Although I lived with many adults and attended a Catholic School, my grandmother and I were the only two people in my family who went to Mass on Sundays.
My father was an altar boy when he was in grade school. He quit going to church on his sixteenth birthday, when walking into the vestibule of a house of prostitution, he found himself waiting his turn behind the parish priest. My aunts stopped attending after the nuns at school told them their father would go to hell because he was a Mason and thus belonged to a Satanic cult. My mother occasionally attended on big days like First Communion and Confirmation.
But every Sunday without fail from the time I started school, my grandmother and I would meet by the front door in our newly starched dresses to begin our stroll to a beautiful Gothic church near our home called Los Pasionistas . There, the altars were ornate and the stained glass transformed sunshine into a breathtaking spectacle. Every single Sunday we read our Missals and prayed the Mass in Latin with reverence and blind faith. Towards the end we both wore high heels through streets that had begun to be changed by the Revolution. In our defiance, we wore our veils and held our Missals to derisive glances and shouts of “Gusanas!” (Worms!) by our erudite revolutionary comrades. If looks could kill…
One Sunday morning everything changed. The Bay of Pigs had already happened and the people’s fear had conquered their defiance. Our veils and our Missals now went to church inside our purses and we were aware that the watching had become less obtrusive but much more intense. We arrived at our pews that Sunday, genuflected, and waited for the Mass to begin. There was a heaviness in the air, the mistrust of not knowing if your neighbor was a fellow faithful or a watcher; the knowledge that we had entered an era of further unimaginable repression.
Suddenly, a militiaman I did not see walk into the church began to run towards the altar just as the priest was elevating the Host; right at the moment of Consecration. The startled priest watched helplessly as the militiaman took the host from him, threw it to the floor, and began stepping on it with all his might.
“So THIS is the body of your Christ? Do you see it bleed?? Why doesn’t he get up??”
The congregation froze. No one moved. The age of terror seemed to beg a miracle. Even the militiaman had a moment of uncertainty. Where was our Jesus? Why didn’t he stand up in all his shining glory just to show us that he could? Why didn’t he show this man his power? And where were we, no longer the defiant believers having been conquered by the ugliness of terror? No one moved. The man laughed demoniacally and marched out of our church, each step sending the message: God is dead here. Tears streaming down faces were all that chased him.
My grandmother and I never went to church together again. And we didn’t talk about that day for the rest of our lives. It was our secret. It wasn’t too much longer that I became a Pedro Pan. I came to freedom. This is just one reason why.