In Belize, death is a part of life. That doesn’t mean it’s easy

By Jeremy Zipple SJ, 11 November 2020
Image: The Blowup/Unsplash


St. Martin de Porres Roman Catholic Church is a steady fixture of a lively and beautiful neighbourhood in Belize City. They often call the area “Bakka Maatins” (Belizean creole for “in back of St. Martins”) after the parish. Families are sprawling and tight-knit, and neighbours look after one another. But the neighbourhood is also poor, controlled by gangs and often violent. That means death is just part of life.

During my first half-decade as a priest, I buried a total of three people. In the next two years here in Belize, that number is well over a hundred. There are big Garifuna funerals with frenetic drumming and singing that practically blow the roof off the church and go on for hours, the sort of celebration you hope might greet your arrival at the heavenly gates. There are funerals for the victims of gang violence—too many of them—where a dozen or more police are stationed in the churchyard to dissuade retaliation from rival gangs and where young mothers of young dead sons interrupt your woefully lame homily with guttural howls of grief until someone subdues them with a drink they call “green thing,” a mix of aniseed, peppermint and I know not what else.

In the United States, death might be spoken of in hushed voices, clinical and anesthetized. In our neighbourhood, it is just part of life. Death is more immediate and unavoidable. That means living is taken for granted less, too.

We celebrate All Souls, in good part, to be reminded of love’s eternalness, to deepen our trust that not a single act of love we have shared with those we love—and even with strangers and enemies—shall be lost.

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Jeremy Zipple, S.J., is associate pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Belize City and a documentary filmmaker. He is a former executive editor at America.

With thanks to America Magazine and Jeremy Zipple SJ, where this article originally appeared.


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