A few days ago we went to a funeral in La Parroquía de Santa Maria Magdalena in Xico. This very beautiful church crowns Xico´s main street. Inside, soft pink and white hung from the dome, caught up with lacy gold flowers. Fresh flowers decorated statuary and pillars and side chapels.
The man whose funeral it was was not a fancy person or a particularly important one in the town, but it didn't matter. He rested at the foot of the altar for the service. On the altar, Maria Magdalena, voluptuous and beautiful, reclined under a bloody, crucified Christ.
Non-Catholics, especially from the US, whom I have spoken to wonder at the bloodiness of this Catholic Christ, and especially Protestants shudder and say it is the Resurrection that should be celebrated. But when I look at this still-human, wounded Jesus, I think of his compassion, of someone who not only is said to have died for our sins, but who also shared in human suffering, who feels it with us. And I think this image provokes compassion in those who kneel beneath it. The priest said, his arm passing over all of us who sat there, Christ loves us all.
At the end of the service, the man's wife and family walked in front of the hearse and the rest of us followed behind, moving slowly down the main street which is paved with stones. Here, funeral processions have the right of way. They are not infrequent. We turned on the street towards the Pantheon, the city's cemetery, moving up and down the steep hills. Outside the cemetery, vendors sold snacks and drinks.
It is a busy, crowded cemetery, a city of the dead, with small graves marked with a jumble of wooden crosses and miniature houses and large (for a cemetery) tombs that seem to be miniature castles for the more prosperous. Colors are bright, flowers, plastic and real, piled high.
Our friends' grave, off to one side,under some trees, was a simple place, already dug. We could see Pico de Orizaba in the distance, white with snow. While the workers lowered the coffin into the grave, a woman sang a hymn, then said a rosary in a clear, firm voice. Some people put flowers on the coffin, others handfuls of soil. Then the workers poured concrete around it, deep in the ground. Finally they started shoveling the earth on top. More flowers, more earth. And finally, all the rest of the flowers.
We all came forward and standing in a circle around the grave, held hands One person chanted in Spanish, "From the earth we came, to the earth we return like a drop of water goes into the sea." People shared memories. One woman said, with a quiet laugh, "We will be neighbors." Her plot was right around the corner.
And then it was over. We walked slowly back to Xico.