With my background in American Music Theater, I feel ashamed if I don’t make at least one reference to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita, just as much as I feel ashamed if I do. As I walked the sidewalks of Buenos Aires (which I feel are too narrow by the way), I couldn’t get the songs from Evita out of my head, but as I leave Argentina, all I can say to soften the departure is…. Don’t cry for me Argentina… Ack! Who am I kidding? Argentina probably didn’t even notice I was here, but I did notice Argentina, and am extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Most of the time, when I leave a country, I write a summary of the experience to give people an idea of what the Church in that country was like. I usually look for something to serve as a metaphor for the country. For this reason I was glad when the Punte family decided to have empanadas for dinner this evening.
“Perfect!” I thought to myself. “Empanadas will serve as my insight into Argentinean culture!”
Empanadas are a sort of hand food in which thin, soft bread is wrapped around selected ingredients, usually some sort of meat, and then baked, like a hand held, individual, pot pie. They are served hot, and are quite tasty. Empanadas are very popular in this part of the world, and one of the many things in which Argentineans take pride.
“Did you ever have empanadas before?” The question came at dinner.
I hesitated to answer because I knew what the response would be.
“Yes… when I was in Paraguay.”
“Aaaaggh! They don’t have empanadas. Argentina are the only place to have good empanadas.”
It becomes a point of controversy. Paraguay and Argentina often get lumped together because they share similar Spanish accents, cultures, and foods. Paraguay thinks they are better than Argentina. Argentina thinks they are better than Paraguay, and if you mention the two countries comparatively in the same sentence, get ready for trouble. I had used up controversy card when I mentioned Paraguay, I didn’t even want to cause further trouble by stating that the United States has empanadas too, but they’re cheaper and not as good. We sell them in the frozen food section of the grocery store, and give them generic names such as “Hot Pockets.”
I didn’t find enough meaning in consuming empanadas to make a nice and tidy summary of Argentina, but if you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view my pictorial of all the churches I visited in Argentina by clicking here. It is sort of a Google Earth empanada.
The sad truth is that I can’t say that I found any metaphor that sums up Argentina. It isn’t that I haven’t tried, or that I am dissatisfied with my experiences in Argentina. They were great! They were just so diverse that don’t know how to sum them up.
I was most impressed that every time I went to Mass, the Church was full. Even, when I went to an ordinary weekday Mass this evening at Our Lady of Pilar (which I visited before,) the church had standing room only. STANDING ROOM ONLY! The parish has Mass three times a day, so a lack of opportunity is not the cause of the high numbers. One could say that Argentina just needs to build more churches, but I really think that one church every couple blocks is enough.
At the same time, I heard time and time again from priests and the Catholic faithful that the people of Argentina aren’t very active. There is great concern that people don’t believe in the Church. I understand their concern, but then again… ONE MILLION PEOPLE marched thirty miles to Lujan in order to celebrate the apparition of Mary in Lujan. That doesn’t even happen in Fatima or Lourdes, the more renowned sites of a Marian apparition. In the United States, it is a major effort to get one hundred people to walk three miles for a cause. What are they complaining about?
Another strange thing to me is that the city of Buenos Aires is as metropolitan as New York or Paris, and yet secularism hasn’t completely caught hold of the people. Young people in Argentina are still active, by my accounts, in the life of the Church, even while they attend secular universities that sell the importance of materialism over spirituality. There are as many people under thirty at daily Mass as there are over sixty. I kept thinking to myself, “Why is there any concern that Argentinean Catholics aren’t active?”
Perhaps I can get away with saying that Argentineans are people of extremes. I saw communists marching, the missionaries preaching, the drug users getting high, the rich reveling in the latest fashions, the youth walking with great enthusiasm, the Cubs lose (which had nothing to do with Argentina), and no matter to whom I was talking, Argentina did it better, especially when it came to empanadas.
So I don’t exactly know how to make sense of a country like this, but I will say that I am leaving energized. For me, Argentina was an inspiration. I was extremely moved by the energy at work in the Church here, and intrigued on how the same energy might be spread in the United States.
Maybe if we all start eating Hot Pockets… I mean empanadas. Well, God only knows.