Monthly Archives: January 2016

Holy, holy, holy

Thanks to friends who asked me what I knew about Jews in Buenos Aires, in 2015 I began to learn more about the various cultural groups and religious faiths  here. First up: religions and religious institutions.

l had heard that Argentina was pretty much a Catholic country, although I’d never participated in  religious ceremonies of any kind when I’ve travelled within Buenos Aires and Argentina. While 70% of Argentinans identify as Catholics, down from 90% previously, there is indeed religious diversity in Buenos Aires. Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, as well as various Protestant and Christian groups each have their own places of worship, and in some cases, of burial too. Let me take you on a tour of the major religions and their institutions.

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Altars, Metropolitan Cathedral

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Side altar, Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the most important Catholic Church in the area, is filled with marvelous tilework (not unlike the spectacular Teatro Colon’s), among its many altars and statues. The Cathedral was once the home parish of Pope Francis Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires who lived next door to the cathedral in a simple apartment so he could minister easily to his flock. The cathedral is set across from the Plaza de Mayo.

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Overlooking Recoleta Cemetery

Not exclusively a Catholic cemetery but filled with many catholics, the Recoleta Cemetery where many of BA’s nobility and military elite are buried, dates from the early 18th century. Prior to becoming a cemetery, this area was once part of the land attached to a Catholic cloister with the church–La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar—below it.

 

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From the cloisters overlooking the Recoleta Cemetery

While the land became the burial ground of Argentina’s rich and famous, the church still stands, as does it’s former cloisters. It is possible to visit what has become an interesting museum of Catholic religious art including various oil paintings, carvings, pictures, silverware, books, furniture, and liturgical vestments, etc. that date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. The view from the cloisters offers a panoramic view of this famous cemetery.

 

The largest mosque in all of Latin America, the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, is located in the Palermo neighborhood.

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Mosque entryway

thumb_DSCF0247_1024Both a mosque and a center for Islamic culture, the center hosts a primary and secondary school, as well as a divinities school and a dormitory for 50 students. The mosque is home to about 1% (400,000-500,000 people) of the city’s population.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the mosque during a visit from Chicagoan Fadwa Hasan in 2011. The cultural center has very limited visiting hours, but when my Arabic-speaking colleague said we hadn’t come to visit but to pray, we were immediately welcomed in and taken to the room where women prepare themselves to enter the mosque proper for prayer.

 

thumb_DSCF0246_1024With shawls covering our hair, we were to remove our shoes, bathe our hands and elbows before entering the 2nd floor of the mosque (the first floor being reserved for the men). There we prayed silently before touring the rest of the center, and speaking informally with a young man who had also entered for silent prayer. He explained that when his parents migrated to Argentina they were attracted to the temple and after studying Islam, they converted and are now temple members, as is he.

Another half million people, according to the Mormon’s website, participate in the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Buenos Aires. Yes, there are Argentinian Mormons, and one of the country’s two Mormon temples is situated just outside the city limits in the suburb Ciudad Evita. I’ve never been inside this majestic temple, but its presence in this small suburb a few miles from the international airport offers dramatic views, rising as the tallest building in the area.IMG_1436

Across the street from Parque Lezama in the San Telmo neighborhood sits the majestic Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity of Buenos Aires, also the largest church in South America of its denomination worldwide.

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Russian Orthodox Church

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Russian Orthodox Church, San Telmo

The church was built in 1901 and continues to hold weekly and special services. Its blue and white spires beckon visitors from the nearby Feria de San Telmo and the park.

There are many Jewish synagogues scattered throughout Buenos Aires. Templo Libertad, the oldest Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires, is located next door to the Jewish Museum and just down the street from the famous Teatro Colon. Starting at the Jewish Museum, whose artifacts

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Hebrew typewriter

tell the history of the Jewish people in Buenos Aires and in Argentina overall, you can then visit the synagogue proper, with its beautiful stained glass windows.

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Synagogue

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Chandelier in Synagogue

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Stained glass, synagogue

Although not specifically religious centers but cultural ones, the Jewish Holocause or Shoah Museum and the AMIA Jewish Community Center also reflect the religious and cultural life of many of the city’s Jewish residents. (Both the Holocaust museum and AMIA Center will be featured in a future post. Subscribe now.)

