Of a Sunday morning in Dangriga

Sunday, started like every other gorgeous Dangriga day we had been having in the past several months - lovely breeze, waves gently breaking on the beach and sunrise featuring an orb whose color can only be described as fluorescent pink.
This morning was a little different though, we were off to Sacred Heart Church for a 9:00 a.m. service, the highlight of which was First Holy Communion for eighty-four Standard 3 ( 5th grade) children from the Holy Ghost Primary School. Under Belize's church/state educational system, the various denominations each run their own primary schools using a common curriculum and teachers who are all employees of the government. An unthinkable situation for the United States, but don't knock it, it seems to work.

The kids were told to be there at 8:30 a.m. along with a baptismal godparent or parent so that they could "line up" for the entrance procession into church. Thinking "Belize time" and half the group would be late, I arrived at 8: 45 a.m. to find everyone in line outside the church. What a sight! I could scarcely believe the dusty, ragged, shoeless "urchins" (mine included) that frequent our neighborhood, overnight had turned into unrecognizable "fashion plate" angels.

At 9:05 a.m. we could hear an authoritative female voice quieting the filled-to-capacity church, and we were OFF, up the aisle to the beat of no less than three Garifuna drums.

I was raised going to Church every Sunday but hadn't been in some time so I guess I am what they call a "lapsed" Catholic. But wait, the scene here was different than I remembered when I was a child. The church was NOT absolutely quiet, there were no nuns in habits, there were 3 large drums, 2 guitars and an organ, an older priest, 2 male deacons, and a half dozen matriarchs coordinating activities. Maybe this wasn't going to be as bad as I thought.

It wasn't. There were at least 700 bodies in the church, all ages, sizes and descriptions with less than 10% of the total being adult males and 5 times as many adult women. The rest, about 400 of them, were children and babies and this service seemed to be about them. There was a low murmur throughout the church the whole time, occasionally rising to a quiet buzzing, like during the "sign of peace" when all the children got up to go greet their parents, then, as if on cue, QUIETLY going back to their seats. 400 children moving quietly?

Other than the short sermon by the priest who didn't look well, everything was done by the children - the Offertory procession, the responsorial psalm, collection, a Eucharistic dance and even a vote of thanks. At every step there were songs - traditional hymns sung in English or even better, in Garifuna, all offered to the accompaniment of the drums and guitars and prompting an almost subconscious urge to move to the beat.

It all looked effortless but I knew better. This was the culmination of a traumatic confession, (where my son worried whether he knew the words to the prayers of penance he might be given for being mean to his sister), weeks of practice and lists of drilled questions and answers, carefully orchestrated by stern-looking but good-hearted marshals, their teachers.

And then, finally, The First Holy Communion with the requisite prayer of thanks.

Two whole hours came to an end and 700 people poured out of church in finery that seemed to contradict the houses many of them lived in. But unlike the contradictions and the controversies that the Catholic church is currently facing this seemed manageable and even acceptable. So like everyone else, we headed home for Sunday lunch of rice and beans and stewed chicken.

I don't know it was the hundred of untrained voices lifted in song; OR, being in the company of children, Or if we had in fact all been in the presence of goodness, but I went home in a great mood. And on my way home, I couldn't help thinking that although there were no tourists in the church, if there had been, they would have been welcomed and they would have seen a part of Dangriga just the way it is.


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