Much of the commercial and governmental activity of Guatemala has been shut down during Easter Week—Semana Santa, or Holy Week, as it’s called here. I could wish that we were so diligent in the United States about celebrating the importance of sacred things.
Four of us LDS missionaries—two couples—went on Thursday to watch as hundreds of volunteers laid out carpets of colored sawdust on one of the principal downtown streets. They carefully painted pictures in sawdust honoring the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and depicting themes of their Roman Catholic faith. I suppose there are atheists and humanist here who may say this sort of activity is foolish. I know there are people who call themselves Christian who speak in critical and mocking terms of activities like this. I am not one of them.
As we walked among the hundreds of volunteers on Sixth Avenue in the heart of the city, I struck up conversations with some of them. They were family oriented people, there to help their children participate, and to express their own faith.
I express my faith differently, and if we had talked about doctrine, there would undoubtedly have been points of disagreement. But I had to admire the devotion and dedication that went into their way of paying homage to the Savior. Whether or not I agreed with the themes expressed in those sawdust pictures, it was heartening to see so many people readily identifying themselves with Christian faith, and doing something to show it. I would much prefer to live in a community where faith is openly expressed than one where it cannot be freely acknowledged—even where the faith tradition is not mine.
Government and, to a large extent, commerce close down Wednesday though Friday of Semana Santa. City governments cooperate by blocking streets where the sawdust carpets are to be made. Volunteer municipal workers haul bags of sawdust in city trucks.
Guatemalan Scouts—boys and girls—mix together in these activities. Many young people are enthusiastically involved. Is it more social than religious? Undoubtedly there is a social element in much religious participation; maybe we get involved in religious activities because our friends do. But I’d like to think that a majority of those people got involved as a way of expressing their faith in God.
One man I met, a well-known television journalist, is an evangelical Christian married to a faithful Roman Catholic. He was there supporting his wife and children in the activity. Has their marriage been difficult, I asked, because of their religious differences? They thought it would be at first, he answered, but things haven’t turned out that way. They don’t have conflict because their family is built on love.
Perhaps we who are members of the family of God should try harder to make our relationships work the same way.
After all, when my evangelical friend, his wife, and I go to our churches this Easter Sunday, we are all going to be worshiping the Jesus who brought about the Atonement for us because he died for our sins and was resurrected so that we all may live again.