A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Rebecca, Inesita & La Redonda
Sunday, May 06, 2007

Yesterday Rebecca, Lauren and I went to Sebastian Alexander Schallie's baptism at St Augustine's Catholic Church in Kerrisdale. The interesting ceremony was a complete Mass and I did my best to explain to Rebecca what was happening. I pointed out that to our left on the main altar we could see a stained glass window of St. Augustine and that we could tell it was he because of his bishop's hat. Immediately Rebecca asked me where St Monica's window was. I have told Rebecca often the story of the Bishop of Hippo(354-430 AD) who early in his life (when he was having lots of fun womanizing) prayed to God asking him, "Make me a saint, but not yet." And it was because he had been such a wicked man in his youth that his long suffering mother had been made into a saint. When we left the church I had a chat with Father Gordon Cook and asked him about Monica. It was then that I found that the church is named after another bishop, St. Augustine of Canterbury (birth date unknown but died 26 May, 604 AD) and there is no patient Monica in the premises.

Earlier in the day I had explained to Rebecca the Catholic concept of original sin and how baptism is the first sacrament of a total of 7. I explained how some Christian sects believe that sprinkling with water is not enough and total immersion is necessary. Shades of Achilles?

All this set me to thinking that as a youth my religion had been quantitative and not qualitative. Let me explain.

When I was 9 I would go to visit my cousin Robby Miranda who lived in Belgrano C in Buenos Aires. On Sundays we would walk to the nearby church on Juramento and Cabildo, la Parroquia de la Inmaculada Concepción but affectionately called La Redonda (the Round Church) because it indeed was round.

Robby and I would calculate to get to the Mass by the Offertory. At the time if you arrived a bit before the Offertory and stayed until the priest said, "Ite Missa Est," ("Go, the Mass is ended.") we would satisfy our contractual obligations to go to a complete Mass on Sunday. We then considered that on very hot days we stood outside the church's open doors and looked into the Mass. Did we have to be under the roof of the church to be in the Mass? We argued about this to exhaustion. We may have been too immersed in our discussion to notice that Father Virgilio Filippo (he was a great orator) usually insinuated in his sermon that unless we became good Peronists we would burn in hell.

So it was that four years ago when Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Buenos Aires I felt I had the obligation to take Rebecca to La Redonda for Sunday Mass with my godmother and first cousin Inesita Barber O'Reilly Kuker (above left). This we did and we had a lot of fun. The officiating priest resembled matinee idol Cornel Wilde. I could almost imagine his foil hidden under his chasuble. From our seats, which were halfway down, (it was very hot but I did not think it was proper for me to suggest to Inesita that we step out!) Rebecca kept waiving at the priest. You would have thought that Inesita would have taken it all very seriously. But no, she thought it was all very funny and I heard her giggle. After the Mass we had medias lunas and café in the cafe outside and it was very special that my godmother could be sitting at the table with my granddaughter. I felt some sort of symmetrical order and that all the religious instruction I had received from my mother and grandmother (and Brother Edwin at St Edward's in Austin) I had passed on to Rebecca and that it would serve her well as it had served me.

The reason Inesita had been chosen as my godmother was that her mother, my Aunt Inés had divorced Barber to marry Alejandro Ariosa (which explains my middle name of Alejandro). So instead of my aunt being my official godmother (though se was de facto) her daughter Inesita took on the responsibilities of taking care of my spiritual life or helping in other ways in lieu of the absence of my parents. I must report that Inesita has been the perfect godmother in all respects.

Yesterday the priest's sermon at St. Augustine was a bit long and Rebecca asked me, " When is he going to shut up?" I confessed to her that we were participating in a complete Mass (thinking about what dispensation I would have looked for so many years ago that would have enabled me to avoid Mass on the next day, today Sunday.) and that we needed some patience. I explained to her the beautiful compactness of Latin and what Ite Missa Est meant. When the time came the father said, "The Mass is ended, go......" and I missed the rest because Rebecca at 9 had the same smile of relief that I myself must have had when I was 9 and Robby and I ran out of La Redonda to play rolling down on the grassy slopes of our favourite park, Barrancas de Belgrano and then buy a porción of pizza at the nearby Belgrano C train station restaurant.

Rebecca, at 9 is much too young for me to explain a further mystery about La Redonda and how it figures in the plot of my favourite Argentine novel, Ernesto Sábato's Sobre Héroes y Tumbas. This will happen, when like her grandfather, she shifts from the quantitative to the qualitative.


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