September 24, 2013

On the Street with Big Jesus

Nota - Este artículo es disponible en español aquí. 

Big Jesus is properly known as El Divino Salvador del Mundo -- the transfigured Christ, patron of the people of El Salvador. Calling him Big Jesus might border on sacrilege, but I just can’t think of him any other way. In my defense, he is...big. Almost six feet tall, with majestically large hands and feet, a handmade crown, and long sparkling robes in various liturgical colors. He lives most of the time in a protective glass box whose shape unfortunately suggests a coffin. But on his special day he gets to come out of the box.

That special day is the Feast of the Transfiguration (or the closest weekend when LAPD will grant a street closure permit in LA’s biggest Salvadoran neighborhood). Big Jesus stars in the tradition of la Bajada -- where he is lowered into a giant papier mache globe, and emerges transfigured in his sparkliest, whitest costume, with a Salvadoran flag embroidered on the front.

This year, after participating in the ecumenical service that accompanies the Bajada, I found myself waiting to take a picture of some friends, with Big Jesus as the backdrop. Most of the crowd had already taken its photo ops, but we still had a long wait. 

A young man, dressed homeboy-style in head-to-toe LA Dodgers wear (conveniently doubling for blue-and-white Salvadoran pride), was engaged in an extended photo shoot. He stood. He knelt. He grabbed a little kid, also dressed all-Dodgers. He made a variety of hand signs that I have no expertise to interpret. Keeping his cameraman focused and keeping Big Jesus’s head in the picture were problems, resulting in some colorful bilingual swearing, and an eventual change in camera personnel.

There were plenty of other things to do at the festival -- live loud music with lightly clad dancing women, carnival rides, an abundance of fresh-made Salvadoran delicacies -- but Dodger guy had eyes only for Jesus. As a priest at a time when the church is flying around like a bat in the daytime, trying to figure out how to re-church a fast de-churching world, it made me inordinately happy to see that Big J is still out there making friends and wooing lovers. The Big guy’s still got it. We’ve just got to figure out how to get out there with him.