Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

The Wind, The Cross, and the Chachalaca

Barra de Navidad just survived Hurricane Patricia, the strongest recorded hurricane in history. There was a great deal of property damage, and a number of folks lost their entire homes; but, no one here died and that’s a miracle.

The news reports are saying we actually got 165 mph here; and I guarantee you that Friday, October 23, 2015, was one heck of a long day. But Saturday, we were all still here and so was Spiritus; and, as early as possible, we started moving back on-board. Between hurricane prep, Patricia’s fury and interminable waiting, it’d been a long 48 hour grind; but, we’d been blessed. Thank you, Lord.

On Sunday, we went across the bay (via the water taxi) to see our town, check on our friends, and attend services at San Antonio de Padua, a  Catholic Church. We’ve attended this small church ever since we started living in Barra de Navidad in the summers. The congregation has always welcomed us; we’ve got a copy of the Mass in Spanish; and, by now, we’re pretty comfortable joining in on some of the hymns.

The water taxi’s little dock had been hit hard and the roof had collapsed; so, they were using the dock next to them.

Barra’s streets were full of wreckage–tiles, glass, downed roofs, tree limbs; yet, what we saw walking toward the church was everybody working, cleaning, removing debris and rubble by-hand. People happy to be alive; congratulating each other, laughing, checking about families. No time for weeping or self-pity. Bunches of the guys had beers in their hands, while they were working. Why not, they’d all had little sleep, if any, and were exhausted; but, there was work to do and it was finally light again. Barra de Navidad still had no electricity.

As we walked to church, there were no buildings boarded up, no police, no soldiers, no looting. No violence whatsoever. The OXXO (Mexico’s version of a ‘7-Eleven’ convenience store) simply had a sign hanging in the window–‘Cerrado’ (closed).

Right across from the OXXO store stands San Antonio’s Church.

Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese friar of the Franciscan Order, a Doctor of the Church, and was canonized a saint in 1232. He is a patron saint of the poor, fishermen, mariners, shipwrecked people, and watermen (water taxi drivers and ferrymen). Probably a pretty good choice for a small fishing town like Barra de Navidad. This statue of Saint Antonio sets in an arched wall recess of the church.


The stained-glass over the doors at the front of church had blown out, but it’d been cleaned up; and, the church had lost the entrance door on the right.


Several pews were leaned up to fill the doorway to keep dogs and critters out.


Still there were lots of people waiting to get in, and Sunday Mass was Standing Room Only.

Barra’s church  is well-accustomed to its share of miracles.   It is known, throughout Mexico, as the ‘Church of the Christ of the Cyclone’.


Over the altar hangs a Christ figure, whose arms are no longer nailed to the cross.

The Christ figure’s arms hang next to his body.  It is very “non-traditional” for a reason.The explanation for this unusual configuration of the church’s crucifix lies with Hurricane Lily on September 1, 1971. Many of the people of Barra fled their homes and sought refuge in the church. While they were gathered and praying, the Christ’s arms suddenly fell down to his sides and the storm abated. San Antonio’s congregation chose to keep the arms in that position in a perpetual commemoration of Barra’s special miracle.


Superstition or miracle?????? I’m old enough to know that’s a question for theologians–not me. Personally, I don’t think it really matters what you call it, if such an event provides a source of hope and renews the human spirit in difficult times. On the other hand, I’m also an academic and tend to search for as much information as I can get on subjects. If you’re interested in a more rational explanation, I encourage you to read this charming and excellent web article:

Over to the side of the church is a smaller model of the altar Christ. It can be used on special religious feast days (such as Good Friday of Holy Week) for processionals around the town.

On Sunday following the hurricane, both of our guitarists were present– their wives and children singing and occasionally providing percussion accompaniment with tambourines. Both families love what they do, are gifted musically, and this mass was a real toe-tapper.

The priest’s sermon was short, sweet, and to the point. It began with a simple “Gracias a Dios.”  That is loosely translated as ‘Thanks to God’.

However, the  highlight of this particular mass had to be the fat, sassy, and fearless Chachalaca hen which wandered in during the Consecration and Communion.

Mortalis_poliocephala Chachalaca

The West Mexican Chachalaca (Ortalis poliocephala) A fine specimen of a hen, a veritable Grande Dame of Chachalacas.

That tough old bird had just endured a Category 5 hurricane just like the rest of us.  She was tired. She was hungry and she wanted something to eat. What caught her eye (she, being rather short and close to the ground) were women’s sandals, especially any Sunday-best sandals embellished with beads, baubles, or sparklies. Particularly tempting seemed to be those well-shod entrées garnished with beautifully pedicured toes, sporting fruit-colored icings of luscious red and delectable apricot.

¡Buen Provecho! Bon Appétit! Enjoy your meal !

During the Consecration the dowager calmly meandered through the crowd, like a seasoned socialite pretentiously checking out the quality of those dishes offered at a lavish buffet; then, as everyone stood up and proceeded to the altar for Communion, things got really interesting. Up the line came a successive series of jumps and wiggles! Yelps, grunts, and an occasional squeal!

Seems Madame Chachalaca was somewhat ‘peckish’.  Toes were on her menu.

It was a jollity, a holiday, and a delightful respite from the drama of the past 48 hours. Children laughing, adults smiling, and the line to the altar just kept moving. It was a grand moment; and I felt happy, grateful, and proud to be there. It was a wonderful way to start over, to begin again. It was about life and living.

When most of the folks were back in their places, one young man (with the help of one very young girl wearing no nail polish and plain sandals) quietly chased and caught the venerable matriarch.  She left our company in an outrage of squawking protest. Highly undignified, after her otherwise magnificent performance.

To his credit, the young priest never batted an eyelash–never lost focus–never cracked a smile. He managed the Mass with suitable gravitas and decorum.

Once more the waters of the bay lapped gently at the sands of Barra’s beaches, the wind kissed the swaying palms leaves of the coconut trees, and the tropical sun heated the cobbled streets under our sandals.

Thanking God for the day, the sunshine, and one fat and sassy Chachalaca.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

–Cecil  Frances Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children (1848)

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