Death and La Sagrada Familia

by Evans Yonson

Barcelona – Most of my friends always ask me, of all the world cities that I have been to which city I is the most fascinating. There is only one answer to that question, Barcelona City. Hands down without batting an eyelash. I have to explain to each one of them that in this Catalan city, everything is charming, enchanting, and absorbing. I am always in awe every time I walk on the streets of Barcelona. They bring you nostalgia as Carlos Ruiz Zafón describes the city in his novel, The Shadow of the Wind. The urban planning and development system of the city is very-well in placed and organized. There are buildings and cathedrals that have withstood the test of time, seasons and even several civil wars and the two world wars. One building is La Sagrada Familia.
I live three blocks away from La Sagrada Familia, the world famous Antonio Gaudi designed-church that has taken everyone to build more than 100 years now. I love this monument since the first time I saw it in October 2004. The church is built on one street block. Each side (facade) represents a certain episode of Christ’s existence here on earth. The Nativity Facade is the most famous for having been built the first of the four sides and supervised by Gaudi himself. To walk from my apartment to La Sagrada Familia, I will be facing the Passion Facade. As everybody might know this, the Passion includes the death of Jesus Christ.
It is raining outside. I take my red umbrella and walk leisurely as I have more than enough time to hear the 8:15PM mass. The Chapel of Our Lady of Carmen is unusually gloomy tonight. The Latin American choir and band are not playing tonight. The mass starts without the usual lively upbeat music and the old Catalan priest is saying the mass tonight. I remember very well this priest because he was also the priest when I first heard mass in a smaller chapel here six years ago. Every time I see him in the area he would nod and say “hola!” to me. Let’s call him Juan. Juan and I have grown accustomed to seeing each other because he is like the security guard of La Sagrada Familia. Juan is always there during the waking hours of our barrio.
In the middle of tonight’s mass, Juan suddenly mumbles a very long line in Spanish that I could not understand. Suddenly, he vows his head and kisses the altar and stays there for more than 10 seconds. The chapel falls into deep silence as everybody arches their neck to see what was happening. Juan stands straight and continues for a minute. His co-celebrant is standing closer to him now. And there Juan goes down… Tension is building higher as people start to murmur and the feeling of uneasiness vibrates through this hallowed chapel of La Sagrada Familia. Some people rush to the altar. The mass stops momentarily. Somebody asks someone to call an ambulance. Another says he is a doctor. Everybody is still standing with their necks towards the altar. After five minutes, Juan stands up and continues the mass as if nothing happened. Everybody claps their hands with awe and thanksgiving.  Perhaps you’re wondering what is the connection of this near death experience with La Sagrada Familia? You see in this chapel where I hear mass every Sunday is where Antonio Gaudi used to live here. He is buried here too.

Antonio Gaudi (Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet in Catalan), the Catalan architect met his untimely death by fortuitous events. As he was walking the streets of Barcelona, a few blocks away from La Sagrada Familia, he was hit by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. He was eventually taken to a paupers’ hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day. When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.” He died three days later.

The mass ends with Juan asking everyone to gather around closer to the altar for his final blessings. He thanks everyone and mentions that Pope Benedict XVI will visit La Sagrada Familia on 7 November. Everybody claps their hands again. I walk towards the door knowing that Juan is safe and I will see him again next Sunday.