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Stateside With Rosalea: Up In Smoke

Stateside With Rosalea

Up In Smoke

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So, there I was in the 21st century. Sitting in an early 20th century North American church first built in the late 19th by a German Franciscan monk in his trademark neo-Gothic meets Spanish Mission style. The church was packed with families of Central and South American origins, and we were all doing Gregorian call and response in Spanish in honour of a Polish bloke who'd died in Rome.

It was, I suppose, far from the usual Saturday evening mass and to tell the truth it was a television news broadcast that got me there. I'd always wondered what the inside of the church just up the street looked like, but had imagined it was dark and gloomy, given it had been built when the area was largely Teutonic rather than Hispanic.

But there on the 5 o'clock news, en vivo, was the big cheery white-clad pastor speaking from inside a building that appeared to have been modeled on the architectural lightness of the inside of a big cream-coloured meringue, and festooned with Easter lillies, gold lame, and lime greenery in celebration of Christ's resurrection. Not a skerrick of black drapery in sight. Even the pontifical picture was draped in gold lame.

Not knowing there was such a thing as Saturday evening mass, I trotted off up to the church to see what time Sunday mass would be, only to find that the last stragglers were arriving for this evening's misa and I could slip in with them and find a place down the back.

Luckily, I'd been to a Catholic church once or twice before, even to one that gave the entire service in Spanish, so I knew just to follow along. Besides, you didn't need language to understand the slide show which showed El Papa Carismatica in various incarnations, all of them seeming to allow him to walk on a very large body of water at sunset.

I don't know why this is coming out sounding like I'm mocking the church service. Perhaps it's because my view of Catholicism is jaundiced by my father having told me that all religion was just an excuse for people to kill and torture and rape and steal and feel justified doing it, and that the church he was brought up in and rejected--Roman Catholic--was one of the worst offenders.

Or was it that we were assigned one of Graham Greene's novels to read in high school and it was set in a Mexico of poor, poor people and a rich, rich Church? Or the fact that certain respectable Catholics in my home town were notorious for drinking, gambling, and being unfaithful but then went to church on Sunday and that was supposed to make up for it?

Was it the stories my friend Anne told me of her treatment by the nuns when she went to Catholic school? Or the reading I've done about the Spanish missions in California? The adverse reaction a Mexican friend had when we visited one of them a couple of years ago? Or was I just peeved that the church bells two blocks away had been ringing for five hours.

The tolling bells were, in fact, the thing that alerted me to the pope's death. I turned on the radio but couldn't find a news station, so I went to the internet, and sure enough there was the news that he'd died two hours previously, at 11.37 am, Pacific time. On TV, the local Fox affiliate had taken a live feed from Fox News, and was showing Bishop McCarrick of Washington, DC, talking about the latest developments.

At 2pm, they cut that short and returned to normal programming--the Smurfs--and the only other free to air station carrying anything about the pope's death was Univision, the Spanish-language network. Not surprisingly, Univision had reporters in Ciudad del Vaticano and Ciudad Mexico, and two leggy news anchors sitting at a glass news desk with their black dresses either stretched tight across their full bosom or half way up their thigh depending on which was whose best feature.

Then it was time for the major network nightly news bulletins. Poor old CBS! They're in the midst of broadcasting the national college basketball championships, so their news bulletins have been at all sorts of odd times. Whether it was earlier or later than usual, I never got to see it. ABC was all dead pope all bulletin; NBC slipped in one bit of news about 60 insurgents attacking Abu Ghraib prison with rocket-propelled grenades, but otherwise was also all dead pope.

So there you go. And there he goes. And wither we all do go, sooner or later. (And later and later and later. And later. If we have a feeding tube.)

As the words on one of the water-walking slides said, emphasis the church's:

---Descanze en PAZ---


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