For the last few years we have reported briefly on something called the Novena. The Novena is a ceremony conducted here in San Clemente. As the name suggests, it is a nine night activity that pays homage to the Patron Saint of Fishermen, “The Virgen de la Caridad de Cobre.” Traditionally this Novena is held from Tuesday night through Thursday night of the following week. Immediately following the Novena we celebrate our grandest fiesta of the year – The Festival of San Clemente. The Novena is a religious service, but irrespective of ones religious beliefs, it is also a community celebration.
For several days volunteers work to clean, repaint, and polish the statue area getting it ready for the big event.
At about seven o’clock in the evening the roadways in the middle of town are blocked off and several hundred plastic chairs are arranged in rows around the statue.
An area is prepared just to the side of the main statue where the statue of the Virgin Mary will be placed when it is carried over from the church.
The actual ceremony begins at the church some seven or eight blocks away at the main crossroads leading into our town.
In preparation for the big San Clemente festival this year, the city worked to repaint and light the monument in the middle of the crossroads. It looked especially good last night ready for the novena.
At about eight or eight thirty people begin filling in the seats until the entire downtown area is crammed with five or six hundred people who gather with their families to pray for the success of the fishermen in the coming year.
A friend of ours named Franklin Garces took the following picture of the freshly painted and lighted statue earlier in the evening.
A procession comes from the church to downtown carrying the Virgin Mary statue. After the statue is situated on its’ stand a community leader welcomes everyone and turns the microphone over to the Catholic priest to lead the group in prayers.
I am not a member of the Catholic faith and do not understand completely the ceremony, so I will just briefly explain that it seems like a religious leader recites a prayer and then the crowd replies with a set prayer. The leader recites the same prayer over and over allowing time for the group to reply. After several iterations some musicians step up to the microphones and sing a song. After the song the leader again takes the mike and begins another series of prayers with crowd responses. This process takes places for over an hour as several prayers are recited and numerous songs are sung.
(I did learn one thing new this year. Apparently it is bad form to applaud after the singers finish their song. I learned this after just two vigorous claps when I noticed that I was the only one applauding. My neighbors politely smiled at me and gracefully tolerated the crazy gringo with the camera.)
Even as a non-Catholic and being unfamiliar with Spanish religious terms making it hard for me to follow all of the dialogue, I was moved by the fervor of the crowd. I rejoiced watching my neighbors unite in prayer for the safety and livelihood of our village.
And the entertainers who sang this year were simply fantastic. I learned later that these young men came from Portoviejo. I was impressed with their songs and took many video clips of them singing. Unfortunately it took over an hour to load up this one clip, so you will have to believe me that these young men were good!
The music gets more and more folksy and lively as the evening goes on. At the end of the prayer period the crowd is actively clapping, dancing, and singing along.
True to form, my Ecuadorian neighbors outlasted me and I crept off for home to the sound of my neighbors singing and dancing after this, the first of the nine nights of this year’s Novena from here where…
Life is good in Ecuador!