My First Communion or How I Learned the Word for Sin

I think this blog post should begin with an apology. I kind of gave my host family the impression that eating meat was a sin for Jews. I apologize to all the meat loving Jews for making my host family think that all Jews cannot eat meat.

So I went to Church (again). Although this time it was a Catholic Church and I was sitting up front, actively listening to the service. I felt a bit uncomfortable entering the Church wearing my muddy boots and rain jacket and not in nicer clothing. I was consoled by the multitude of woman wearing leggings or sleeveless and see-through tops. My host brother-in-law, the father of the girls who were about to receive their first communion, was hung over. After absorbing all these facts, I felt a little bit better about my appearance – not that it mattered, really, since at some point during the service almost everyone’s eyes would wander to me anyway (being a foreigner and all).

I had already entered the huge Catholic Church in the middle of the town (albeit not as far in) so the big statue of Jesus hanging on a cross in the middle was not a surprise anymore. I did notice this time, though, that in the back corner was a box where a Priest was sitting, taking confessions. All throughout the service, people would walk up to the confession box and confess.

The Church was full since this was a very special occasion. The only other time I had seen it this full was for a funeral. A group of young people were to receive their first communion. The children were all dressed up nicely: the girls in white wedding-like dresses, with veils; the boys in button-down white shirts and nice pants. As I watched the children enter down the aisle, a thought occurred to me: How many of these girls would again walk down the aisle in white wedding dresses? How many would end up walking down the aisle in gray wedding dresses (signifying that the woman already had a child out of wedlock)? How many would choose not to get married at all and have what they call here, a free marriage? These bits of depressing thoughts stopped as I realized that my whole host family that was currently present in Apuela was at Church except for my host mother. Being a Christian, she would not enter the Catholic Church. My younger host sister, also a Christian, entered the Church but would not kneel (neither did I), and my host brother, although a Catholic, does not attend Church regularly. I was in good company.

The service began with the nuns reciting prayers that presumably everyone knew by heart (I did not know it by heart nor did I know it in Spanish). I was excited to see altar boys- them being a novelty in many books that I have read. I recognized one of them as being my host sister’s friend. Each of the children who were about to receive their first communion received a white candle and rosary beads. At some point the Priest said a little sermon. Later, my host siblings would comment on how the Priest was not that great. Their biggest complaint was that he was not welcoming. At one point he said “those who are ready, come”, giving the impression that if you are not ready, you should leave the church. Apparently, there was a previous Priest who was much better liked by my family because he was charismatic and welcoming to all. The parents of the children present the Priest with an assortment of gifts: food, flowers, and golden cups. The priest gave both the children and their respective parents (and sometimes grandparents or older siblings) the communion. The Priest dipped crackers in wine for the children, but gave the other family members dry crackers. There was a point in the service where everyone shook each other’s hands. At the end of the service people came up front and the priest sprayed water on the congregants. My host brother, younger host sister, and I went as quickly as we could in the opposite direction of the water spraying, out the door of the Church. We were supposed to go over to my older host sister’s house to cook a big meal but that did not work out (it rained).

That evening, around the dinner table, my host brother was once again commenting how I do not eat meat. He suggested that one day he would make a meal and hide some meat in it. After eating the meal (and presumably liking it), he would reveal to me that it was meat and since I liked it, I would continue eating meat. “She does not believe in eating animals” my host sister said. And then I could see the realization across my host mother’s face as she connected dots. “Jews don’t eat meat.” So I came to a little bit of a dilemma: Do I explain the complex Jewish dietary laws or do I take the simple way out? Faced with the notion of my host brother hiding pig in my food, I used a word that I had learned that morning in Church- sin (pecado). I said it was a sin for me, and not for them, to eat meat. Then we had a rather short conversation about the existence of God and went to sleep.

This was a moment where I felt comfortable sharing myself and an important part of my identity with my family.