Monday, October 07, 2002

sacristan for a day

Yesterday, Nikki and I attended a christening as godparents. Normally this ritual takes all of 30 minutes or so, but we were stuck with a polyglot priest who interspersed his speeches with commentary in 3 languages and insisted on audience participation and it lasted for hours. Now, conservative church-goers in the Philippines are a pretty passive bunch, used to just receiving instead of actively participating, so this was quite a shock to all of us (Nikki wanted to walk out and have a cigarette).

He started deviating from the script (yes, the rite is scripted and everyone has a copy of the sequence and responses) by asking flustered people various questions – which presumed that we were all Catholic. Soul-stirring stuff like “What does it mean to be a Christian?”, “How much do you love your child?” as well as pop questions on Christian symbology. People meekly answered in soft, uncertain tones which the half-deaf priest barely heard – so in a very loud voice he asked them to repeat and repeat and repeat. Then he engaged in role-playing, selecting random players from the assembled group and having us act out a scenario involving 40 pesos (20 of which was fake) and a sandwich. Then more questions and an impromptu lecture on love and doves.

He zeroed in on me, calling me “Mr. Basketball Player” (because I was the tallest person there) and asked me to sing the Lord’s Prayer…in Filipino. So I gamely launched into the only version I knew, which turned out to be a very old version of the song (I'm the right person to ask - I have no shame). Delighted, he then had me read portions of the script, assist him in the baptisms (we were not the sole party) and handle the chrism. Afterwards, he took me aside and asked if I had previously served as a sacristan (altar boy) because I did things so well. Choking back my spirited diatribe about Catholicism, I said no and opted to gently smile at the old man.

Me, an altar boy. The mind reels.


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