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Semana Santa: What is it?

Photo Cred: El Heraldo, Colombia

Cathedrals, churches and plazas will be crammed with congregations in Colombia for Holy Week, or 'Semana Santa' in Spanish; for a lot of people in Colombia and really the whole of South America, it is a very important religious festival. Pilgrimages and processions are still an essential part of Holy Week in Colombia. The reality that we face in a country professing to have only 8% of the population as Evangelical Christians.

Travel in and around Colombia during Semana Santa can be a challenging if not impossible depending on where you are going. Taxi's, Flights, Uber and hotel accommodation are booked up way in advance and travel costs go up significantly. For most Colombians, Holy week is a time to travel and or relax. Many shops and restaurants are closed for the week and typically overcrowded and congested big cities such as Bogota, Cali and Medellin become more tranquil as city dwellers head to their holiday homes, countryside retreats and traditional towns to celebrate the Easter holidays.

Where most Catholics have many services this week and special events, the Evangelical community as a whole is quiet. Resurrection Sunday (Easter) isn’t celebrated more than any other Sunday. A local pastor and friend of mine commented that it is a shame that the evangelical community doesn’t celebrate such an important date in our faith. He said some view this holiday as purely Catholic with the Catholic corruption and therefore want nothing to do with the holiday time or Easter. It is a real shame.

There are a few towns that really explode with people during the Semana Santa week. Throughout Holy Week in Colombia, the usually small, relaxing colonial towns of Popayan and Mompox are transformed into bustling religious gatherings.

Traditional Semana Santa celebration in the town of Popayan is the most famous in Colombia. The famous colonial "White City" in southwest Colombia boasts the country's largest concentration of churches per capita. Church steeples dominate the town's skyline and around every street corner there is a different church to see.

While many people from Barranquilla leave the city during the Easter holidays, certain traditions have been preserved for those that choose to remain. For us, it is a time that we can take advantage of the "religious atmosphere." No, we don't like the term religion because it is so negative. But it is the reality of Semana Santa. We ask for your prayers as we make a more concentrated focus during Semana Santa in reaching out to our community. We know only God can change the heart, but he has chosen to use us as his instruments to bring people to saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

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