If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my nearly three years in Colombia, it’s that you can go to church almost anywhere. And I’ve learned this despite my non-church-going ways. How? Because it’s obvious. In Colombia, church very nearly comes to you.
There’s Mass in the mall. Big services occur every Sunday morning in the same place you go to see a movie on Saturday night, bringing new meaning to an old Jimmy Buffett song lyric: “There’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”
There’s Mass at the water park. I can’t show you photos because my phone and camera were safely tucked away in the locker while I chased my son in the wave pool. But as I sat in my bikini in the pretend “pueblo paisa”, where the food court was neatly incorporated into a replica of a traditional Colombian town square, I saw plenty of beachwear-clad practitioners exiting services at the not-so-pretend church.
Similarly, in the coffee region’s Parque del Café theme park, the church in the fake town holds real services. No reason to skip worship just because you went on vacation.
There’s Mass beside the highway. In Medellín, services are held on the regular at a very urban and yet open-air roadside church, consisting charmingly of some dilapidated bleachers and many lit candles among the trees. And of course there are services you can attend on your bicycle as part of the Sunday Ciclovías.
And the services in these places, plus the services in the traditional churches in the usual locales, are all packed. There is no struggle to fill the pews.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, church attendance does not seem to be a regular topic of conversation, which makes the attitude toward organized religion here seem different than what I experienced growing up as a preacher’s kid in small-town Georgia.
After months of observing this, my subconscious attempts to understand Colombians’ attitudes toward religion unexpectedly ran headlong into my re-acquaintance with the magic realism of Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez. To my surprise and delight, an essay I wrote exploring these and other themes found its way into a new collection of works mostly by foreigners from all over the globe who’ve lived in Colombia and been influenced by García Márquez’s writing.
I hope you’ll check out the book, Was Gabo an Irishman?, available on Amazon and released today, on the one year anniversary of García Márquez’s death.
The book has a little something for everyone, but a lot about this country that – like García Márquez’s writing – holds innumerable complexities beneath its beautiful surface. Enjoy!