For the San Antonio Express-News
A lapsed Catholic, the last place I expected to find myself on my recent holiday to Malaysia was at an Ash Wednesday Mass. I didn’t make my way there because I had experienced some call back to the faith, though the southwestern port town of Melaka had restored in me a sense of peace. Rather, my traveling partner and I had set out to witness the sunset seep through the stained-glass windows at St. Peter’s Church and discovered that we had stumbled there on the Lenten holy day. St. Peter’s, among other architectural sites throughout the city, evidences the influence of 16th century Portuguese colonial rule, while other buildings testify to its 18th century Dutch occupation. Yet, despite these European influences, Melaka is a distinctively Asian city. Here, in St. Peter’s, Indian women shushed their children with mango sweets, while Chinese mothers doled out balls of sticky rice. Majestically swinging his purple robes, the Malaysian priest led Peranakan altar boys through packed pews. The warm scent of incense mingled with the raw earthy smell of tamarind and the heady musk of sandalwood. The church filled with song. The people with no place to sit or stand gathered in throngs outside the church. They sang the loudest.
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