I don’t normally wake up at the crack of noon, really, but what can you do when you have been running all over Andalucia catching one procession after another? So today was a relatively quiet day. The church was full all day long with the elaborate procession today in Moron de la Frontera, and the men and women (and the clergy) went back and forth between church and the bar across the street. Flowers, silver polishing, beer, candles, vestment pressing, wine.
By 6pm it was time to start the procession and the costeleros were ready to begin their arduous superhuman task of carrying the floats of Christ Suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane while the Apostles sleep and Our Lady of Loreto. I wondered how this procession would be different than the ones we have seen before. Because the Confraternity belongs to Don Pedro’s parish, the parish clergy (Don Pedro and his two American friends) had to be present in an official manner. The three of us in our cassocks and the large medal of the order suspended from a silver and blue cord were given silver bastones, walking sticks topped by an image of the Holy House of Loreto and the Monstrance of the Blessed Sacrament. At first I wondered why everyone had these big sticks. I soon would find out that, though they were beautiful, they were also practical.
Since Moron is a military town, with Spanish and American air force bases in its outskirts, the Spanish Air Force is given a place of honour in the Procession. We met the Comandante of the Air Base as well as a delightful military cadet who was a local boy. He grew up as a costelero in Moron and was coming home to see his family and hometown, who were honored to see their native son take part in the procession as a dignitary. During the procession, the clergy and the officers chatted whenever the float was called to a halt.
Some of those pauses were just to keep order and a stately pace. But there were four pauses where Our Lady of Loreto had to go and visit some of her special friends. The first time the statue and its float would be turned around was at the nursing home, as the oldtimers were wheeled to the windows so they catch a glimpse of their Madonna. The second time as at the Carmelite Monastery. As the costeleros went about the delicate business of whipping the float around, Don Pedro, Fr Luke and I ran to the grille of the convent to chat briefly with the nuns, of whom only one is Spanish; all of the others are Kenyans. We begged their holy prayers and then let them pray with the Blessed Virgin. We also paused when one of the soloists from a balcony serenaded the Virgin with his Arabic-sounding saeta, and his powerful and loud performance was greeted by enthusiastic applause. Finally, underneath one balcony, a family started to throw rose petals. The crowds stood and watched as one, then two, then three, then four and it kept on going, trash bags of rose petals were emptied over the canopy of the Blessed Virgin. I am not sure how long we stood there as this deluge of roses descended upon the float to applause, but the Verger finally had enough of waiting and with his stick banged his way through the Procession to get everyone moving.
Two hours passed as if it were nothing, but as two turned into three and then into four, as we made our way up and down the hills of Moron, I began to use the baston less as a decoration and more to support my back and legs. All the while I could see the faces of the Apostles on the float, terribly peaceful and unaware in their deep sleep that their Master and Commander was sweating blood and suffering at the thought of the Passion just a few feet away.
Perhaps Jesus’ question, Can you not watch one hour with Me? was in the back of the minds of all of those thousands of participants and spectators to encourage them never to give up. When we saw the imposing bell tower of the Church of San Miguel come closer and closer, after four hours, I was so relieved! The floats made their way into the church and I said to one of the Airmen, “Wow, that was cool, but I am really tired. Glad we made it.” He looked at me quizzically. “But, Father, we have to go back in procession as well.” There was only one procession in Moron that night, and it had to go back to Don Pedro’s church. In the Church of San Miguel, I was edified to see the Airmen steal a quick prayer in various nooks and crannies of the church before they assumed once again their formation for the trek back.
The clergy, not surprisingly, decided to leave the procession and have dinner. After a lovely meal of croquetas and gambas al ajillo, we joined up the procession again, two hours later, as it was about to enter the church again.
But, this is Spain, so the float was taller than the church door. So where is the make-it-fit button? Where was the tractor to haul in the float? The valiant men underneath, the floor, of course! As the float made its way over the threshold, the Precentor rang out orders, and rank after rank, the costeleros knelt and walked on their knees to get through the doors. 100 pounds of pressure evenly distributed on each man’s back, as they walked on their knees into the church. Another knock, and they stood, and gave one last triumphant jump in the air with the float on top of them.
For one more year, after 500 had already passed, the brothers of the Confraterity of this adorable little town had made their citizens, and surely also, their LORD, proud. Needless to say, the crowd went wild, and hugs and kisses and water bottles and bandages went all around. It was quite a feat, of strength, of perseverance, of love.
It is now 2.30 in the morning. Don Pedro wisely bought me ear plugs, because all around the church and rectory, the celebratory party will go on all night. We are still deciding whether we want to drive out to Seville and see what is going on in town. I have a feeling tomorrow I may be awaking at a way too early afternoon hour. But I am also thankful I will be in better shape than most of those men I respect I saw today.
Check out my bad photos at the Picasa Web linked in the first article, Semana Santa en Sevilla.