said.

“Here, it’s about building community,” she said. “This tradition helps us become more united.”

Another scene of crowded streets on Good Friday. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Another scene of the crowded streets on this Good Friday. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Father Turcios quotes Pope Francis to illustrate the fervor behind his parishioners: “No one is saved by himself.” We are saved, he said, as “a community of believers.”

It might be uncomfortable at times, said Irma Vargas, one of parishioners, about the elbow to elbow space inside and outside, but the music, the liturgy, the excitement of so many people is “like rainwater that gives life to a plant,” she said.

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Guidos is an editor at Catholic News Service. For more photos of Holy Week in El Salvador, follow her on Twitter @Catholic_Editor.

 

In Argentina, a different kind of Francis bump

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The San Lorenzo soccer club stumbled toward the final of its Argentine season in December. It drew its final match, but the other clubs finished in such a way that San Lorenzo won its 12th first-division soccer title.

Some fans found the outcome improbable and credited a figure far from the field: Pope Francis, whose election has coincided with the climbing fortunes of his favorite soccer franchise, Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Pope Francis holds a jersey of Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis holds a San Lorenzo jersey during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“It was a miracle from Francisco,” said Juan Carlos Pais, a lifelong fan from suburban Buenos Aires.

San Lorenzo has lived misery and miracles since being founded in 1908, at least according to fans, who speak painfully of losing their stadium in the 1970s during the military dictatorship. The club is one of the five giants of Argentine soccer and has won more titles than most.

But the election of Pope Francis has allowed San Lorenzo to stand out among Argentine teams and move somewhat out of the shadow of the better-known clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors. It now attracts international interest, and fans feel as if the pontiff intervenes on their behalf.

“The fan base believes that Francis brings luck,” said sports writer Pablo Calvo, author of the book, “Dios es Cuervo,” on San Lorenzo and its origins. “They became champions with his arrival.”

The club makes no secret of its unofficial affiliation with Pope Francis — to the point it put the pontiff’s picture on special edition jerseys shortly after his March 13, 2013, election. Putting religious images on jerseys is a no-no, Calvo says, but the club currently has a halo hanging over the logo on its red-and-blue striped kit.

Pope Francis, who used to listen to matches via the radio, has made no secret of his affection for San Lorenzo. He even played basketball with the San Lorenzo team in his youth.

In December, the pope welcomed club directors and players to the Vatican, where they presented him a jersey and brought the championship trophy.

San Lorenzo put the pope's name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

San Lorenzo put the pope’s name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Religion runs through the history of San Lorenzo, even though its fans are from all faiths. The club traces its origins to a parish priest, Father Lorenzo Massa, who provided kids with a place to play soccer. The team is known as “the Crows,” a nickname for priests in Argentina.

Actor Viggo Mortenson, another San Lorenzo fan, funded construction of a chapel, named for Father Massa, near the team’s stadium, the El Nuevo Gasometro.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis celebrated services at the chapel. He also celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of San Lorenzo in 2008, after which he bought a membership in the member-owned and operated team.

“It’s an Argentine version of the Green Bay Packers,” says pollster Sergio Berensztein, director of Poliarquia Consultores in Buenos Aires.

The conclave guessing game: lessons from a numbers geek

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals from around the world in the Sistine Chapel March 12, 2013, as they began the conclave to elect a new pope. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — A year-ago today, as the world’s cardinals solemnly filed into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, news outlets, blogs and betting sites were abuzz with papal prognostications.

I wanted to take an informal stab at it myself using some tips from the U.S. statistician, Nate Silver, who had correctly predicted the outcome of the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

I thought it’d be a fun experiment to apply some of the approaches he had outlined in his book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t.”

Here’s what I looked at in the few days before the conclave:

  • What were the challenges facing the world and the church in 1978 and 2005?
  • What “winning” qualities did Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — the men who were elected those years — possess?

From there, I drafted a rough list of what church leaders and others were saying in 2013 about the pressing challenges.

Here are just a few examples:

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Shut off from the outside world, cardinals from around the world cast ballots to elect a new pontiff in a conclave that began March 12, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

  • Religious freedom, oppression in parts of Asia; persecution and violence in the Middle East and Africa; infringements in the western world.
  • Secularism and globalization.
  • Latin America losing Catholics, Asia growing.
  • Church needing to be “attractive,” new evangelization and need to be “outspoken.”
  • Making Jesus the center of liturgy, lives, prayer.
  • Problem of sex abuse.
  • Catechism and solid foundations of faith.
  • Attention to young people.
  • Orthodoxy, importance of Catholic identity for universities, charities.
  • Lapsed Catholics; family; sacraments.
  • Vocations.

