The Bishop is more like a secular philosopher and a teacher than a Catholic priest. Apparently very popular among his followers, majority of them very young. He seems to have a rock star status within his congregation whom I end up naming the Pop Priest. His manner of conducting the mass is nothing like I have ever experienced. Flamboyant and colorful, his words that I don’t understand, sound so uplifting and optimistic. And he has built himself a reputation that surpasses that of the historic cathedral – a proud landmark of Cuernavaca that rivals even Las Mañanitas. Thus making them the perfect twins in balancing the material world with the spiritual life, symbolized so appropriately by its revered Bishop.

Probably in his late Fifties or the early Sixties, he wears an easy smile Wrapped over his white cassock  is a green shawl. And his choir is made up of a six piece rock band, containing of three guitarists, two violinist and a drummer. They all wore long frizzy hair and are dressed in their blue jeans, t-shirts and such – tops normally worn by teenagers. His voice is gentle and natural. His congregation is dressed not in their Sunday best, but in their ordinary street clothes. At this point, my Spanish is non-existent, but I like the soothing and even tone of his voice vibrating in the air.

Post mass, he stands outside the front gate greeting the exiting crowd, making small talk. He breaks up in a smile when he sees me emerge from inside and folds his hands together in traditional Indian gesture of namaste.

‘How did you like the mass?’

And we converse for a while. He asks me about India and refers to Buddhism and Hinduism and tells me how the message remains the same; be it Jesus or Buddha or Krishna. Devoid of any theatrics, what strikes me the most is that unlike other services I have attended, he certainly does not talk or constantly repeat the name of Jesus in vain. He doesn’t make you feel that unless you believed in Jesus you were doomed to be engulfed by the long and thorny tentacles of the wild hell fire. Likewise, I don’t once get a feeling, the one I normally got in the past from the priests whose message was loud and clear: Jesus is the way and the only way. I see in him an image of Gandhi – who though extremely religious, and very much into his Hindu beliefs and rituals, never lost the sight of the fact that there were other beliefs and they had to be revered and respected. Like my own dad.

My dad remains the most religious person I have ever known. He followed his Vaishnava  faith to the T. An entire room of our home was and is still devoted to his in-house temple designated as Thakorji no room. His daily rituals lasted an average of four hours. Longer on the religious holidays. Of us eight siblings, the rest could be said to be more or less religious to the extent that they all follow bits and pieces of my parent’s total devotion, but as for me, it would be fair to say that even for a long while I identified myself as an agnostic, finally I have come to realization that that was a cope out on my part, because what I really am is: an atheist. After holding out hopes for me up until I was in my early thirties, my dad astonished me one night. I had just returned from paying my tribute at the shrine by our house – something I did out of sheer respect for my dad and expressly to please him.

‘You don’t have to go to the temple just to please me. You’re just crowding it and taking a place away from a true believer.’

What he didn’t verbalize was what I read in the look on his face. I know you’re a good kid and that’s all that matters.

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