Feb 12, 2008

Carnaval 2008

The preschool children enjoyed their Carnaval party Friday, February 1. Perhaps most North Americans will understand the celebration of Carnaval as equivalent to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is supposed to be a time to get any mischief out of your system before the beginning of Lent, 40 days of fasting and solemn reflection on the Passion of Christ. Lent is an official part of the Lutheran church calendar while Carnaval or Mardi Gras, of course, is not.

Carnaval is a cultural event in most Latin American countries, often for a much longer period than in Venezuela. Here only the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday are state holidays, so for Venezuelans, Carnaval is essentially a long weekend with public parades and street parties. I am told that Carnaval in Brazil, for example, not only lasts longer, but is much wilder and crazier as well.

I saw my first Carnaval parade in the eastern Venezuelan city of Maturin. The girls in skimpy costumes did not surprise me, but the number of men dressed up as girls in skimpy costumes was a bit of a shock. You would not see that in a parade through downtown Bloomington, Minnesota, I thought at the time. But I have lived in Venezuela for nearly five years now, so maybe things have changed up north.

For Venezuelan children, however, Carnaval is something like Halloween in the United States. They get to dress up in costumes and masks, receive treats and play pranks. They know about Halloween here, but it is considered an "imported" holiday. More common is the observance of the Day of the Dead on November 1. In Venezuela, the Day of the Dead is mostly free of the occultic aspects that it has in Mexico. It is more like Memorial Day in the United States: The day for placing flowers on the graves of the honored dead.

So our preschool children put on their costumes, had cake and soft drinks, and elected a "Queen of the Carnaval". Last year Luz María's granddaughter, Oriana, was chosen as queen. This year it was Oriana's best friend, Jeiximar Arellano ("Pollita"). Oriana (who is four years old) threw a little tantrum, since she did not understand that she would not be queen every year. She screamed that Pollita was much uglier than herself. Ah, the "innocence" of children (and their Bible lessons have focused on the virtues of sharing with and caring for others, too). Nevertheless, she and Pollita remain best friends.

After the cake and soda, the children lined up and marched through the barrio, carrying our preschool banner and blowing whistles. Aside from Oriana, a good time was had by all.

Eduardo Flores and I were installed as vicars the following Sunday, the Day of the Transfiguration, at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas. I first met Eduardo when I was staying with Pastor Ted Krey in Maracay. He was 17 then, now he is 21.

The service was led by pastors Abel García and Ted Krey. Abel is the pastor of a congregation in the coastal city of Barcelona and is the new director of the Juan de Frias Theological Institute.

We also had an interesting visitor that Sunday, too. He introduced himself as Francisco Galeano. Some 40 years ago he had been a Roman Catholic priest. Then he fell in love with a woman and left the Roman church to marry her (she has since passed away). He did not lose his faith, however, but joined the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands.

Persons of Protestant background may not be aware of this, but the doctrine of papal infallibility did not become official, binding dogma in the Roman Catholic Church until after the First Vatican Council in 1869. At that time, some European clergy and laypeople separated themselves from Rome and turned to the Archbishop of Utrecht, the Netherlands, for spiritual leadership. The See of Utrecht, established in 695 A.D., had been semi-autonomous for centuries and had been repeatedly accused of being a hotbed of heresy (most notably Jansenism, which basically was a revival of the Augustinian view of original sin as opposed to the semi-Pelagian position which has been the prevailing view in the Roman Catholic Church since the Council of Trent). The Archbishop of Utrecht was excommunicated by the Pope in 1723. In the 1870s, the Archbishop of Utrecht began ordaining bishops of the Old Catholic Church.

The Old Catholic Church today is in full communion with the Anglican/Episcopalian churches of the world. Be that as it may, there are very few Old Catholic or Anglican churches in Barinas, Venezuela. None that I know of, in fact. "Padre Francisco", as he still is known, was not aware that there was a Lutheran church in Barinas until he bumped into Pastor Krey in a bodega (small neighborhood market) that weekend. He now is interested in learning more about Corpus Christi.

Eduardo and I led the Ash Wednesday service, February 6. Eduardo preached the sermon and played the guitar while I handled the liturgy, one long confession of sins which included the reading of Psalm 51 and the ancient ritual of marking the foreheads of the worshippers with the sign of the Cross in ashes. We followed the form of having everyone write down a slip of paper a sin for which they particularly desired God's forgiveness. Then the pieces of paper were burnt to make the ashes.

It was the first time I had performed this rite, and I learned there is a trick to putting just enough ashes on your finger to make a mark on the forehead without flicking ashes in someone's eyes. (Hot tip: Moistening your finger with your tongue is not an option.)

Eduardo and the Sunday schoolSince Ash Wednesday, Eduardo and I have led another Sunday service, made some home visits and begun planning Bible studies. Eduardo's musical ability has been a great blessing, as he has not only provided musical accompaniment on Sundays, but also led the children of our preschool and Sunday school in song.

Unfortunately, this week Eduardo was attacked and robbed on the streets of Barinas. The hardest blow came from a knee to his abdomen. The thieves took Eduardo's cell phone. Despite still having a few aches and pains, Eduardo was not seriously injured. There is a high level of street crime wherever you go in Venezuela, and it is wise to always be watchful. Please pray for our protection always as we do the Lord's work.

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