After a day of conversations and interviews, I woke up early Sunday morning to explore El Arenal, one of the towns I am researching, and get a better sense of the community. As I wandered the streets in the morning grey, everyone else who was awake was walking in the same direction. Fairly certain of where they were heading, but curious to see in any case, I started to follow them.
But the people in front of me, rather than entering into a grand church building, were turning into a gap in a chain link fence into what seemed to be a run-down lot. Then I saw the sign, “Construimos el templo de …” (We are constructing the temple of …) with an image of Jesus and I realized that mass was to be celebrated in this temple under construction.
The basic structure of the building was there: a concrete roof and supporting columns. But that was it. The only wall was the one behind the altar, where a simple crucifix hung. The people there for 8 am mass sat in plastic chairs more commonly seen in taquerías or simply leaned against trees in the grass outside (since there were no walls obstructing their view).
As I observed, I wanted to romanticize the scene as an example of faithfulness in progress. People working hard and as a community to build the church – always with profound hope ahead of them, represented and brought to life in the mass. I wished that I had brought my camera to capture the scene.
But when I returned to the house where I was staying and asked about the church building, my idealism was quickly shattered. Apparently the church had been under construction for years, stalled by town and church politics and waning interest in funding the project.
For the Church under construction, periods like these are often the case. Communities supposed to be growing in love together are suddenly fractured or left with a void. In marriages, supposedly life-long bonds severed.
The world under construction also too often seems to be stalled. As a return migrant mentioned to me, machismo suddenly reared its ugly head upon arrival back in their hometown in a way that was never the case as she and her husband lived together in the US. Even more tragically, as we were reminded this week, the desperation of migrants with few other options and the insufficiency and injustice of the political system continue to lead to death. So far, 194 migrants are confirmed dead after the tragic boat wreck in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Italy.
As my host explained the saga of church construction in El Arenal, I wistfully asked, “Will it ever be finished?” “Certainly,” he replied, “someday.” Our church in construction, our world in construction, can sometimes seem indefinitely stalled and regressing. Yet, just like the promise of that mass in the half-finished building, we are building towards a real goal, hope that will be realized.