Every time I come to Panama, I go to lunch with my uncle – a Catholic priest (Opus Dei, a VERY conservative order). He picked me up and we drove along the waterfront. The traffic was light – this was on Thursday, a holiday commemorating the first calls for independence from Spain. A storm brewed offshore, heading in. It’s rainy season in Panama.
“Today, we go someplace new for lunch,” he said. My uncle’s English has an Afro-Caribbean island lilt. He served for several years in Trinidad and Tobago which is where he learned English. The bulk of his service has been in Venezuela – 53 years. He’s 82 now. He was reassigned to Panama in the wake of the mass exodus of Venezuelans fleeing Hugo Chavez’s populist “revolution”. That oil-rich nation is in the throes of an economic and political disaster – shortages impacting everything from toilet paper and medicine to dissent and free press. Many with resources live in Panama now. Panama is awash in immigrants.
“Great. But we better not be having lunch at the Trump tower or you can stop the car and drop me off right here. I’ll walk home!”
“Ha! Don’t worry about that.”
We ate at Sabores de Chorillo. Chorillo is a poor neighborhood with the reputation for crime. But the nearby waterfront area has received development investment and is well positioned to attract tourists.
The place has food stalls, close to the fish market where fishermen drop off their daily catches. Uncle Lucho (it’s “Padre Quintero” to everyone else) pointed out where he lived as a kid before my grandfather, an engineer, moved the family to Venezuela to work in the oil industry for a few years before retiring back in Panama.
We both had Corvina (sea bass) and patacones (fried plantain). He asked about my husband. Reminisced about his childhood. And we talked with the cook and the waiter – both live in Chorillo. But mostly we watched the lightning flashes as the storm rolled in before relocating to take cover from the driving rain that was so loud it was hard to hear conversation.
On previous occasions, we’ve talked about religion. He knows my perspective on spirituality – for me, it’s a deeply personal evolving relationship with the Divine that does not fit into a box. I love learning about other wisdom traditions. We’ve talked about the concept of “hell” before and my thought that this may work with children or persons of very low-level consciousness but its just made up stuff. If the only reason someone behaves is so they are not punished in hell, then they are behaving out of fear, not love, and they really are not a good person. And evil people won’t care about eternal damnation anyway.
I’m grateful for our connection. If a 49 year old non-religious gay man who’s been out most of his adult life can be friends with an 82 year old priest from the most conservative orthodoxy possible within the Catholic Church, maybe there’s hope for everyone else.