By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Miami Noon Sunday

I go to Mass in Spanish in a working-class Miami neighborhood on the edge of booming downtown Miami, with its crowded line of attractive skycrapers rising in the background.The neighborhood is Little Havana--but based on my conversations and observations, there is now a robust Nicaraguan presence in addition to the original Cuban infusion. The Nicaraguan consulate is across the street from the church. The city of Miami is still dynamic and growing.

It is very hot outside, as usual. I have returned to St. John Bosco Catholic Church, which I recalled from childhood visits as a very plain, unimpressive, box-like, purely functional building in a poor neighborhood, more like a warehouse than a traditional church.

Look at the image below and see the transformation that took place two years ago so that now we have a massive structure in a very traditional style crowned with a dome.

The noon Mass was standing-room only. The pews were tightly packed. The servers were impressive in their traditional black-and-white garb. As Mass is about to begin, everyone turns around to focus on the entering procession.There was plenty of incense. Take a look at the interior of the church below with its traditional altarpiece (the photo was taken well before Mass started so it does not reflect the standing-room crowd that would soon arrive).

The music was loud and enthusiastic, as was the singing. The preaching was strong and in the language of ordinary folk. The congregation was receptive to the quips of the priest and clapped at the end of the homily.

The Mass was especially focused on children, with a small statue of the infant Jesus in clear view of all--and there were plenty of children present. There was a special blessing for children.

The church ushers were wearing special maroon dress shirts with embroidered insignia.The blessing with water of the congregation was so robust that the clerics peforming the blessing were followed by ushers with mops.

What any objective observer or sociologist of religion saw was this reality: a crowded and booming religion. It was not a Pentecostal congregation or a Muslim gathering. It was Roman Catholic. But, let me be clear, in Hispanic Catholicism, the pentecostal with a small "p" is always present in the sense that there is a natural cultural ebullience and atmosphere of celebration that come with Catholicism and are not add-ons or extras that need a special charismatic label, as you often find among non-Hispanic U.S. Catholics.

After Mass, I walked around the parking lot and "campus" of the church--there was a Goodwill-style flea market selling used clothing, there was a place to eat, there seemed to be a shelter or refuge of sorts for those in need. A special collection had been taken during the Mass to help support a non-profit program for rehabilitating drug addicts.

Then, I saw the sign for the "capilla" or chapel and went up the steps to the chapel at the rear of the church. The chapel was adjacent to the apse of the church. The tabernacle in the chapel was located right behind the location of the church's tabernacle. The chapel was large and also had small side rooms with high ceilings containing candles and very large statues of Jesus and the Virgin, with actual fabric robes on the statues, as I had last seen on a recent trip to Spain.

I was amazed at the vigor of this church. There is another boom in Miami, in addition to the building boom. For more photos, see the church website at this link.