Old Lazarus / Yoani Sanchez

Saint Lazarus

At the entrance to the house is a life-size sculpture of a man with a beard and crutches. Everyone crosses themselves before him. Also of wood, there are two carved dogs as his side: skinny submissive strays. The image of Saint Lazarus plays a special role when the festivities for his day approach. He is one of the most venerated saints in our country and generates widespread displays of popular devotion. His sanctuary, in the town of El Rincón, is busy every December 17th with pilgrims, promise payers, flower sellers and police. All around him gather the hurting, the neediest, those who have tried everything to no avail… those abandoned by luck, science, or love.

When I approach El Rincón I feel this energy that comes from pain and faith. The leprosy asylum with its sad stories, the illegal settlements that have grown up on both sides of the railway line and the whiff of the always burning candles. It is not a place for smiles. At times I’ve accompanied some friend bringing an offering promised for a favor that has been fulfilled. Other times, I’ve gone with that curiosity provoked in all of us that we can neither understand nor explain. On at least two occasions I’ve arrived under the roof of the temple at midnight on the 16th and have experienced moments difficult to forget. Someone is crying, screaming, and many are praying, the heat is tremendous and everyone is sweating, it smells of open sores and poverty. There isn’t room for one more soul in the Church.

Today I left the house and very near by they have placed a purple cape and an image of old Lazarus. An old man who passed in front of him leaned over to whisper something in his ear. He had a rough beard and his clothes were from the time of the Soviet subsidy, when the ration market offered manufactured products. Looking from his parched face to that of the saint I noticed a similarity. Both were in the last stages of their lives with only the clothes on their backs and few reasons to laugh. The two of them so close, but one on the altar and the other in the street. One surrounded by promises to keep, the other knowing that all those they had made him are already broken.

16 December 2013