Sunday, April 16, 2000

Peruvian tradition to honor holy day

Palm sculptures are Latin American tradition

BY Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the last seven years in her native Lima, Peru, Dina Carhuatanta marked Palm Sunday by braiding and weaving palm branches into soft sculptures — flowers, leaves, hearts, crosses.

[photo] Dina Carhuatanta
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        They were sold in front of her church, so the church could buy Easter flowers.

        On her first Palm Sunday in Cincinnati, she's continuing the tradition common among Catholics in Peru, Mexico and other Latin American nations.

        “I will make a basket, and in the middle I will make a cross,” Mrs. Carhuatanta, 43, said Saturday afternoon while weaving palms. Her sculpture will rest on the altar for Palm Sunday Mass this morning at St. Charles Borromeo Church, Carthage.

        Today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian calendar. The traditional service recalls when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph just days before his crucifixion and resurrection, and people spread palm branches and clothing in front of him.

        Many denominations of Christians celebrate Palm Sunday with the distribution and blessing of palms. In many churches, the faithful begin services with a procession that starts outside.

        Mrs. Carhuatanta's former church in Lima, The Lord of Divine Mercy, also had a procession.

        She and two dozen other women in the Society of Maria would spend three days before Palm Sunday creating 600 palm sculptures.

        “She works very hard and concentrates,” said her husband, Mario Carhuatanta, 52. “Not everyone has this gift.”

        They left Lima with their son, Paul, 19, and daughter, Karina, 15, less than a year ago. Jobs are scarce in Peru, the family said, even though public higher education is affordable and accessible.

        “We have doctors driving taxi cabs,” said Paul, a student at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

        Karina, a student at Withrow High School, has learned the skill from her mother. In Peru, whole palm plants, with up to 20 branches, are used.

        On Saturday, Mrs. Carhuatanta and her daughter struggled with individual branches that were too dry.

        “I need to soak these in water,” Mrs. Carhuatanta said.

        Her pastor, the Rev. Joe Nelson, who learned of the palm-braiding tradition when he served a church in Mexico, asked her to create some shapes for Palm Sunday.

        “We have 22 countries repre sented in this parish, and we try to bring all of these diverse cultures together,” he said. “I'd like to do more.”

        Down the hall in the Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center from where Mrs. Carhuatanta worked the palms, several people attended a session Saturday afternoon to learn to make mats from colored sawdust and flowers. The mats, a Guatemalan tradition, are used in the Way of the Cross. It is a Good Friday event that commemorates Jesus' death.

        St. Charles will hold a Way of the Cross procession, replete with actors, a cross and narrators, through six blocks of Carthage at 5 p.m. Friday.

        “One of the miracles of this place,” Father Nelson said, “is how well all of these diverse cultures have come together.”


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