Why aren’t some kids in Peru confirmed? Because they haven’t been baptized. So why can’t these kids be baptized? Because their extended families can’t financially support the cultural tradition of throwing a big party to celebrate the Baptism. A story from the Diamonds on sacraments in a different culture.
Well, we are moving into the busy season here in Peru. Not only is Christmas rapidly approaching but so are all the sacraments we have been preparing for. In the next few weeks we will have 5 group Baptisms, 3 Reconciliations services, 3 groups of First Communion, and 1 group of Confirmation; and these are just in the chapels where we work (4 of the 15). We are excited because we have really gotten to know the kids over the last 7 months, and to think that we will be part of this important step in their spiritual lives is cool.
As we have been preparing it has come to light that more and more of the kids haven’t been baptized, and in order to receive their First Communion or Confirmation they need to have been baptized. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal to us because we had a Baptism ceremony planned at every chapel and we gave the kids plenty of notice and we thought it would just be a formality … we were wrong.
Baptism here is much more than the sacrament, actually the sacrament is a far second to the real reason for the day, which is the party. You can’t have the party unless you have godparents who can sponsor the event and sometimes they can be hard to find because families don’t want to “put someone out.” So I just thought, “Why don’t the people here just have a small ceremony and skip the party that way they can receive the sacrament?” For me that would be more important than a party. But I am not from here so I cannot just assume they feel the same way as I do … and obviously they don’t.
But there was one family in particular that was different and it really touched us. There are 7 people living in their small house, 5 kids and the parents. Three of the kids have been preparing in one of our First Communion classes and we asked if they had been baptized and they said no. So we went to their house to talk to their parents and they told us they were going to think about it but the party thing was looming …. They were going to talk about it and we were going to stop by another day later in the week to see what they thought.
When we stopped by again the mother told us this was just not the year to have everyone baptized because money was too tight. We told her the baptismal ceremony did not cost anything and all they needed were godparents who could be an example for the kids, (not to mention that their financial situation would not likely be better next year or any time in the near future). Then she said, “Look at their clothes and their shoes. It is all we have.” We said it didn’t matter because it was a sacrament and their clothes are not what is important. Then we asked if she was baptized and she said “No.” We asked her if she wanted to be baptized too along with her 5 kids. She was touched. I think it was the first time in a long time that someone had thought about her. She really wanted to do it but she needed to talk to her husband. When a friend of ours stopped by their house to check in on them, the mother told him another problem they had was that none of their kids had ever been registered and therefore they had no birth certificates; they are undocumented in their own country. We talked to the priest in the parish here and he said we will work it out if they want to receive Baptism. We will find out Sunday if they really go ahead with it.
Even if they decide this is not the right year for the Baptism and the First Communion, Meri and I will try and help them get their kids documented so they have the rights they deserve. This story is very common here and growing up undocumented can lead to a life of oppression and discrimination. There are resources here to help with this problem but they can be hard to find and navigate—even harder if you can’t read and write.
This is their reality and they opened up to us, not asking for assistance but just to finally let out, to talk about it, to try and reconcile it. Sometimes once it is spoken it becomes real and then you can move on.