March 29, 2023 | Faith

Faith That Springs Forth Into Beauty

In communities throughout Latin America, people enter Holy Week with a time-honored tradition

By Larry Livingston

Holy Week is the most sacred time of the year for Christians, when the faithful reflect on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. This core teaching, often called the Paschal Mystery, gives hope to believers as they seek to find meaning in their own suffering.

Over the centuries, the Paschal Mystery has been represented in a multitude of artistic media and customs practiced by Christians around the world. One of these is the tradition of the Semana Santa alfombra (Holy Week carpet), which originated in Spain and is now celebrated throughout Central America and in parts of South America and the United States.

The Semana Santa alfombra involves the creation of elaborate stretches of decorated streets for the Way of the Cross. This is the customary procession to various stations representing events that occurred along Jesus’ path to Calvary. The road is “carpeted” with materials such as colored sawdust, sand and pine needles, then decorated using molds, stencils, flowers, leaves, fruits and other items.

A community creates

Pampojila is a village not far from San Lucas Toliman, near Lake Atitlan in the Guatemala highlands. It’s home to several families in the Unbound sponsorship program. The neighborhoods of Pampojila work together at this time of year to create their own unique alfombras. During Holy Week, the people of the village process over each alfombra on their path through the Stations of the Cross.

Their procession begins at the parish church in the early evening on Palm Sunday. By the time they return to the church, it’s well past midnight. Once the procession is concluded, the people of Pampojila celebrate with prepared foods and music.

At this point, the beautiful alfombras that the families put so much time and care into creating will be no more, having been tread upon by everyone in the village. But that, too, is part of the tradition. Like the paradox of the Paschal Mystery, their beauty has died, waiting to be created anew next year.

Welcomed with gratitude

Outside of Semana Santa, alfombras are also used as a gesture of hospitality. Over the years, thousands of visitors to Unbound communities in Latin America have been greeted with beautiful alfombras beginning at the edge of town and leading through streets lined with welcoming families.

Though customs vary from place to place, similar hospitality is a hallmark of Unbound communities around the world. It’s an expression of the pride these communities have in their cultures and traditions, as well as a way to show the deep gratitude they feel toward Unbound sponsors.

Here are some photos from Pampojila taken in 2022 as the people of the community prepared for Semana Santa.


Genaro is the father of sponsored child Lucia. Their family lives in the Central Guatemalan village of Pampojila. Here he forms sawdust into the alfombra his family will decorate for Semana Santa. 


Delmy is married to Lucia’s older brother. Using a mold to form the design, she adds colored sawdust to the carpet formed by her father-in-law. 


Their work complete, the family of sponsored child Lucia (not pictured) displays the alfombra they’ve created for Pampojila’s annual celebration of Semana Santa. 


On another section of the street in Pampojila, a family begins decorating their alfombra. The surface of this carpet is made of pine needles. 


Sponsored child Irma decorates her neighborhood’s alfombra with flower petals. 


Medarda, left, is the mother of sponsored child Irma, center. Together with Irma’s little sister, right, they decorate their alfombra. 


Tubs of colored sawdust wait to be used by the creative people of Pampojila in decorating their alfombras. The sawdust is dyed in a traditional process using colored water, then set out in the sun to dry. 


Putting the finishing touches on a beautiful pine needle alfombra, people of the village of Pampojila prepare for the Santa Semana procession that will go through their creation.

Unbound regional reporters Oscar Tuch, Josue Sermeno and Carolina Pulgarin contributed information for this story. Photos by Oscar Tuch.