MAZAMARI, Peru — Since late January when the longtime Spaniard pastor left for home for a six-week visit, I have been caring for a parish in this central jungle town in Peru. The pastor’s trip was extended for health reasons, and I learned only a week before Palm Sunday that the pastor would return after Easter.
With little time for preparations and in a parish with minimal organization, I began looking for resources – both materials and people. There are some sisters and schoolteachers who could be pretty good and dependable. Things looked stable but not very imaginative.
An important player in the town is the National Police Base, a school with a few hundred students and a military base with another hundred personnel. because I had maintained the parish’s commitment to the needs of the base, I established some links with the officers and with many of the students who are from the city of Ayacucho. Ayacucho is well known in Peru for its depth of Catholic faith, numerous churches and its Holy Week pageantry.
As good fortune would have it, shortly after Saturday morning Mass, the colonel came to the parish to visit and say that the students wanted very much to celebrate traditional Holy Week activities there in Mazamari and asked whether they could do so in the parish. “Of course, absolutely”, was my response. The students were ready to begin within a few hours to put together the Palm Sunday celebration.
Later that afternoon, they began tracing drawings on the street (one of a few paved blocks in the town) that were filled in early the next morning with dyed sawdust and flowers. These multicolored carpets, or alfombras, depicted a traditional police image of Jesus on the cross embracing a fallen soldier and various police insignias. The work with the sawdust started at 4 a.m., and was stunningly completed by 9 a.m., when Mass began.
The soldiers assembled in the park in front of the church and waited in greeting with the parishioners assembled on the church patio listening to the proclamation of the gospel. The awaited was a procession comprised of “Jesus” on a burrow, accompanied by 8 soldiers carrying entire palm branches. They passed the church, riding over the welcoming alfombras and continued around the plaza singing Hosannas. The entire congregation followed along with the military band. The entire crowd returned to overfill the church for Mass, while the military band complemented the parish’s humble music group.
Other activities were held during Holy Week. On Wednesday, a candlelight encounter between Jesus and the Sorrowful Mother was held, in the form of large statues carried by the soldiers in the plaza before all enter for evening Mass. An early morning Via Crucis was requested for on Friday and a 5 a.m. celebration of the resurrection on Easter morning. The military band has a fine liturgical awareness and will participate throughout the week and with good fortune, into the future.