Photo by the author taken of Bogotá from the mountains to the North East

By Mario Salazar / Washington Times – Visiting Colombia, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, after a few years is a reminder of how pervasive religion is in this country. While there are other religions in this country, they dwarf when compared to Roman Catholicism.

Disclaimer: I am a non-believer, but culturally Catholic.

A good example of the fervor that most Colombians demonstrate is the fact that a large portion of adults and children attend mass on Sundays. This was true when I was a child and it is true today. One can attend mass on Saturdays under special circumstances so it is common to see masses spaced out every hour and fifteen minutes on Saturday evenings and during the day and evening on Sunday.

Because of the popularity of this weekly ritual or because the Church wants to make attending mass as easy as possible, masses are also held in other convenient places. In the home of my nephew where I am staying, a mass is held every Sunday in the activities/club building of the development where he resides.

Another pervasive characteristic of Colombia is the clear separation of the economic classes.

The development, typical of those where upper middle class live, consists of 460 units, comprised of low high-rise buildings and single residence dwellings. Protected by high walls, the units are decorative in wroth-iron fences with electrified wires above.

There is also a staff of about 40 that perform mostly guarding and security talks at the several gates. The hired security force is armed with nine-millimeter pistols, communications equipment and formal looking uniforms. Of course, access to the grounds is restricted to those that reside there and service people that have been previously cleared. The ratio of green area to building area is about one to one. Included in the green areas are tennis courts, playgrounds and small soccer fields.

“Roamers” cruise the grounds doing maintenance to the grounds, emptying trashcans, sweeping the trails and sweeping and mopping the buildings’ entrances and stairways. There are also security roamers that keep an eye on every person that walks, enters, leaves or has anything to do with the grounds.

Curiously, several years ago when a former mayor of Bogotá required that voluntary green areas had to be made available to the public, the residents had a problem. There had to be gates that would allow any pedestrian to enter and use for recreation a portion of the development’s grounds. The solution was to camouflage the gates and keep them locked, with the idea that anyone that wanted to enter could ask for access. Of course, no one was given responsibility to open the gates.

Back to Sunday Mass

Trying to be a good member of the family and at the strong suggestion of my niece by marriage, I decided to attend mass. We walked about 200 yards to the activities building to find every seat taken. Chairs were gathered from inside an ancillary room and we claimed a small part of the entry door and porch. Latecomers, persons with babies and pets stood or sat on low walls immediately outside the entrance.

The young priest officiated the mass in an informal manner. During the gospel he concentrated on Mother’s day and in the upcoming canonization of the first Colombian saint, the nun Laura Montoya. He even made a joke that would have been considered improper when I was a Catholic, making reference to men also being very much like mothers, but with additional equipment.

It made me think that even in Colombia the Catholic Church is making some concessions to the 21st Century. The ritual handholding and embracing that was added to the rite about 30 years ago were also performed. This part I find particularly emotional. This is because the Church that I grew up in was all ceremony and no personal emotion, only godly emotion.

Of interest was that the choir, composed of several residents, regaled us with some nice hymns. One of them particularly made me do a double take.  When the mass was over, one of the residents, a 12-year-old girl flawlessly played a very touching lay song in the electronic piano. This would have never been tolerated in my Catholic Church.

My nephew and I conversed on the way back to the apartment, discussing the fact that he is a member of Opus Dei. I was surprised to hear that to him this organization is very liberal and that is the reason traditional Church hierarchy opposes it. Clarifying later, he indicated that by liberal he meant that the Opus Dei has loosen some of the structures of the Church since it believes that churches are not the only place for worship and that religion, within certain limits, is highly personal. Opus Dei, of course, still holds the monolithic position of the Catholic Church with regards to celibacy, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. (Things that would appear obsessive to some.)

Many things have changed in Colombia for the good, especially the emphasis on tourism. I have never entered a foreign country will less paperwork and nuisance. All I needed was my passport and a short form for customs.

It is apparent that while many things may have changed in Colombia, economic class separation and religion remains very much unaltered. Only some cosmetic changes have been made in these important areas.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles – ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket – in 21st Century Pacifist <> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.

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