Cuaresma: A Lenten thought
There is a church in Barcelona, Spain which is just a stone’s throw away from the famous tourist promenade, La Rambla or Las Ramblas, where Filipinos gather to attend masses on Sundays and holidays of obligation. It is the Parroquia de San Agustin, a Catholic church in the neighborhood of La Raval where many Filipinos reside, mostly workers in the field of tourism, and their families, who are either permanent residents or even Spanish citizens.
The church was part of the Agustinian monastery that no longer exists because of a series of incidents that saw the church partially burned during anti-clerical riots. It was recovered and restored through the initiative of Agustinian friars. Several years later, it became a parish of the Archdiocese of Barcelona. The church is the canonical headquarters of the Brotherhood of the Great Power and the Esperanza Macarena based in Barcelona. On Nov. 17, 1971, the Assembly of Catalonia, the unit body of the Anti-Franco opposition in Catalonia, was established in this place.
The façade of the church is baroque, one of the few left in Barcelona. Inside the basilica are three longtitudinal knaves and a dome over the cross. A Baroque fresco painting is also found inside. Along both sides of the church are chapels of various saints where devotees can pray and light candles. Outside the main entrance is a plaza.
I came to know about the San Agustine Church when a friend from the Philippine Consulate in Barcelona told me that the church holds mass in Filipino and is officiated by a Filipino priest. My curious mind directed me to the said church the following Sunday and since then attended mass there, except when I would go to the international mass at the La Sagrada Familia.
Before the Sunday mass designated for Filipinos at 10 a.m., I visited the parish office where I saw Filipinos. I learned from the office that San Agustine Church is the personal parish of Filipinos in Barcelona, for several years already. The office manned by Filipino staff maintain records of baptism, marriage and confirmation. It has a parish pastoral council which meets regularly, on matters relating to the holidays, holy sacraments, fiestas, fund raisers, social events and when there are requests for collaboration with the Philippine Consulate. The officiating priest, church ministers, choir and other church workers are Filipinos. Masses are held, alternately, in Filipino and in Spanish.
I noticed as I walked towards the church entrance, that by the side of the long and wide footsteps, there were about six people lying down, wrapped in blankets apparently asleep. Some must be tourists, as beside them were their backpacks.
During the first mass that I attended there, I was transported to my Sunday mass at the Immaculate Conception Church, in Aurora Hill, where I was once a lay minister. I noticed many parishioners knew each other and there were groups gathered with children in their baptismal outfits. At the point of the mass where the faithful gave each other a sign of peace, we saw those sincere cheerful smiles from faces of our fellow Filipinos. The choir sang Filipino religious songs that I am familiar with and I found myself singing with the whole congregation. The Filipino priest was young and delivered a homily that was so relevant with the lives of Filipino expats and interjected jokes that were so Pinoy that made the parishioners relate to them. After the last blessing and as the recessional song was being sang by the choir, I joined the faithful exiting towards the doors that led to the plaza where Filipino vendors, in improvised makeshift stalls, were selling homemade Filipino foods and delicacies such as fried vegetable lumpia, pancit, siomai, kakanin, tinudok, bola-bola, etc. Churchgoers surround them while others gather in groups, sharing their weekend escapades or work conditions.
As we mentioned earlier, when we arrived at the church plaza, there were some homeless folks sleeping by the side of the wide footsteps at the church entrance, wrapped in blankets. Even with the crowd in the plaza, the chatters, the banters and the laughter surrounding them, they did not seem bothered and their dreams unperturbed. By the side of the plaza are two big portable water closets. One wonders, is the church, like the water closets, they’re not only for the faithful but also for wandering souls?