Early that fall morning, I rode my bicycle down to the mall and got a spot under a tree across from where the service would take place. By the time the service started, there was a huge crowd. I was able to see better than most because I leaned my bike up against the tree and then stood on the bike while hugging the tree to get an elevated view. It was a memorable event even if I wasn't Catholic.
Since arriving in the Caribbean, I'm learning a lot more about Catholicism. In my village, there are three churches—a Catholic church, a Pentecostal church (both in the heart of our village), and a Seventh Day Adventist church (up on a high hill halfway between our village and the next one). I decided to attend the Catholic church, which is the largest congregation. It is not some grandiose cathedral, but instead just a very modest concrete block building (with some of the blocks set so that the normally hidden holes provide extra ventilation).
Peace Corps volunteers are not required to get involved with religious activities, as it is a very personal decision, and I respect whatever choices my cohorts might have made in their assigned villages. However, it was the right choice for me to go to a church in my village on Sunday mornings, if for nothing else than to spend some quiet time contemplating my life and my current situation.
Since I am not officially of the Catholic faith, I don't cross myself, touch the holy water, or take part in the communion mass, but I find just being there is a good thing. Having something regular to do each Sunday has been helpful as I sort out a new life for myself here. More importantly, I think it has helped me to better integrate into my community. I am getting to know some of the village residents better, and I enjoy seeing some of my students there as well. It is also an interesting exposure to a different culture for me.
This past Sunday, there wasn't a service at our church. Instead, buses carried myself and many of our members to the capital for a huge gathering at the sports stadium. The purpose was to celebrate 60 years of priestly service by His Eminence Kelvin Cardinal Felix. He is 83 years old, and retired from his position as Archbishop in 2008, returning to his native Dominica at that time. However, Cardinal Felix was too active to retire, and now serves as a parish priest in the town of Soufriere. So if there is a need to pick a new pope, he would go to the Vatican to participate as a Cardinal, but he is now far down the management chain as a mere priest in a small local congregation. He sounds like a humble man who loves his job. Below is a picture as he walked into the stadium.