A Tragedy And A Communion

I prefer to keep this site mostly as a “refuge” from “the world” – to talk about writing, books (including, uh, yes, my own), travel, culture, and other life matters, in a friendly and intimate manner – and to leave (usually divisive) current events and (mostly bad) news for others on the net. Sometimes, though, you simply can’t ignore something. Especially given I’ve written so much about us here in Tenerife, I felt I had to nod to this local tragedy in at least one post.

The Los Cristianos apartment building collapse happened not too far away from where we’re staying. It occurred Thursday morning around the corner from the town center, a stroll down the hill and to the left from the main church. I’d mentioned it a couple of times on Twitter – including seeing resting rescue dogs outside our apartment – but that was it.

We’d been consciously avoiding the collapse area. However, heading to and from midday Mass yesterday, we walked by it – visible from a corner on a cross street. (Police have cordoned off the roads around it and vehicles are banned.) People died in that rubble, so I hesitated to take a photograph, but decided on the way back to snap only a single one from that corner – at a respectful distance:

Sunday, April 17: Walking by the site of the Los Cristianos building collapse. Workers are clearing away rubble. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Sunday, April 17: Walking by the site of the Los Cristianos building collapse. Workers are clearing away rubble. [Photo by me, 2016.]

A much-seen video taken in the immediate aftermath of the collapse was shot to the left, across the street, from where I was standing above:

The BBC reported on Saturday that so far six are confirmed killed – four women and two men. (Two Spaniards, two Italians, a Moroccan and a Finn; the BBC did not break down the dead by sex and nationality.) Three others were injured. One person is unaccounted for. The cause is under investigation.

We’d chosen that Sunday Mass this weekend out of curiosity: it is an English-speaking one. We had avoided it previously; all of the Masses we’d been to thus far here had been in Spanish. Being in Spain, we simply wanted to attend Masses in Spanish.

After we walked up the hill and meandered around the corner, we noticed A LOT of people milling around in the square outside of the church, and many were seriously dressed up. The Spanish are usually well-attired for Mass to begin with, but for some this bordered on fashion magazine photo shoot. There were way too many people too, we thought also, for a regular Mass, let alone an English language one in a Spanish town (albeit an internationally “diverse” one). Then we spotted several pre-teen children together in similar dresses and suits.

Church steeple. Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Church steeple. Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]

Suddenly, it hit us. It’s April. We had wandered into a First Communion for about a dozen children.

We weren’t too thrilled about that initially. The church was packed and became increasingly warm inside. We also figured the English service surely had been scrapped in favor of the Communion.

But as the Mass progressed, English was used often. The First Communion itself was entirely in Spanish; but otherwise the two priests – the Spanish parish priest we’d seen every weekend, and an Irish priest we hadn’t seen before – pretty much took turns with the larger Mass. The readings were divided by language, too: one was read in Spanish, one in English. The Hail Mary – which is said in Masses in England, but not in Europe or America – was offered in English, begun by the Spanish priest speaking in English. And despite us English speakers obviously being a decided minority of the congregation, a couple of the hymns were even sung in English.

All told, it was marvelous and moving. If you’re a Roman Catholic, and you’re “old” now like me, you tend to forget your First Communion. When you see one again, you’re taken back….

We were glad we’d been there for it. It’s not the sort of thing you encounter every day when you’re traveling. It was wonderful to see the proud parents and there’s little that’s more adorable in life than a bunch of happy nine year olds.

A life-affirming, joyful gathering held not far away from a life-ending horror days earlier. Such is the way of the world, of course. Living must go on.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are.

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