Carrying on a Peruvian tradition

Faith: An East Baltimore procession combines Roman Catholic faith with the culture of the South American country.

October 04, 1999|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

He walked backward -- as did a throng of about 200 others -- happy in the moment and thinking of the past.

For Luis Goicochea, the colorful procession that swayed through East Baltimore yesterday afternoon brought back his youth. He thought of home, Peru, which holds a monthlong celebration every October that honors the mysteries of a mural.

Yesterday, for the first time, the growing Hispanic community in Baltimore reached back to a centuries-old tradition of Roman Catholics in Peru, putting on a full-scale procession honoring the Lord of the Miracles mural.

Tradition holds that the fresco, a scene of Christ's crucifixion painted in Peru in the 16th century by a freed African slave known as Benito, survived three earthquakes and a tidal wave, and holds healing and protective powers.

"For the Hispanics of Baltimore, and for me, this is un-believeable," Goicochea said as he recalled the sights, sounds, smells and torrid emotions of the processionals he attended as a toddler about 40 years ago. "Today, here, on the streets of Baltimore City, I feel like I am at home, back in a little town in South America."

The focal point of yesterday's event, organized by the recently formed Baltimore Chapter of The Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles, was a procession that eased its way from St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, at East Lombard and South Wolfe streets, to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, on South Broadway in Fells Point. It took four hours for the procession to move seven blocks.

Clad in purple robes and long white ropes symbolizing rosary beads, groups of the brotherhood took turns hoisting and moving a huge altarlike structure the faithful call a litter.

The 700-pound structure -- adorned with a roughly 7-foot-high copy of the Lord of Miracles mural, silver angelic statues, purple and gold flowers and 3-foot-long candles -- swayed atop trembling shoulders. Most of the men, and a group of women who carried the structure 40 feet, said it was not a heavy burden.

"It feels great," said Rosa Miller, 55, sweating but happy to pick up the litter because in Peru, she said, women are not allowed to move it. "When you have faith, God makes it easy to do what is most difficult."

Clearing the way for the procession as it moved down South Wolfe Street then east on Bank Street was a group of about 200 onlookers, Goicochea among them.

Their eyes were fixed on the mural, depicting the crucifixion of Christ, a haloed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene at his side, and an image of God watching from above.

Most walked backward the entire time.

It is the traditional way, explained Raul Espinar, who traveled from Hartford, Conn., to participate.

Walking slowly backward ensures that one will never lose sight of the purpose of the celebration, he said.

"Christo, our Lord of miracles," Espinar said above the din of a band -- trombone, trumpet and drums -- that trailed the procession providing Latin-inspired beat and rhythm.

Goicochea said the key to putting on the procession was forming the brotherhood here. The group runs a four-day celebration in Peru, and its U.S. chapters put on similar processions in other cities each year. Yesterday, members from Washington, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were on hand to support Baltimore's first such event.

In January, Peruvian members of St. Michael's parish organized their chapter of the brotherhood. Although the society exists to benefit parishioners socially and in times of need, the main reason for their existence is to put on the processions, said Maria Casella, who spearheaded the founding of the group.

"We wanted to take some of the best things of our country and make them a reality here, in this city," said Casella. "It is an expression of our love of God and our love of our cultural heritage."

Casella -- one of about 120 Baltimore members of the brotherhood, about half of whom are women -- said she worked for four years to make yesterday's event a reality.

Last year, she helped arrange a makeshift procession that wound around a single block. This year, she said, she got strong backing from the Rev. John Lavin, who left St. Michael's in June to work with the small Latino population in Annapolis.

"We want to make St. Michael's a spiritual and cultural home for the growing base of Hispanics in this city," said Lavin, who came back to his former parish for the procession.

"That means developing traditions that they have in their home countries, and it means respecting the beautiful mosaic of expressions of faith" developing in Baltimore.

"This makes all of us who grew up in Peru joyful," Goicochea said as he recalled the many times his father, a member of the brotherhood in Peru, let him walk under the altar as it was being carried down the streets of the little town where he grew up.

"He kept me under there, close to him, so I would not get lost in the crowd," he said. "I loved it though, just as I am loving seeing this here, now."

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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