 

 

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Visiting Mendoza

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

I’ve been coming to Buenos Aires since 2002. In these past 15 years I’ve learned to speak Spanish, learned about Argentinian culture and have made wonderful friendships with many people here. But I’ve only just begun to learn about Argentine politics, as a new president is elected and policies and programs shift from liberal to conservative.

Political conversations seem common and frequent among everyone here. The multiple political parties and their respective perspectives are spread across the conservative-liberal spectrum. Often, as I would listen to others’ political discussions, someone would ask me if I understood what they were saying about various political issues and situations here, and I’d always told them no I did not. Everyone would always reassure me that it was okay not to understand, because even the Argentine people having those same discussions did not understand the politics here either! And we’d laugh at their self-critique and self-commentary.

That was then. I’m not laughing now.

My political education has begun.On December 10, 2015 Argentina elected a new president, Mauricio Macri—a conservative former governor of the city of Buenos Aires—who, it appears to me, wants to rollback and eliminate the social, political and economic policies established during the past twelve years of Kirchners in the presidency (Nestor for 4 and Cristina for 8 of the past 12 years). Slightly more than half of the voting public, 51%, chose Macri. Thus, in a country where popular political expression is a fact of daily life, I expect to see those who sympathized with the former president, Cristina Kirchner protesting in the streets. Kirchneristas–how those who supported her are often referred to in the media—are indeed taking to the streets to advocate for their interests. But once there, protestors are not being allowed the complete freedom of expression as was common during the presidency of Cristina Kirchner.

Kirchneristas (whose candidate Daniel Scioli garnered 49% of the presidential vote) are gathering almost daily in demonstrations against the latest in the series of conservative changes Macri has made in the lone month since he has occupied the presidency. In this short time, Macri has been responsible for firing 10,000 government workers, appointing two new Supreme Court justices and bypassing Congress’ approval. He has imprisoned a political activist, had the riot police attack protestors who were being fired from their jobs. Just what the newly unemployed need–not.  Along comes the 40% devaluation of the peso that impacts everyone’s lives.

Popular radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales was suddenly taken off the airwaves, likely for expressing anti-government views. Macri had already seen that the popular nightly political news analysis program “678” was taken off the air. Free speech seems to be facing swift attacks. The Argentine government has begun again to criminalize peaceful dissent, and to censor opposing points of view.

What is going on? I can understand people wanting change in their government. (The name of Macri’s center-right political party is just that: “Cambiemos”, “let’s change”). I have often voted against the leadership in my own city, state, and country. But what I don’t understand is how those who voted for Macri explain the big, quick shift to the right this conservative new president is taking the country in. And I understand even less why they are tolerating these changes. I wonder what they think about Macri’s actions this past month. Is this the Macri they expected? What now?

Macri’s actions remind me of the censorship and repression that Argentines faced during the military dictatorship of 1976-1973, known as the “dirty war,” when more than 30,000 people were tortured and “disappeared”, killed for their opposition to the dictatorship.  I can’t help but think that Macri is taking Argentines down that desolate path again, with these recent moves to punish and restrict dissent and free speech. Consider for yourself:

Timeline of presidential actions Dec. 12, 2015 – Jan. 17, 2016

  • Dec. 10 Macri elected to office.

  • Dec. 15   Macri bypasses the Congress and appoints “by decree” two Supreme Court Justices. The last time a president did so was in 1862.

  • Dec. 17 Macri undermines the media law and the popular public tv news analysis program “678” disappears from nightly tv.

  • In one week in early January Macri fires 10,000 government workers.

  • Jan. 7 unhappy that Macri dismissed them from their government jobs, public workers in La Plata, Argentina are attacked by riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

  • Jan. 11 Continental Radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales is fired from his job.  Morales believes he has been censored by the government for his criticisms of Macri’s actions.

  • Jan. 12 “Thousands march to Plaza de Mayo in support of Victor Hugo Morales” reported TeleSur TV network. “Without freedom of speech there is no democracy” was the slogan used by many of those carrying pickets in the demonstration.

  • Jan. 16 Popular Argentine indigenous leader Milagro Sala is arrested for criticizing the governor’s attacks on social programs in Jujuy. She is imprisoned and remains there under charges of inciting crime and stealing public funds.

Wonder what else I’ll learn in the coming days and months about politics in Argentina? Me too. Subscribe to my blog: http://www.seebuenosaires.com

Next post:Holy, holy, holy: Religion in Argentina

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Plaza de Mayo, Politics