The sanctuary of the old church was fairly dark, with rays of light shining through the stained glass windows above. Except for occasional creaks as someone quietly sat down in one of the ancient pews, the air was silent and still…. peaceful.
This church had been built many years before, when the Spaniards came through Central America. Outside the old wooden doors, young men in military uniforms guarded the street with rifles, keeping watch for roving gangs who preyed on unwary tourists.
My eyes fell on the profile of a woman across the aisle from me, her face mostly in shadow, but partly lit by the sunbeams streaming in from the windows. Her eyes were closed, her head lifted in prayer. She was very much the image of an ancient Incan, and I imagined what her ancestors must have looked like. Sitting perfectly still, she seemed to glow, radiating a proud, ancient beauty. I felt certain she was completely enthralled in a vision, actually communing with God.
Rising quietly, I left the silent sanctuary through the old wooden doors and paused a moment to adjust to the bright sunshine and stark reality around me. The group of young soldiers still stood on the corner with their weapons. As I watched, a young mother crossed the street in front of them, holding the hand of a tiny boy. Suddenly the child pulled away from his mother and ran up to the soldiers. He grabbed the leg of one and hugged it tightly, looking up with a huge grin.
I held my breath, time literally stood still. And then, still holding his rifle, the young soldier bent down and gently patted the curly black hair of the smiling child.