Lima's Presidential Palace on Resurrection Sunday

The view from Lima: Resurrection Sunday

Stood amongst the crowds inside the cathedral, listening to the archbishop pontificate about our ‘Peruvian Galilee’ and the pressing need to abstain from spending on ‘frivolities’, my faith that something of interest might be salvaged from the Holy Week goings-on was severely wavering.

This Sunday, I had come down to see the procession in the city’s main square, vainly hoping to bump into Jesus on his day off. Local news had been trumpeting the return of Mario Valencia, a Passion-reenactor turned unlikely celebrity who boasts of 46 crucifixions and no intentions of retiring at the unlikelier age of 66.  His acting troupe, reportedly 200 strong, play histrionic Romans and weeping Mary Magdalene’s for the calvary of thousands up to a makeshift Golgotha overlooking the city. All that happened on Friday, and I came down for the Sunday service. Maybe he’d think of joining Easter mass in the cathedral. No such luck, Lima’s Christ needed another day of rest.

Good Friday had not been so for our Madame President. The front door of her unassuming residence easily gave way to the battering ram of the men searching for signs of golden watches, jewellery, and other plunder. She wasn’t there that Friday night prosecutors and police piled in through the door and upturned her furniture for Rolex receipts, incriminating evidence. And what had she even done wrong? She says she’s an honest woman. She likes to show her clean open palms on TV. She has the immunity of her high office.

Eventually, the procession burst out from the church in a heady cloud of incense smoke and was greeted with a perimeter of railing policed by disinterested men perched on their polycarbonate shields around a sparse crowd of onlookers. As the midday sun beat down on the square, people took refuge under dry umbrellas. Enrobed men carrying the images on their backs slowly approached the wrought iron gates of the Presidential Palace, perspiring profusely. Wailing drums and trumpets played for them all the way through.

As the midday sun beat down on the square, people took refuge under dry umbrellas.

They had to work in shifts, every few metres or so, another group of the enrobed had to readjust their knotted belts and take the place of their exhausted companions under the tonnage of flower arrangements and varnished wood. I went up to some of them as they were wiping their brows and catching some breath, and I asked, “how have you found this year’s celebrations?” to which they replied, “it’s been good, we have had people come to take part despite the situation.

It was not difficult to understand what this meant. Just a few days before, our President’s home was raided by authorities after she had flashed one too many expensive accessories on her various state appearances. Yet another turn in an interminable spiral of scandal and public outrage which threatened to slip, once again, into a violent cycle of protest and repression.

One of the enrobed men pointed to the palace looming behind us: “Maybe she’s been watching from in there.” Maybe she’d been praying too.

Image credit: Enrique Normand Velarde