Friday, December 21, 2007

There's Always Room for "the Inns"

Just in case anyone's still seeing Guadalupe as Advent's lone siren announcing US Catholicism's ever-emerging Latin Revival, think again.

With each passing year, the Hispanic rite of Las Posadas merely grows even bigger where it's already tradition, to say nothing of its continued spread to new locations... Iowa, where it's taken on an ecumenical flavor.
“Las Posadas is a nine-night tradition which begins as Mary and Joseph seek lodging, seek to be welcomed in our homes and hearts,” said the Rev. Stacie Fidlar, pastor of St. John’s Church.

About 60 people from senior age to infant walked with Mary and Joseph in their search for shelter along darkened streets. Overhead shone a slice of moon but there was no trace of the star that guided the wise men in the nativity story.

The group made three stops as Mary begged for help but each time the homeowner or inn keeper said no as part of the ceremony. “The inn keeper pleads, ‘Just let me go back to bed.’ And Mary once again goes away sad,” the Rev. Fidlar said.

The couple finally found a warm haven inside the church and a fiesta with plenty of food. “I’ve been on journeys before where it was hard to find some place to stay so I guess I identified more with them,” said first-time participant Chuck Wilt of Rock Island.

Wilt is unsure if he wishes that long ago journey would have resulted in the couple finding help right away. Maybe that journey was the first of many struggles they went through, he said. Perhaps it built their faith for those future challenges. In the end, “it turned out good for all of us,” he said.

The shepherds featured in the nativity story probably felt they had plenty to fear on that topsy-turvy night, Fidlar said during a short reflection. What the angel says to them is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible. “Do not be afraid,” she said.

“The reason why I think that’s so powerful is often we are motivated by fear. Time and again God comes to us and says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is a God who will stand with us in the middle of our fears,” said Fidlar.

The service ended with praying the Lord’s Prayer (El Padrenuestro) in English and Spanish. “I’d heard about the tradition but it was fun to experience it in the real setting in both languages and to process with the candles,” Janet Stodd, of Moline and a first time participant, said. “I think it was fun to experience it with people of all ages.”
In Tucson, the annual 16-24 December vigils, when the faithful walk with the Holy Family as they seek lodging, marks its 70th anniversary this year. Elsewhere, the usual massive crowds flocked to the first night in downtown LA...

...and in Texas, the Bay Area, Seattle, North Carolina, Arkansas... and even the home of the "Fightin' Irish," South Bend, Indiana.

You get the idea... right?

As one pastor hosting the event put it, "By celebrating Posadas, Latinos re-learn a need for hospitality each year... it reaffirms their faith in God who became human in Jesus. Since Jesus has identified himself with the smallest, with the least ... they welcome the savior who has hidden himself in our humanity."

More from the rubric:
[Mary and Joseph] knock on a door along the way as they sing: “In the name of heaven I request you grant us shelter for my beloved wife cannot longer walk.”

From inside, they hear voices sing back: “This is not an inn, please continue ahead. I cannot open for you may be a robber.”

“Please do not be inhumane,” those outside reply. “Grant us charity. The King of heavens will reward you for that.”

“Go away and bother no more,” the voices say at last from inside. “Because if I get upset I will beat you up.”

The pilgrims continue their journey, hoping that their next stop is their last. But again, they are denied a place to stay so they have to try one more door. After pleading one last time, they are welcomed inside.

“Come in, holy pilgrims!” those inside finally say. “Receive this corner because even though the place is poor, I offer it to you from my heart.”
And then, "Noche de Paz" -- "Silent Night." And then, a party for everyone, down to piñatas for the angels.


As the Holy Family were the unwelcome migrants of their day, a "Posadas Project" aimed at promoting the observance has dedicated this year's vigils to the theme "Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope."