By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service
TAKOMA PARK, Md. (CNS) — Some motorists seemed outright puzzled, some honked in support as they saw a group of men hauling the figure of a curly-haired image of Jesus with arms stretched out along a busy road in Maryland.
A few hundred Salvadorans from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia accompanied the image at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park this past weekend to mark the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. After all, the country they came from, El Salvador, means “The Savior” in Spanish, and the nation’s name is derived from the Aug. 6 Catholic feast.
The Washington metro area is home to approximately 240,000 Salvadorans, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and the feast is used as an occasion for them to express civic and national pride, as well as to recognize their native country’s strong ties to the Catholic faith.
For 15 years, Salvadorans around the Washington area have organized the event, typically held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Melissa Rodriguez, of Maryland, said the importance of the event can’t be underestimated. That’s why she took her daughter to the event.
Though she lived away from the capital of San Salvador, where the event is most visible, Rodriguez always celebrated the feast as a child and sometimes watched the celebration in the city via TV. Hundreds pour into the streets of San Salvador the first week of August to watch the image of Jesus emerge from a globe in front the country’s national cathedral. Although children dress up in the blue and white of the Salvadoran flag and traditional food is shared, the religious importance of the feast stands out.
The feast is not about politics, Rodriguez said, it’s one that calls people to remember that life on earth is about serving God by serving others. It is particularly important to drill that into her 4-year-old daughter, Yessy Aparicio, who was born in the United States.
“I don’t want her to think that it’s all about her,” Rodriguez said. “I want her to learn about faith, that in her mind, she knows the Divine Savior, that’s what our lives depend on.”
Father Alex Martinez of Maryland urged Salvadorans to forgo the materialism that leads many to work two or three jobs to buy material goods instead of spending time with children.
“There is a crisis of values,” Father Martinez said in his homily. “When people become materialistic, they lose their values, they abandon their homes, they forget about their roots.”
The feast, he said, was about learning to listen to Christ and the values he taught, even when the demands are great. It’s important to have a sense of ethnic identity, of being proud to come from humble backgrounds, of teaching children Spanish as well as English, he said.
“I’m proud I came from a family of peasants and I studied by candlelight,” he said.
Far too many center their lives around work, around making money, Father Martinez said.
“There’s too much selfishness,” he said.
He reminded those who attended of the violence facing those in El Salvador and of the financial struggles many face. That’s why it’s important to have a sense of solidarity and to teach it to children, he said. It’s especially important because at a time when many are leaving the church, Catholic Latinos in the United States are becoming more numerous and are playing a larger role in the United States, he said.
“We will become the Catholic hope in this country,” he said.