Antigua has many churches. The churches have huge statues and paintings of saints as well as prayer altars and places to light candles. There is lots of history and art in the churches, and everything is very old. The church that I attend, Iglesia La Merced (Merced is the name of the locality so don´t try to find Saint Merced), has a large statue of the Holy Family. It is similar to one that we would be familiar with. Mary is seated and baby Jesus is on her lap and Joseph has his arm around Mary. Everyone looks happy and all is well. But really, was this the real life experience of the Holy Family that we know? What we see in churches is a family portrait not the reality of the life of La Sagrada Familia.
Think of the experiences about La Sagrada Familia from the Scriptures....Mary is with child out of wedlock, the government demands a census that is most inconvenient to Mary and Joseph but there are no exceptions, they travel long hours by foot or on a donkey, the baby is born in a barn, strangers are the first visitors, they run for their lives in leaving Bethlehem...etc. These are some of the real life experiences of the family that we call holy. (Which Holy Family is the one that first comes to your mind, the portrait or the real one? For me, at least up to this point in time, it has been the portrait. Why is that? What keeps my mind from embracing the truth? I need to continue to reflect on this and its implications. I invite you to do the same.)
Many families in Guatemala make their living by selling items on the street. These families, these Guatemalan vendors, are real life holy families. Like the Holy Family, they are happy. However, their work is difficult and much of it demands long hours and manual labor such as pounding corn, clipping grass by swinging a long blade, or walking the streets in the sun with the children to sell cloth that is hand woven or designed. At the same time, many of the paintings and photos of Guatemalan children and families that are found in the shops are stunning in their colors and loveliness. I need to remember that though I am attracted to this beauty, these are portraits.
On the same day that I visited the statue of the Holy Family, I found two paintings in a store (they are meant to be hung side by side). These were entitled: La Sagrada Familia. The colors and figures were magical in their simplicity and clarity. They are profound in that they portray the struggles that Guatemalan families and families around the world experience in their real lives today. They portray the realities that divide or distract the relationships of family members. (It was an even more shattering experience for me because I thought that the totality of the painting consisted of just the single painting of the mother and the child...and knowing that is was entitled La Sagrada Familia...thinking that perhaps the father of the family had crossed the border for work....).
What if the paintings that we hung on our walls better conveyed the reality of the poor. Would we more likely be drawn into their reality? What if we went out to experience the real people rather than stayed with our false images of people? What if we made an effort to remove whatever it is that shields us from the pain that is real? How would our world be different?
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012