The Mary/Mujer Paradox

Madonna statueDecember is a big month for Mary, the mother of Jesus. On 8 December Catholics celebrate the Immaculate Conception, the day She became pregnant with the son of God without benefit of sex. On 12 December there is the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe to commemorate the day She appeared to the humble San Juan Diego in Mexico. And of course on 25 December we celebrate the day She gave birth in Bethlehem to Her son Jesus.

The feast day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a major event in Nicaragua, with celebrations dating to colonial times. My neighborhood, like so many others, enjoyed about 40 hours of intermittent fireworks (which reduced the dog to jelly), late-night festivites the evening before and a Mardi Gras-like celebration at the church up the road on the actual feast day.

The build-up to the weekend was as big a deal as for Thanksgiving in the US. For weeks the newspapers reported preparations across the country. Major stores ran related ads. Billboards and banners strung across telephone poles repeated words like joy, purity, conception, virgin, sainted.

The news reports were detailed—guardians of the tradition were interviewed, one chuch had a special “washing” of the silver before the big day, in many parishes the faithful carried the church’s statue of Mary in local pilgrimages, others planned concerts or novenas, the capital’s cathedral would feature a statue of la Santísima Virgen de la Purísima that is three meters tall and weighs two tons. The faithful call known as La Gritería was everywhere: What causes so much joy? The conception of Mary!

I grew up with Catholic ritual and love the traditions and symbolism. But this weekend, as the fireworks boomed, I found it hard to reconcile a fixation on feminine purity with the high rates of violence against women in Nicaragua.

And along the same lines, I can’t help but link violence rates with the societal attitude that brings us the sex position of the week in the newspaper. Once a week, there’s a “tasteful” drawing of a couple doing it, with tips for getting it right.

Femicide rates in Nicaragua have exploded in the past ten years. Univision reported recently that there were 29 cases of femicide in 2000 and 89 in 2010. While this may be less than on a bad week in Chicago, this is a significant trend for the relatively small Nicaraguan population.

Newspaper La Prensa reported in August that 48 women were murdered in Nicaragua during the first half of 2012, including two under 12, while some 96,000 women are in a “vulnerable state.” Of the 48 murdered, eight were raped before getting killed and 14 were known to the National Police to be victims of abuse, according to a report by the non-governmental organization Red de Mujeres contra la Violencia. The organization also noted that 78% of violence against women occurs in their homes and females between 18 and 45 years account for 61.25% of all assault victims.

I’m a little worried about what will be in the newspaper in the coming week. Univision reported that the special prosecutor for Women in Nicaragua, Deborah Gradinson, said that gender violence is multiplied by three when there are major celebrations.

So Mary’s on a pedestal as the woman who never had sex, real women are available to be kicked around, and new ideas for the sex beforehand are right here in the paper.

What causes so much joy? The conception of Mary!

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

The Hidden Light of Mexico City contains a number of references from my own experiences in Mexico City.  I’ve already written about the  class struggle of simply standing in a line but also wanted to share a sadder, more compelling event that helped shape the book’s narrative through the character of Father Santiago.

Related: Read HIDDEN LIGHT’S First 2 Chapters

Father Richard

Father Richard Junius–or Padre Ricardo–was the pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Mexico City when I lived there.  He was an Oblate Missionary who had been in Mexico for years, ministering mostly to the rural poor.  St. Patrick’s was a sizeable urban parish  in a fairly tough neighborhood. It was the only designated English-speaking church in the city.

Fr Richard Junius

Years ago the church had sold off the school building next door. Funds from the sale  were held in escrow by the diocese for maintenance of the church and attached rectory.  The previous pastor had been removed due to a number of misconducts; when Father Richard arrived we were all cautiously hopeful that the new priest would set things right.

St. Patrick’s sacristy was a place I came to know well; the ladies of the parish cleaned it up for the incoming priest, removing layers of grime and polishing the few silver items the church possessed. My son was an altar server and I remade and cleaned all of the altar server vestments, hanging them in the room’s small closet.  The description of the sacristy of the church of Santa Clara in The Hidden Light of Mexico City is based on St. Patrick’s.

 

Father Richard was old and patient and tireless in his efforts to reach out to the local community and deal with their family issues. He made his new English-speaking congregation aware of prison irregularities in Mexico and didn’t flinch when an armed drug addict, stoned out of his mind, walked through the church and accosted him on the altar during midnight Mass.  He spent nothing on his clothing, wearing threadbare corduroy pants and sweaters that became the fictional Father Santiago’s wardrobe. 

Controversy

Father Richard had spent most of his time in Mexico in rural areas. Now in Mexico City, he seemed naive in the midst of Mexico’s spiraling crime and drug war. 

Twice he was assaulted and robbed while alone in the church counting  the Sunday collection. When parishioners insisted that the funds be handled differently, he disagreed, adamant that church funds were solely his responsibility and that he would not close the church at any time. 

He lent a substantial amount from the maintenance funds to an unscrupulous businessman man who never repaid the loan. Father Richard contracted for the bathroom repair without consulting with the parish council. Again, funds disappeared. The job was left half done and toilets didn’t flush.

Never afraid of controversy, he petitioned the bishop to change the church’s status from English-speaking to multi-lingual. The move angered some of the original congregation, but was welcomed by local families.

Much of the English-speaking congregation moved on, angered by his financial floundering. Several years later I was to learn that he’d been murdered.

A violent death

In August 2007, Father Richard was found stripped, tortured, bound and strangled to death in his bedroom in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City.  His body was found the morning after a fire had broken out in the basement of the church late at night.  Initial Mexican news reports speculated that the death was a result of “sexual misconduct,” and downplayed the fire as well as the theft of several items from the church.  The charges were heatedly denied by Catholic Church officials in Mexico, thousands of faithful, and the  Oblates, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Other reports of his death noted that he’d been in conflict with the owner of  a bar near the church whom Father Richard had publicly called out for serving alcohol to minors. The Oblate website reported that “many believe that the brutal crime was in retaliation for Fr. Ricardo’s efforts to impede the drug traffic and the sale of alcohol to minors in the neighborhood. He had reported to the police that such activities were taking place in a building near the corner of the parish church.”

From the family

Fr. Richard’s cousin got in touch with me in April 2016 as a result of this blog post. In an exchange of emails, she related how she was informed by the Oblate Provincial in Belleville, Illinois that Fr. Richard was murdered:

“After I explained my connection, the Provincial began hesitantly stating, “I don’t even know how to say this.” When I asked what he needed to say, he responded that Father Richard had been murdered between the Saturday night Mass of Anticipation and the early Sunday morning Mass. I later heard that his sister expected his body to be returned to Eagle Pass for burial near the grave of his cousin, my uncle Father Bernard C. Junius, OMI. Sadly, the Mexican authorities buried the body quickly in Mexico City.
 
Prior to his death, Father Richard had written a lengthy letter to my uncle Paul explaining all of the activities he was involved in – a thrift store, a radio show, marrying Spanish and Anglo couples. His passion for service and love of those he served threaded through the letter. His death seemed like the waste of a true servant of the people.”
 

Catching his killer

Father Richard was 79 at the time of his death and only a month away from celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest.  To my knowledge, his murderer has never been brought to justice and the official record remains death by misadventure.
 
Not content with that, I wrote “The Angler,” a novella based on the murder of Father Richard. In “The Angler,” Detective Emilia Cruz, the first female police detective in Acapulco, faces a similar crime. This time, the murder is solved.
 

The Angler by Carmen Amato

 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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