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I have been to a lot of celebrations and ceremonies during my ten years in Mexico.  Weddings, funerals, graduations, and birthdays.  You name it and they celebrate it, big time, and I have attended many.  I thought I had seen it all, until Saturday.  Saturday I attended a “Forgiveness Ceremony”.

Initially, Anita, my wife, and I, thought we were going to a wedding.  A young lady who had lived at the home for needy children, where Anita and I serve,  was going to tie the knot, at least that’s what we were told by her younger sister who still lives at the children’s home. We were invited.  We were told it was to take place at the Catholic church in the small town where the mother and daughter lived.

Anita and I started out for the small town early in the afternoon and upon arriving at the town we began to look high and low for the church.  In most small Mexican towns, the Catholic church is the easiest thing in the world to locate as it is normally the biggest building in town, and centrally located.  This church was an exception.  After asking half a dozen people where the church was, we finally found it toward the edge of town, surrounded by trees.  We also found it empty .  Nobody was there!  We called the mother of the bride and she said everyone was at her house and told us how to get there.  We made our way there, and the younger sister of the supposed bride met us on the street and informed us that there was no wedding.  Somehow she was confused about the purpose of the event and thought it was a wedding, but it was something else.

A lot of stuff that followed was confusing to me, and even to Anita, who has grown up Mexico.  She tried to explain what was going on as events unfolded.

We went into the place.  I say place because most Mexicans who live in small towns don’t live in houses so much as they live in family compounds with a few dwelling places in which immediate family members live, as well as extended family members like grandparents, aunts and uncles and sometimes in-laws. There is normally a relatively large common space or courtyard in the middle.  The mother of the young lady who had lived at the mission, is poor, her husband is in prison, and she lives in a tin shack on the edge of the compound, which is owned by her husband’s brothers.  This is why one of  her daughters lived at the mission and another still lives there.

The mother explained all too briefly what was going on, and then led us to a table where we were served pozole, a common soup served at celebrations.  We were halfway through our bowl of pozole when the action started.

At this time the only people there was the family of the mother.  All of a sudden, the family of the Jpegboyfriend/groom, started filing into the compound, led by an elderly woman carrying a censor from which burning incense smoke was filling the air.  Close on her heels were men carrying a couple loads of firewood, a couple of bound turkeys, large baskets of food and ten cases of beer.  Anita told me that in an ordinary wedding the groom and his family bring gifts such as these to begin a long (sometimes seven days) wedding celebration. But on this day, it was more of a peace offering brought by the boyfriend’s family to help make amends for an offense.

It seems the offense was that the 25 year-old boyfriend had “taken advantage” of the 17 year old girlfriend, and to add insult to injury, he had already fathered two children out of wedlock with another lady.  All this didn’t seem to bother the girl who had lived at the mission so much, as she was clinging to his arm as they were the last to enter the courtyard and then walked to the front and stood between the two lines of family members; each line consisting of about 20 people.

Then the dialogue began.  A man from the boyfriend’s family began by admitting that the young man had done wrong and asked forgiveness.  The mother of the young lady accepted the apology and forgave the boy and ostensibly the entire family who, it seems, was considered somewhat culpable in the affair.  I thought, “That was easy enough”.  But the mother was not done.  In fact, she was just getting started.

She exclaimed to the other family how painful the whole episode had been to her and her family and to her husband in prison.  It was wrong what the young man had done and her and her family felt terribly offended by the ordeal.  She was shaken by the event and her voice began to rise.  Other members of the young man’s family chimed in.  Members of the mother’s family spoke their piece, in tones that were less than peaceful.  Discussion continued for a few minutes as the two families considered what was the best way to ameliorate the situation.  Some suggested a “shotgun” wedding.  Others said the couple should work it out on their own.  The conclusion, as far as I could understand, with Anita help, was that they would wait until the young lady turned 18, and if they were still “in love”, then they would get married.  Most people seemed to think that was the best solution, and the heart of the “forgiveness ceremony” began.

Mexico is about 95% Catholic, and most Catholic homes that I have been in have a little “shrine” in someJpeg part of the house with a virgin Mary figure, some baby Jesus’s , and a crucifix.  This place was no different.  In fact this whole process took place in front of the family shrine.  At this point in the ceremony, the young man and young lady knelt in front of the shrine; in front of a burning candle.  Then a kind of blessing/forgiveness thing took place starting with the mother and her family.  The mother crossed herself before the shrine, and then made the sign of the cross over her daughter and the young man.  Then she put her right hand on her daughter’s head, and left hand on the man’s head, and slowly brought the heads together until they gently touched.  When I was young, I remember a person talking to a couple of children that were misbehaving, and he told them to stop or he would knock their heads together.  This thought ran through my head as each member of the mother’s family, and then the young man’s family repeated this process of making the sign of the cross and then bringing their heads together.  A part of me thought that both parties had acted badly, with total disregard of the scriptures, and that they did indeed, need to have their heads knocked together in hopes that it would knock some sense into them.

After all the family members had their turn to bless and forgive, and then they all applauded and pointed their fingers at family members across the little isle that separated them, as athletes sometimes do when shouting, “You’re the man!”

Then, out came the adult beverages.  The mother’s family poured a little bit of mezcal, a tequila like drink that is popular in Oaxaca, into small plastic cups and gave one to each of the young man’s family, and then to her own.  And if that wasn’t enough, she opened some cases of beer, and gave each person a bottle.  So, with both hands holding an intoxicating beverage, they lifted the drinks in honor of the other family, as if to say, “let bygones be bygones”, and everyone took a drink.

That was enough for me.  The ceremony seemed to be over and the families were setting out tables and chairs in preparation for what would undoubtedly be a long afternoon of celebration with lots of food and inebriation.  We bid the mother and daughter farewell, but not before Anita had a heart to heart talk with the young couple about living responsibly before each other, their families, and especially before God.

Thinking about this strange ceremony on the way home, I thought that overall it was a good thing.  All concerned parties came together to air their grievances in hopes of finding an appropriate redress to the problem, and reconciliation before God and man.  They found neutral ground and a hopeful solution to the situation.  Both families ultimate concern was for the well being of the young couple.  The couple took it all in, was made aware of the pain and turmoil that their irresponsible behavior had caused, and then humbly knelt, while each member of both families forgave them and blessed them.  It is much better than carrying around a hateful grudge the rest of their lives like the infamous Hatfields and McCoys.

I also thought of the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  After the prayer, Jesus emphasized the importance of forgiveness by saying that if you do not forgive others from your heart, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.  God loves us and wants us to be happy.  We are most happy when we live in acceptance of God’s forgiveness and an attitude that easily forgives others.

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