Sunday, September 11, 2005

Going back in time

There are times when I realise that the place I live has some catching up to do. I no longer notice the horse carts and other aspects of rural life (and anyway, ten years ago I was living in Portugal, a country firmly ensconced in the EU by that time, and also subject to animal-drawn-transportation bottlenecks). We have a nice cable modem at home now, and so it’s easy to forget that out in the villages things are not necessarily in the 21st Century.

Occasionally though I get reminders.

Yesterday, we went to a baptism. A double baptism in fact, the recently arrived offspring of both Erika’s colleague Csilla and her sister (and one of Erika’s best friends) Meli. People flew in from all over for this event – Meli and family live in New York, a lot of old friends live in Budapest or elsewhere in Hungary. One or two live in Bucharest, and there was even a friend and her English husband who flew in from London. A fairly young and cosmopolitan bunch all in all. The event took place in their small home village of Csikszentdomokos about 30km north of here.

The Catholic church is undergoing renovation and so the mass was held in what seemed to be the town hall. This was a nice touch as it meant that rather than the priest being backgrounded by a large statue of a man writhing in agony while nailed to a cross, there was instead a rather nice mural depicting the village itself. We arrived fairly late (thankfully – it’s a bit of stretch sitting through a catholic mass in English for me, so doing it Hungarian would have made it even less appealing), but already the priest had made his mark, expelling the child of some friends of ours for being too loud. He apparently stopped the service and made some admonishing comments before telling his parents to remove him, which they did. Seems a bit un-Christian, but then I don’t suppose he gets many kids in his services (there certainly weren’t any not related to the baptismal portion of the evening at this one).

Then it was time for the baptism itself. The black clad shuffling widows filed out leaving the hall empty aside from the baptismal party. I sat back and watched as events unfolded in a detached, not really sure what was going on way. As the ceremony unfolded it became clear that the priest was a bit old school and was getting frustrated (a) at one of the babies crying; and (b) at his unfamiliar congregation not cowtowing enough to his normal dictatorial grip on proceedings. Occasionally he obviously said things that made people laugh slightly embarrassedly (as that is what they proceeded to do). At one point for example, (I learned later) he chastised many of the prospective godparents (and there were plenty of them) for not having brought a certificate proving their Catholicism. Two couples had managed to procure this certificate in advance so they became the official godparents. It’s not clear to me what this certificate involves, and whether you have to take a test. “Who or what is the third member of the holy trinity? I’ll have to hurry you.” It was all obviously a lot more hardcore than when I became a godfather last year, when I just had to show up and renounce Mal, without any of the worries about whether or not I was actually a Catholic, Christian or indeed monotheist of any sort.

It was at the end of the ceremony however that I realised something a little more earth shattering had taken place. I was watching the ranks of assembled and chastised unofficial godparents, when they all, almost literally took a step back and silently gasped. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mass silent gasp, but I assure you it can happen. I saw it. There was a lot of shocked catching of eyes and incredulous looks. It was clear something major had happened. After it was all over I found out. Apparently, the priest had seen fit as part of his closing remarks, winding down the holy event that he had just been called upon to carry out, to add the following line (more or less, it’s a rough translation taken from several accounts, and in light of the fact that the last two words had knocked everyone sideways to the point that no-one was exactly sure what had preceded them) “Remember, that today you godparents have taken on a sacred duty, to ensure that these children remain in the arms of the church and in the love of Jesus Christ, and that all those who don’t accept the love of Jesus Christ are stinking Jews

Jesus frigging Christ. This is a man who is respected and looked up to. In a village such as this his word is practically the last word in any matter. And he’s a repulsive anti-semitic racist bigot. If I hear some random old bloke say such a thing, I’d take is as something unpleasant but hopefully isolated. But this guy… He’s a role model. He’s a teacher. He’s a counsellor. He’s probably effectively a magistrate. And he’s a racist. And not only is he a racist but he actually doesn’t hide it and comes straight out with it while doing his job. This is how I know there is some catching up to do here. This priest, it is clear to me, not only feels it’s acceptable to hold these views, but also didn’t even stop to consider that he might refrain from expounding them in front of a congregation of young well-travelled and well-educated people (or anyone really).

Frankly I’m still reeling from it.


Anonymous said...

One dismal fact about this part of the world: just because a country has almost no Jews, doesn't mean it doesn't have anti-Semitism.

I'd love to say that the guy was just old school, but I don't think that's necessarily the case.

Doug M.

Hutch said...

Reminds me of a friend's wedding in darkest Cornwall several years back. The elderly Methodist minister conducting the ceremony kicked off with a few remarks about "people who choose to get married abroad these days". He clearly had a bee in his bonnet about the whole thing, and was soon railing against "those who get married in places where they don't speak english and there's darkies everywhere you look!". Happily, he eventually remembered where he was, and managed to finish off the service with further recourse to racist slurs. The whole episode was captured on video for posterity, but my own copy got overwritten during a panic to find a blank tape on which to record an episode of "Six Feet Under". The "happy couple" ended up divorced and bitter anyway, so what the hey!