According to Catholic tradition, the devotion of the “Via Crucis” or “The Way of the Cross” honors the last few hours of Jesus’ death. It consists of a spiritual pilgrimage, acknowledging 14 stations or shrines that depict distinct events beginning from Jesus’ death sentence to his crucifixion and burial. The phrase “via crucis” or “way of the cross” is also used to symbolize all the obstacles we need to overcome when we try to achieve a certain goal.
The fifth Via Crucis station commemorates when Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross.
Along with thousands of other Peruvians across the country on Good Friday, Roy and I did Huancayo’s version of the Via Crucis. In Huancayo, the 14 stations are set up on a winding path around a hill with a giant metal cross adorning its peak.
Other than the typical route where you pray and leave a rock at each shrine along the way, there are two other ways up the hill. You can ride a taxi up the winding path, speeding by each of the shrines, or hike directly up the hill, bypassing all of the stations. The latter is the fastest route up, but it’s also the more torturous path because of the steep incline of the hike. As an afterthought, it could be an experiential way to signify Jesus’ suffering during the Passion.
Most people took the direct shortcut up the Via Crucis hill.
Joining the majority, Roy and I tightened our shoelaces to huff and puff our way up the hill via the direct shortcut.
In undertaking this mini pilgrimage today, I realized that living in Peru has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for me in the sense that I was drawn to a place that was meaningful to me and the journey has been transformational, endowing me with insights and understanding. Although I haven’t taken the typical route and I sometimes feel like I’ve chosen the tougher passage, I have also discovered more and more people along this path who have motivated me and helped remind me of the value of my choices. In the blogging world, I would especially like to thank Janet Callaway, Sherry Zander, Rowena Bolo, Karen Swaffield and Diana Simon.
They say that when you return home from a pilgrimage, nothing is ever the same again.
What has your personal pilgrimage been like?
When it comes to corporal punishment in the Central Andes of Peru, domestic abuse is still typical and it wasn’t too long ago that there were more extreme measures at schools. Parents wrap broken egg shells on the child’s hand with wool dipped in brandy, and then light it on fire. The alcohol produces a quick flame and the egg shells burn against the skin. Some claim that its purpose is to scare a child from robbing and that the flame is blown out or disappears as soon as it appears. Others show their scars from the burns.
Using a belt is also a typical way of punishing children. If one child is the culprit, all children are thrashed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s believed that all children deserve the same punishment and should learn the same lessons. Beating children is somewhat of a ritual on the Thursday and Friday of Easter. It symbolizes a holy sacrifice as they share the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross.
At schools, children who arrived late were forced to kneel on beer bottle caps in front of the whole class. It left scars on their knees. Children who had a difficult time understanding a concept in class had their heads banged against the wall. Children who misbehaved were hit by a pointer stick, sometimes until the stick broke in half. These days, children are no longer abused in the classroom, but they are still punished if they arrive late — they get hosed with water and spend the rest of the day dripping wet.
This is apparently not so bad because it’s reminiscent of the entire month of February when the whole country “celebrates” Carnaval. In Huancayo, this celebration entails gangs of boys throwing water balloons or buckets of water at random girls. You have to watch out because people can even attack from their apartments or dunk you in the plaza fountains. I have already seen three ladies get soaked and I’m not prepared to be the next one!
Roy and his two friends are at a park in a neighbourhood of Huancayo called La Florida, in the outskirts of the city. A random lady calls out to them. No one pays any attention to her at first.
The group is confused. “You’re talking to me?” Roy’s friend asks.
“No. The one in the middle.” She was referring to Roy.
The woman speaks directly to Roy: “I’ll give you this iguana as a gift. It’s my daughter’s iguana. We’re going to travel and we can’t take him with us.” She proceeded to give Roy explicit instructions on what the iguana likes to eat, how he should be housed, and how to take care of him.
“Where do you live?” the lady asks Roy. She’s only speaking to Roy. Roy tells her that he lives pretty far away and that he didn’t know where he would find a spot for the iguana in his home. Roy’s friend says that he’ll take the iguana instead.
A few days later, Roy asks his friend how the iguana is. The friend is desperate. The iguana hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since the day he took him home. The iguana was dying.
“If the iguana is still in the same state after a few more days, give him to me. I’ll take care of him,” Roy tells his friend.
Roy was starting to regret not taking the iguana in the first place. He knew how to take care of iguanas. They had two large ones as pets when they lived in Lima, and the iguana from the lady of La Florida was just a teensy one. It would have been easy to take care of him.
Roy told his mom about what had happened and she confirmed the inkling he had: “The iguana was supposed to be yours. It’s why the lady didn’t ask the group, ‘Who wants my iguana?’ I learned about this and have seen it happen where I grew up in Huancavelica [a city further in the Andes more rural and poor than Huancayo]. If you were set on buying a certain cow but another one came along that caught your eye and you bought the second one instead, the first cow will die with whoever buys him because it shouldn’t have been for that person.”
The iguana died.
When I look at my schedule and think of all the occasions I attend, I feel a serious lack of special, formal, and large-scale events in Canada other than weddings. (Speaking of which, does that mean people who decide not to marry are just not special enough?) Here in Peru, above and beyond the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, many young ladies commemorate their coming-of-age when they turn 15 years old at a quinceañera. It’s a major affair almost at par with her wedding day in terms of unreserved attention to the celebrant, recognition from family and friends, and nostalgic moments.
Saturday’s quinceañera was as grand as I imagined them to be. The hall was decorated like a dream – the flowery adornments, entranceway, tables, and chairs were all decked out in the night’s theme colours of cream and purple. We arrive at the location at 10pm. The invitation says to arrive at 9:30pm, but nothing starts until midnight. (Have I ever mentioned that Peruvians are notorious for arriving late? The two-and-a-half hour timeframe is to make sure that everyone arrives on time). So, what do we do for two hours? Eat and drink. Waiters continuously pass by each table with different hors d’oeuvres. As for drinks, each guest has four different sizes of glasses for different types of liquor – pisco sour to start off the night, champagne for the toast, wine for the dinner, and then beer for the dancing. There is no water glass.
During this time, the special lady is spending special moments with her special chosen partner for the night – typically a boyfriend if she has one or at least someone she has a crush on. There’s also a photo session that almost always includes photos on a decorated swing to commemorate her childhood. At midnight, they finally make their way over to the hall.
Traditionally, the star of the show is in a white gown and tiara and at midnight, slowly walks down spiral stairs for all to see. This star is too cool for that. She arrives on the back of a motorbike in a deep purple dress and the night begins. She takes her father’s arm and he walks her down the aisle where 15 of her friends, including the crush, line the way armed with a candle and a rose each. The father leads her to each friend, where she blows out the candle signifying each year of her life that has passed and receives a rose. Afterwards, the father and godfather of the night give teary speeches about how much she has grown and matured, and then the mother gives a toast for her daughter’s future. We reminisce with the family as we watch a slideshow presentation of her life, are treated to a waltz-like choreography by the friends, and enjoy a presentation from the star herself with two masked dancers to accompany her. Then, the rest of the night is all about dancing – a private area is darkened and set up like a club for the young people while the rest of the hall is taken up by the older people, and everyone dances away until dawn.