As the February meeting at the VFW winds down, an unlikely voice rises from the crowd of locals. It’s the Rev. Larry Brito, a priest from Taos, and when he expresses support, the Questa parishioners cheer.
A Tale of Two Churches
Down a narrow alley by the Santa Fe River, just a stone’s throw from downtown, is a structure advertised as the oldest house in the United States. To get there, tourists file past the San Miguel Mission Church, itself one of the oldest houses of worship in the country. They may admire the church’s stocky buttresses, the ancient vigas, the heavy wooden door—but they’re unlikely to take notice of the modest squares of pale mud patching on the building’s sides and facade. It’s the evidence of a conservation effort that is, in almost every way, the opposite of what has happened at St. Anthony’s.
“I’m not trying to undermine anyone, but I see an urgency to this because once the church is gone, it’s gone,” Brito—young, reedy-voiced, bespectacled—says. Loud applause follows.
“Father, I have just one question,” Rael, Questa’s former mayor, says, rising to his feet. He is stocky, dressed in denim, with straight, dark hair that falls occasionally over his eyes.
“The people you see here are brave people,” Rael says. “There’s a lot of people who are afraid to come because they feel like they’re going against the church—almost like they’re committing a sin,” he says. Rael surveys the room, then looks to Brito.
“We’re not committing any wrongdoing, if you will, against the church?” Rael’s question hangs in the air; he and his fellow parishioners wait silently.
“God willing you amend whatever divisions that have come about because of this—that it begins to heal,” Brito says. People nod; his words are like a balm. Their own pastor isn’t here.
“And it’s not that you’re opposing them,” Brito says. “It’s just that you feel deeply that this is the right thing to do, preserving this beautiful church.”
Outside, the wind howls mournfully, but the sun has finally emerged. In the hollow where the church stands proud as a captain on a sinking ship, the warm red of its adobe walls stands out against the deep green-gray of the mountains. Its cross pierces the sky, white on blue since before this land was settled. SFR