Originally Published on March 12, 2006 (Honolulu Advertiser)
“It is the celebration of the Jesús Negro,” whispered a young Guatemalan woman standing next to an eight-foot long crucifix of the Christ. The cross was being displayed prone instead of vertically and I watched as a long line of supplicants waited patiently to kiss the knees of the Christ figure. “It was a miracle,” she said.
This church overlooking the central square in Isla de Flores, Guatemala was filled with dark-skinned men, women and children. The western style dress couldn’t hide the angular features of faces that looked a lot like the stucco paintings of their Mayan ancestors. Here, in the heart of Mundo Mayan, the missionary zeal of 16th century colonial Spain still had a home.
Miracles, it seems, can happen anywhere, even in this tiny little town in the northern reaches of the El Petén region of Central America. “Why is the Jesus black?” I asked in a hushed voice. Not being embarrassed at my own ignorance is one of my best personality traits.
She spoke deliberately, searching for just the right words. “Some years ago, a cathedral near here burned to the ground.” There was a long pause. “After the fire, the church was all burned … but not the Jesús. It was only charred black.”