All you see is green in the church, top and bottom. Suddenly, you hear an unmistakable liquid announcement: A young man is about to go in. He’s the first who has managed to obscure the altar and thereby kept his feet-first position for the 10 days and nights leading up to the wedding that starts it all. This must be why no one says a prayer. How long could you stand up?
It’s the groom’s funeral. More than 600 men in white caps and gowns have gathered at St. Bernard the Cataract Church in the mountains above Bogota. The church is filled with women, most of them shrouded and shrouded. The emotion is an obvious part of what carries the day.
“It’s something that starts in the heart,” says a clergyman in religious wear as mourners continue to fill the pews. “When a son dies, and especially when he dies at the altar of love, for love, it’s a very sad experience.”
The Dads of the world have been feeling that pain, left empty at the altar for years now, not always sure whether the next pregnancy is going to bring the progeny, and, for many, feelings so intense that their own sons are heartbroken by the losing of a father. Some 12,000 men have died from 60 different causes in Bogota since the advent of the half pipe, a widespread practice that lets the man to cross the threshold of the altar.
“This is an obstacle, a desire to stretch out and the start of the preparation for the bridal ceremony,” says Maria Isabel Vargas, the mother of two boys whose father, a parish priest, died just a few years ago at the altar. In the Tocumen Archdiocese alone, there have been 21,176 deaths at the altar. For women, it’s devastating, especially when the man they love dies.
“So many mothers are weak,” says Rita Ruiz, a mother of two, now living in Venezuela. “Very often, the father has made promises to his sons that if he was gone, there would be another man who could fulfill them.”
A woman who knows only what was written down to the heavens waves her hands angrily at his father.
“God did not bring you here for this,” she says to him.
Even though there’s no getting around it, the woman cannot accept his answer and goes back to the altar herself, on her own, while a priest conducts the meeting, of the couples. Then, she sits down. Eventually, the procession concludes in the sacristy, at the doors of the church, where the groom’s body is brought and waiting. The couples are given all they need for their wedding day.
“You give a blessing,” the priest says in agreement.
The couple becomes, for the moment, a family with four little boys.
Photo: Matthew Forgrave