I think you’ll find that everything was painfully wrong in Santa Rosa.
Today was the day that this small town, deep in the interior of Brazil, celebrated the feast of their patroness, Santa Rosa de Lima. Everyone in the town came out for the celebration.
Which is why there was a woman in the middle of the town’s only chapel, wearing clothes too fancy for keep, and red lipstick, too bright for her face. She sat there pretending to pray.
Why does she perpetuate the game? Everyone can tell that her lips do not own the cherry color they display. The people of this town have lips colored a faded maroon, cracked by the dryness of the arid landscape. One can only guess… she must be covering something up.
But then again, so are many of the congregants. Next to football, gossip is the primary sport of this forsaken town, so it doesn’t take long for me to hear about the dirt on the twenty year old catechist in the front of the church who is trying to lead everyone in the prayers before Mass. It is her responsibility to teach the children in this town about the love of God, but many townspeople smirk at her self acclaimed righteousness. She is living with a forty year old man who has three children. The man’s wife is angry about the affair, but somehow, that doesn’t keep both the wife and the catechists from sharing the same house together, and the same man.
Infidelity is a casual pastime here. I noted that to the driver on the trip out to Santa Rosa. For a place that has no major business, no major industry, and no major tourist attractions, there certainly were a lot of motels.
“…And they all have high walls around them! How rude! I can’t see whose car is parked outside the motel room.” I mutter grinning.
“You know why of course?” the driver says earnestly.
“I’m going to guess it’s so you can’t tell who is cheating on who.”
“Humph!” He chuckles, “One time, a man entered a motel with his lover. When he got behind the walls, he found his wife there, entering a different room with another man. They both got mad at each other for the others’ infidelity, at the very same time that they were caught cheating. Crazy.”
And when you look around the village, casual statistics help composes a picture of why marital morality is seemingly absent. There are no jobs in this semi-arid, semi-hopeless town. The good men, those who might have a chance, leave to the city. The women, even the good ones, remain, and cling to the men who are left, even the ones who are jerks and drunks. The women stay and care for the children… which many of them had when they were fifteen years of age. Lacking a mature disposition to give guidance to their children, the cycle repeats itself, over and over.
The priest looks bored. He is hearing confessions in preparation of several young men and women who are receiving their First Communion. The girls sit waiting in their white dresses, and the boys in their white shirts and blue jeans which have at least been cleaned. The priest signals for them to come to him, one at a time. They, and their Godparents, must confess their sins before the service can begin. The activity seems mechanical, and a bit lifeless.
Sill, it is nice to see that the chapel is full, however the young woman sitting at my side laughs when she whispers the truth we both know, these people won’t see the inside of a Church again until Christmas. Women fill two-thirds of the small desert chapel. They sit in the front, their wrinkled faces worn heavily from the dry heat, or maybe the hardship and disappointments they have faced. Several of the men in church are already drunk. It is nine in the morning in Santa Rosa, which seems to be an hour past the time that it is socially permitted to start drinking. Going to church does not really fit into the machismo culture that dominates the town, so the men sit in the back, half hackling at each other during the prayers.
And then there is the woman in the bright red lipstick.
What is she hiding? One doesn’t have to have too much imagination to arrive at a decent conclusion. But then again… who do you really want to throw a stone at? The priest? The catechist? The drunks? The woman in the bright red lipstick? Those lips broadcast the truth, just like the tall walls that surround the motel rooms in Brazil. Life in Santa Rosa is an uncomplicated masquerade of apathy.
But the entire village came together for a couple hours. They may not be righteous… but their God is. They may not exemplify holiness… but their prayers do.
With everything that was wrong in Santa Rosa, everything was right. This chapel wasn’t built as a sanctuary for saints, but rather, a hospital for sinners. The bread was not broken because these congregants know how to feed themselves, but because they hunger for something beyond that which they can furnish on their own.
And today, on their solemn feast day, this remote outstation was full of broken people tried to get one thing right. Their worship of a God who loves them. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view the pictures I took of Santa Rosa outstation by clicking here.
I think you’ll find, in their painfully human attempts, something was right in Santa Rosa.