The past two weeks have been busy ones for me at church. First there was Palm Sunday on April 17, and then the masses during Holy Week, which finally culminated with Easter Sunday just this past weekend! Last year I attended most of the masses at the Catholic Cathedral in Apia, which were in English. However, this year I deliberately decided to stay in my village in order to experience the masses in Samoan and be a part of their community. I have no regrets.
Things got started with Palm Sunday. I arrived about a half hour before mass started, and soon found out that palms were not given out like they are in the United States, but rather, people brought their own palms from their yards to have them blessed. With this being a tropical climate, I can see where this scenario works better here than it would in Michigan! But not to worry, my church friends quickly produced a palm for me before mass began. The procession began outside with the Pacific Ocean as a back-drop as we processed towards the church. On Palm Sunday the reading of the Lord’s Passion is read, and hearing it in Samoan this year helped bring to mind all the languages around the world in which God’s Word is being proclaimed everyday!
Holy Thursday mass began at 7:30p.m. and arriving to the smell of incense burning reminded me of my days as an altar boy. However, being an alter boy in Samoa requires a different clothing attire. At all of the masses the altar boys go without shoes. I remember back home that if we wore tennis shoes or sandals we might be asked to change shoes! But taking your shoes off in a house in Samoa is considered a sign of respect, so doing it in the house of God would only be natural. On other special occasions, the altar boys may also serve without any shirts on, and sometimes spread coconut oil over their chests and backs! But despite the differences in attire, Samoan altar boys are some of the most reverent I’ve ever seen.
Good Friday began with Stations of the Cross at 6:30a.m. and was held outside. Each family from the Catholic church had made wooden crosses for their front yards during Lent, decorating them with palm branches, fabric and fresh flowers. The procession wound its way through the village to different families’ crosses, before ending at the church. That afternoon we had service at noon, which was a real scorcher in the heat of the day, but that didn’t keep anyone away.
During the middle of the Good Friday service, a cross is brought before the congregation when they are able to kiss the feet of Jesus as a sign of respect and memory of His crucifixion. This is something that I’ve been doing throughout my life on Good Friday back in the United States. However, with a new culture come some new ways of doing things.
Just before people began processing up to the foot of the cross, a student of mine from last year, who was sitting next to me said, “Here is your flower.” A bit annoyed that he was trying to give me a flower during such a solemn part of the service caused me to give him a stern look and produce some type of no response, in which he retracted his arm with the flower still in it. Shortly after though, I realized that everyone else in church also had a flower in their hand, which they were taking up with them to place at the foot of the cross (a tradition I had never seen in the United States). Feeling very guilty for having snapped at this boy’s kind gesture, as he saw I was without a flower and was trying to help me, I turned back to him with a smile on my face and reached my hand out for the flower as I patted him on the back with my other hand as a way of expressing my embarrassment. He kindly offered the gift of the flower back to me, and I was able to proceed on without too much embarrassment. I know I’ll be thinking about him each Good Friday in the years to come, as a way of reminding myself of his hospitality and my needing to be more patient.
Holy Saturday mass always takes place in the evening as a vigil for Easter. The mass always begins out in front of the church with a huge fire which is used to light the Easter candle. Samoans make fires almost every day of the year in order to cook their food, so I wasn’t surprised to see the flames they had roaring in front of the church on Saturday night. They were using coconut shells to keep it fueled!
The following morning was Easter Sunday! My Mom had sent me an Easter package with Peeps, Reese’s Cups, M&M’s and marshmallow eggs, so I had a neighbor of mine make a Samoan basket and I put the Easter grass and candy in it, along with two hard boiled eggs I had boiled the night before. It really felt like Easter back at home. I headed over to one more round of church for the week, because mass began at 10a.m. The choir had been busy singing at every mass during Holy Week, and they finished strong. I love how music is a universal language and although I didn’t understand all of what was being sung, it nevertheless helped to facilitate with the prayer.
After mass I headed over to a families’ house for to’ona’i, the big traditional Samoan feast that happens each Sunday, rain or shine! Some weeks it’s not uncommon for me to receive three separate offers to dine with families after church. It almost has become an event I can book weeks in advance. There have even been weeks where I’ve accidentally double booked, and had to dash from one family’s house to another.
Easter Sunday’s meal for me included BBQ chicken (yum), hot dogs (which Samoans call sausage), breadfruit, taro, cucumbers and a couple other things I’m forgetting. I’ve really come to love the food here and have no complaints at all. I even had octopus for the second time a few weeks ago and enjoyed it!
I was invited over to this family’s house by a new friend of mine from church, although I’m loosing this friend next week when he moves to New Zealand to attend school. However, I’ll still remain close to his family! After we were done with the main course and I was brought the bowl to wash my hands in, and towel to dry them, ice cream was served! It was one of my new favorite flavors since arriving in Samoa, banana!
That afternoon the sun was intense as I walked back to my house. A few of my students from school who I’m good friends with came back to my house to hang out for the afternoon and one of them had heard about Easter egg hunts. He said he wanted to have one. I cut out some eggs from construction paper and hid them around my living room and kitchen. They had a blast as we took turns hiding them and trying to see who could find the most.
In the end, it was a great Easter weekend for 2011 and I’m so happy I was able to share the experiences with the people in my village. Once again, I’ve been able to make new memories to reflect back on, as Easter is celebrated each year in the future!
Processing to the church on Palm Sunday
Sunrise on Easter Sunday
Easter basket for 2011
Close up of the candy!
One of the altar boys lighting the candles before church on Easter Sunday.
The priest during mass on Easter Sunday.
I was able to get a picture with Fr. Mikaele after mass.
Neueli, a student of mine, sat with me during Easter Sunday mass. Here we are afterwards.
This is normal and acceptable footwear for attending all churches in Samoa. I had never worn sandals to church, before coming to Samoa. Here Neueli and I are sitting next to each other on Easter.
This was Easter Sunday's to'ona'i feast. The ice cream came later!
Here are Saulo and Neueli at my house during the Easter egg hunt they requested we have!