The Church of the Collapsed Wall

San Miguelito, Panama

The other night I had a dream of a long forgotten fellow seminary student. We just happened to meet on a beach, and I asked if he participated in a church these days. His response was, “The Church of the Collapsed Wall.”  When I asked about the name, he responded that a wall fell down some years ago, and the people of the church decided not to replace it, so it is now called “The Church of the Collapsed Wall.”

As I woke up, my mind immediately went to a church outside Panama City, Panama, which I had visited over 55 years ago. Panama City was the first stop on a tour that my husband and I led, a six-week mission education trip through four Latin American countries with 16 sixteen-year-old youth. This was a time when Panama was under military control, with armed soldiers on every street corner, following a coup the year before. It was a scary time, and one of our boys had already had his tape recorder and camera confiscated.

While we were there, we took a trip outside of Panama City to the village of San Miguelito to visit Polígono de la parroquia Cristo Redentor en San Miguelito. There on a hill stood a beautiful church structured in the round. The image of this church stays with me to this day, because it had no windows or walls. There were a few panels with painted pictures of the prophets, all of whom had faces of the villagers of San Miguelito. Yet, other than these, the sides of the church opened out with no barriers to that dangerous, armed city, which was visible from its heights. People from all walks of life came into this open church. And out from its open walls, those villagers with the faces of prophets risked their lives by marching into the city to confront the military abuse and lack of freedom.

The church in San Miguelito that I remember will always have no walls.

So, what of this? Rather than building walls as barricades on borders, this is a time when we need to tear those walls down, so we may invite people in and allow them out. Rather than blocking food trucks to those who are starving, this is a time when the roads must be open and the needs of people met. Rather than building bomb shelters as some cities are doing, this is the time when prophets of many nationalities and villages need to be walking arm and arm into the places of fear and insanity and calling for peace. Of course, not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is called to protest, to tear down walls, or to cross boundaries. This is not popular stance today, and it is not even possible in some cases. However, as I ponder my dream of “The Church of the Collapsed WalI” and remember the open church of San Miguelito, I am moved again in this Holy Week to call us to find our own creative ways to move beyond walls toward justice, hope, and love in the world. May we let whatever walls keep us apart to collapse and stay open.