The Day The Black Redeemer Was Excommunicated

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The notion that the Redeemer of Israel would appear as a “Black Christ” and also a Nazarite, one who is consecrated to the Lord our God, was not always an acceptable idea to the Princes and Kings of the Re-conquest.

Even more significantly, that He should be an only son who would be sent to suffer and be humiliated and prove to be for sinful humankind a redeemer, one whom we of the enslaved African masses of America would worship and would love even more profoundly than the Virgin Mother herself, was positively anathema to many of the rulers of the Universal Church.

Could it be that the phenomenon that occurred at Portobelo on the tiny isthmus of Panama would become a focus of Glory, a point on which the masses of suffering humanity would join in unity as one village with all the children of the Black race in the most grand and unbridled display of sincere worship that the whole world had ever seen in the history of humankind?

On October 19, 1947 such a manifestation of spiritual joy of a profoundly spiritualized people whom the Black Christ had adopted was to go down in Panama’s history as one of her greatest demonstrations of unity. It would, however, be flatly rejected by the Bishop of the Catholic Church of the time, José Maria Preciado, C. M. f. D. D, and would trigger a disturbing attitude of open warfare with the communities of Portobelo and Colon.

Bishop Preciado was none other than the Bishop of the province of Colon, a man of considerable religious authority, and yet he flatly refused to allow any of the  parish priests ordained by his Church to officiate or in any way participate in the ceremonies or masses and traditional celebrations in October and during Holy Week leading up to the Easter observances.

The Bishop had gone so far as to meet in the Governor’s Palace in Colon with the Organizing Committee and officially pronounce the excommunication of the entire town of Portobelo and its beloved image of the Black Christ which had been entrusted to them. This excommunication of Portobelo and, consequently, the Black Christ would last until October 19 1950 by order of the Bishop who even refused to be present in the country so as to not give his blessing to these festivities of black people.

In fact, in 1947 Bishop Preciado had absented himself from Panama to go on vacation to visit his friends in California which was still bathing in the riches of gold rush and it would mark the second year in a row in which the Bishop would proclaim the official excommunication of the persons making up the Organizing Committee of Portobelo and its Holy Image.

This whole little known but significant incident has made us suspect, however, that this attempt at hindering the full devotion to the Black Christ was a ploy to prevent the masses of Black people from appearing at Portobelo and for them not to unite with the Silver People of Colon under the unifying  banner of the Black Christ.

It would not, however, stop future generations of the ancestors of both ethnic groups from joining in the celebrations and thus continue bringing in the rich Easter as well as the Black Christ festivities in October to the adoring crowds each year right up until our times.  It also could not deter the evolution of the wonderful traditions and festivals related to the Festival de los Congos y Diablitos in Portobelo and the more traditional observances and processions of the Virgin Mother and the Holy Cross in Colon City as it was customarily done for centuries.

It would be during these trying times that the faithful of Colon and Portobelo would discover just how much their official prelate abhorred the idea of seeing the Black people of the Province united. I suppose the idea of the entire race of a broken humanity united under God’s forgiving banner during the Holy week observances and the October pilgrimage and celebration of the Black Christ was just too much to ponder for this representative of the Church’s officialdom.

This story continues.

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