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Stateside With Rosalea: Hanging Together

Sorry I'm late. Just got in from church. Don't usually go there, but a fellow Oceanic who recently moved into the neighbourhood wanted to check out St Joseph the Worker, which is just around the corner from me. In winter I love looking out my window at the niche above the church door and seeing the statue of J's dad with his set square. In spring the trees obscure that view. The church has the colonial Spanish architecture you recognise from cowboy movies, though the inside is very classic European. Today, because it's Palm Sunday, palm fronds were draped around the wooden statue of Christ on the cross, and they also arched over the altar.

The Mass before the one we went to was in Spanish, this parish being a focal point for the East Bay's El Salvadorean community. Last year Martin Sheen gave a fundraising talk there for earthquake victims. The year before, I went to the Easter Sunday Spanish Mass and, not knowing either the language or anything about Catholicism, just followed along with what everybody else was doing. Ooops! I learned today I wasn't supposed to do the wine and wafer thing, but no doubt the good lord forgives innocent ignorance. The Spanish Mass is always packed, and a man with an ice-cream truck parks outside afterwards.

I didn't much like the service. The entire supper-to-sepulchre thing according to John was turned into a little play and the congregation got all the nasty parts - like being the crowd howling for Barabbas to be saved and Jesus crucified. Well, I guess it was effective if it made you feel uncomfortable about whom the script is forcing you to root for, but then I'm forever tarnished by the wonderful line in 'Life of Brian' when Brian calls out: "I'm not!", while the crowd is calling out "We are all individuals." Do you remember the furore 'Life of Brian' caused at the time of its release? I recall a taxi driver who was taking me past the theatre in Auckland where it was playing, saying that he was a Catholic and he could see nothing wrong with it. Yet the Church wanted to ban it.

Poor old Catholic Church is much in the news here in the States. The parish paper I picked up this morning had this to say: "As to the pedophilic clergy scandal, to paraphrase Ghandi: you must not lose faith in the church, the church is the ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. The work is to filter the water." Over the past few weeks many true life stories have been told on television by adult men who were preyed on as children. If it does nothing else the scandal will have done some good if it creates a wider understanding of the lifelong damage the abuse of a child's trust causes.

The parish newsletter also sports a cartoon that seems to belong in the '60s, of a crowded bar with the barman on the phone saying: "Could you be more specific, Ma'am? This place is crawling with sneaky little bastards." I suppose that's a reference to husbands sneaking off to the pub instead of to church, but it was kind of bizarre to see swear words in a parish newsletter. Especially here in the States, where swearing is very seldom heard in communal conversation. It's quite a sassy little newsletter all told, with an editorial about "All for One and One for All", urging contemplation of the sixth pillar of social justice - solidarity - for the sixth week of Lent. In that context Benjamin Franklin gets quoted: "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

But hey. It's nearly 4pm Pacific Time on Oscar day and the warm-up to the main event is on the telly, so I'd better go. I don't think the Oceanics will win anything but craft/technical awards, but we gave those yanks a run for their money, in more ways than one.

Lea Barker
Sunday, 24 March 2002

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