Then I scribbled down some of the winning qualities that people were looking for and would be needed to face the challenges:

  • A spiritual leader (strong prayer life).
  • Energy, strength to travel; but how young/old is too young/old?
  • Can clean up Curia/problems that make church look bad.
  • Makes faith attractive.
  • Smart; simple, clear communication.
  • Honest, down-to-earth.
  • See young people as important.
  • Represents the message the church wants to send the world.
  • From Asia, Latin America, Africa.
  • Charismatic; humble; multilingual.
Cardinals enter Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel in prayer March 12, 2013, as they begin the conclave. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Silver said also to list any biases that might affect the way the data is read. So I listed the common opinion that the pope “not be Italian” and the need for someone “young” or with “strength of mind and body,” as Pope Benedict himself had said.

Then I looked at several cardinals and their lives, and rated them according to how well each man possessed the needed/winning qualities to confront today’s challenges. I calculated what chances they had of winning, of losing, and of having won in the past.

I only had time to look at 14 cardinals out of the 117 electors. But one of those men was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, whom I gave an 80% chance of winning and a 60% chance of losing (mostly because of his age — he was 76, and lack of languages).

bergoglio stats

A print-out of cardinal-electors, showing my Nate Silver-inspired stat results on March 12, 2013, for Cardinal Bergoglio’s chances of being elected pope.

But those pretty good percentages put him behind what I had calculated for Pope Francis’ close friend, 70-year-old Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. I had given him a 90% chance of winning and a 10% chance of losing, noting his focus on the poor, writings on globalization, his strong voice for Latin America, language abilities, courage to “put out into the deep,” his work on sanctity of life; and importance of evoking God in a secular world.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila got the next highest marks with a 90% chance of winning, but a 20% chance of losing (too young) noting the following “winning” qualities: “Asian, rides the bus, humble, Vatican II scholar, has ‘star power,’ intellect,” communicates clearly, with focus on youth.

CANDLES ADORN SCULPTURE NEAR HOLY SPIRIT WINDOW IN ST. PETER'S BASILICA

Window of the Holy Spirit above Bernini’s sculpture, “The Throne of St. Peter,” in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 19, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The good thing about Silver’s approach is you’re supposed to adjust the percentages as you collect more data and I didn’t have that much time to find out more about Cardinal Bergoglio. Had I known he was another friend of public transport, I would have boosted his Win score up to 85%!

But probably the best lesson Silver offers is to never forget the limitations posed by human nature, our biases and our limited access to all the information out there.

We want to try to predict the future and be sure about what’s going to happen. But, he said we should be more humble about our ability to perceive and predict the world. And then when you add the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit at work, well, then all bets are off!

Argentine politicos and pope: If you can’t beat him, join him

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — As archbishop of the Argentine capital, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio clashed with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.

Shortly after being the cardinal was elected pope, however, posters blanketed Buenos Aires proclaiming Pope Francis an “Argentine and Peronist,” with the president’s supporters claiming Pope Francis as one of their own. They said he was part of the Peronist project to which they belong and which has dominated Argentine politics.

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires' Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires’ Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

“Pope Francis has always been a fellow Peronist,” says Carlos Luque, one of the thousands of government supporters streaming from the Plaza del Congreso after the president delivered a three-hour address to Congress in early March.

Church observers say Pope Francis was at one time an adherent of Peronism, a political movement founded by former President Juan Peron and his wife, Eva Peron. The movement has had strains stretching from left to right on the political spectrum.

“Bergoglio always came across as allied with Peronism. Why? Because Bergoglio probably saw in Peronism a non-Marxist force and sensitive to people’s needs,” says Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine, Criterio.

“In the 1960s, Bergoglio was against the Peronism of the left that ended up in guerrilla movements. He instead stayed closer to a Peronism that was more to the right.”

Then Nestor Kirchner came to power after the political and economic crisis of 2001, when Argentina defaulted on its debts of nearly $100 billion. Supporters speak of both Kirchners’ spending on social programs, students and the poor.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

But in the capital, the cardinal expressed suspicions of their populist politics and promotion of patronage groups among the poor. He criticized corruption during the traditional Te Deum Mass, celebrated on the May 25 national holiday and attended by the president.

The Kirchners took the criticism personally and stopped attending. Poirier figures they disliked the pope’s style as much as substance.

“One of the problems for Cristina Kirchner is that she’s not credible,” Poirier says.

“She has a certain charisma and political popularity, but her discourse often changes, and there’s a distance between the enrichment of many ministers and real life,” he adds.

“There’s a discourse that is not accompanied with a lifestyle. One of things that bothered them most about Bergoglio was his austerity.”

But with election of Pope Francis, priests and observers say both sides have made improving the relationship a priority. It’s improved to the point that Fernandez is expected to attend the Te Deum Mass this year, instead of heading for the provinces.

“Bergoglio has seen many people from Argentina now that he’s pope,” said Poirier. “He’s seen many politicians, union leaders, economic directors, and what generally leaks out is that he says: ‘Tend to Cristina. She has to finish her term. Institutions must be looked after. She’s the president.’”

Video: Missionary pope: Francis in Brazil

Catholic News Service looks at the impact of the first Latin American pope’s visit to his native continent.

Video: Millions on Copacabana beach conclude WYD

A Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass conclude World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

Pope urges Brazilian elites to embrace dialogue and ‘social humility’

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) — Speaking to political, economic and cultural leaders of a Brazil recently shaken by mass anti-government protests, Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter” and said dialogue is the only way to promote social peace.

The Pope made his remarks July 27 in Rio’s Municipal Theater, to an audience representing what the Vatican’s official schedule described as the “ruling class of Brazil.”

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation -- his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation — his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue,” he said. “Today, either we stake all on dialogue, on the culture of encounter, or we all lose.”

The pope did not explicitly refer to the series of demonstrations in Brazilian cities that started last month, aimed at a range of grievances including government corruption, unsatisfactory public education and health services, the high cost of public transportation and police brutality. But he pointed to dialogue as a third way “between selfish indifference and violent protest.”

“A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic and technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture,” he said.

Pope Francis also called on his listeners to share “fraternal responsibility” for Brazilian society, “rehabilitating politics, which is one of the highest forms of charity.”

“The future demands of us a humanistic vision of the economy and a politics capable of ensuring greater and more effective participation on the part of all, eliminating forms of elitism and eradicating poverty,” he said.

Noting the importance of Christianity to the country’s cultural heritage, the pope said the church offered an “integral vision of the human person” that is “true to Brazilian identity and capable of building a better future for all.”

“Christianity combines transcendence and incarnation,” he said. “It brings ever new vitality to thought and life, in contrast to the dissatisfaction and disillusionment which creep into hearts and spread in the streets.”

Yet the pope endorsed the separation of church and state, historically a volatile topic in Latin America, where the Catholic Church long held a privileged legal position in many countries, but where it has more recently clashed with governments over issues including abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favored by the laicity of the state, which, without appropriating any one confessional stance, respects and esteems the presence of the religious factor in society, while fostering its concrete expressions,” he said.

Before his remarks, the pope was greeted on the stage of the ornate century-old theater by Walmyr Junior, 28, a lay minister in the Rio archdiocese who recounted his upbringing as an orphan in one of the city’s notorious “favelas,” or slums, his experience of drug abuse, and his recovery with the help of the church, which led to his graduation from the city’s Pontifical Catholic University.

Junior was overcome with emotion before finishing his speech, and embraced Pope Francis to loud applause from the audience.

Later, the pope greeted representatives of some indigenous Amazonian tribes appearing in their traditional dress, and briefly posed wearing a large feathered hat they gave him.

“The pope was saying what each one of us would have wanted to say if we had been on stage,” said a member of the audience, Alvaro Siviero, a concert pianist from Sao Paolo. “We saw there a person of common sense who didn’t speak in the way that is usual in politics.”

Siviero said the pope’s decision to address them in his native Spanish instead of the national language of Portuguese — for which he asked forgiveness at the start of his speech — was welcomed as a sign of humility.

“He wanted to talk to our hearts, not our minds only,” the pianist said. “His Spanish was from the heart, it was a universal language.”

Video: Pope visits recovering addicts

Cardinal Dolan discusses Pope Francis’ visit to St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro.

Video: Pope Francis venerates Our Lady of Aparecida

A look at Pope Francis’ visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.

 

Video: Protesters and pilgrims together in Rio

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. discusses the importance of World Youth Day for young Brazilians in the context of the recent political demonstrations.

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