Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Inevitable

Milagros says a town needs two things to stay alive: a bar and a Mass.

Moratinos was limping along at half speed when we arrived here. There hadn´t been a bar in town for a good 30 years, but Don Santiago showed up every Sunday morning and said a quick Mass. He´s been doing that for as long as we´ve lived here.

San Isidro in the fields
Weekly Mass is a rare privilege for a town of 20 people, but Don Santiago volunteered to take us on, along with four other tiny villages strung out along the N120 two-lane. There aren´t enough priests to go around in Palencia Diocese, and the men who take the job work long hours, usually over long distances. Once Don Santiago hit retirement age he didn´t have to say Mass any more. But he was still healthy and fit and wasn´t ready to quit. He is a local boy, from down near Cisneros. I´m not sure why he took on the churches of San Nicolas del Real Camino, Moratinos, Terradillos, Ledigos, and Poblacion -- maybe because we all are Camino towns, maybe because he likes us, because we invite him to all our parties. Maybe the bishop told him to. 

Moratinos knows it´s lucky. And every Sunday, just about everybody turns up for Mass. Even José, who says he doesn´t believe any of it. Or Manolo or Justi or Paddy or any of the dozen or so men who never take communion, and only go up to the altar to kiss the baby Jesus doll at Christmas, or carry a statue round the town on their shoulders, or a coffin up to the cemetery.

They come to church because they are part of a community. And church is one place where no one is excluded, not even the people you´d never let into your house. We didn´t care that Don Santiago often put his alb on inside-out, that his collar was askew -- he was always in a hurry, on his way to two or three more Masses. He sang parts of the service, and we sang the responses. (We are terrible singers.) He blessed our houses at Corpus Christi and our crops at San Isidro Day and our dead at All Saints, and we all turned out to meet him when he came to town.

Don Santiago was a farm boy, raised in a big farming family. He worked at a garden center part-time, to help make ends meet. One Sunday during planting season he ate the whole big wafer himself, and told the communicants to pick out their own disc of bread from the dish -- his fingers were too dirty, he didn´t want to touch the holy hosts. 

As time went on he did not kneel so deeply. His voice was scratchy, he didn´t stay so late at the fiesta. But it seemed Don Santiago would go on forever, baptizing our babies, marrying our children, burying us when our time came. 

We all knew it would happen sometime. Don Gaspar, the archpriest, came on Sunday to do the Mass. He told us Don Santiago suffered an aneurysm last week. He is in hospital in Palencia, and no one can say when he´s coming out, and home. Or if he will say Mass again. Or when we will hear Mass again at Sto. Tomas.

If we want to hear Mass we must drive to Villada or Sahagún, like the villagers in tiny, dying towns all around us.

Mass has gone on here for a thousand years. And now it is finished. We´re not so special now. Milagros was right.

We have three bars in town now, and two places to sleep, but we´ve taken a big step backward.
We have no place to pray together, no one to lead us in the ancient rites. No one to come on Sunday to make us sing so awfully together, to make our joyful noise unto the Lord.
Corpus Christi in the plaza
Saints, please pray for Don Santiago, and for us.

5 comments:

Christine Adams said...

I'm one of those on the fence about how best to worship but I believe in community and tradition and how they ground us and make our lives more meaningful. I believe strongly in the power of the individual in creating decent places to be a human. I'm praying for the health of Don Santiago and that some young (or retired) priest will read this and feel moved to ask for permission to add you to his workload.

Deirdre said...

Don Santiago was always so welcoming - when I was there taking my (your) turn at stamping pilgrim passports, I slipped in to the Mass while I had the chance. It was wonderful to see everyone in Moratinos come together ringing the bell, gathering... Perhaps someone will take on the rotation and you will at least have Mass every couple of weeks (like at La Faba and so many other places). Don Santiago is in my prayers - he was such a nice man.

The Solitary Walker said...

A beautiful, bittersweet piece.

Claire Bangasser said...

Prayers for you and Moratinos, Rebekah.
Maybe there is something you can do there...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this beautiful and inspiring post !

We will pray for Don Santiago and Moratinos.

Regards to Paddy.

God Bless