09 February 2016

Mexico 2016 Day 5 – Monday 08 February

We were up for breakfast at 07:00 and to leave in the bus at 08:30, headed for our second visit to the Shrine at Guadalupe. On previous mornings Anne had spied a nice white lacey scarf with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego, and Pope St. John Paul the Great on it being sold by one of the street vendors who would swarm around the bus as we were boarding. It was always the same ones, and to my surprise, Pablo said these vendors were legit, but on Sunday morning the particular vendor did not happen to have the one Anne was looking for. He promised he would have it “mañana” – and he did, so she bought it. I ended up purchasing a 2’x3” banner of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from him as well.

Along the way to the Shrine, after Morning Prayer, Taylor had a proposition for the group. A number of us, myself included, had expressed concern that we would not have sufficient time to take it all in on this second, longer, visit to the main goal of our pilgrimage, including time just to sit and pray and present the intentions that we had brought with us to Our Lady. So he put it to a vote – after, at my suggestion, having Roberto and Pablo tell us a little about the three other churches we were scheduled to visit during the afternoon. Of the choices 1) to ditch the three other churches altogether and stay at Guadalupe all day, or 2) to stay longer at Guadalupe, take a late lunch, and go to one of the churches, described by Father Juan Diego as “worth seeing,” or 3) to keep the original schedule, the consensus was choice 2 (I voted for 1, but was outvoted). It does seem like a happy compromise.

Also on the way to the Shrine, Roberto passed out lyrics for a Guadalupe pilgrim songs, most notably La Guadalupana:

Desde el cielo una hermosa mañana
Desde el cielo una hermosa mañana
La Guadalupana
La Guadalupana
La Guadalupana bajó al Tepeyac.

Suplicante juntaba sus manos
Suplicante juntaba sus manos
Y eran mexicanos
Y eran mexicanos
Y eran mexicanos su porte y su faz.

Su llegada llenó de alegría
Su llegada llenó de alegría
Luz y armonía
Luz y armonia
Luz y armonía todo el Anáhuac.

Junto al monte pasaba Juan Diego
Junto al monte pasaba Juan Diego
Y acercóse luego
Y acercóse luego
Y acercóse luego al oír cantar.

A Juan Diego la Virgen le dijo:
A Juan Diego la Virgen le dijo:
"Este cerro elijo
Este cerro elijo
Este cerro elijo para hacer mi altar."

Y en la tilma entre rosas pintada
Y en la tilma entre rosas pintada
Su imagen amada
Su imagen amada
Se dignó dejar.

Desde entonces para el mexicano
Desde entonces para el mexicano
Ser Guadalupano
Ser Guadalupano
Ser Guadalupano es algo esencial.

En sus penas se postra de hinojos
En sus penas se postra de hinojos
Y eleva sus ojos
Y eleva sus ojos
Y eleva sus ojos hacia el Tepeyac

Madrecita de los mexicanos
Madrecita de los mexicanos
Que estás en el cielo
Que estás en el cielo
Que estás en el cielo ruega a Dios por nos(otros).

The Virgin of Guadalupe

From the heavens on a beautiful morning
From the heavens on a beautiful morning
The Virgin of Guadalupe
The Virgin of Guadalupe
The Virgin of Guadalupe came down to Tepeyac.

Pleadingly, she joined her hands,
Pleadingly, she joined her hands,
And it was the Mexican people
And it was the Mexican people
And it was the Mexican people whom she resembled in her demeanor and visage.

Her arrival brought happiness
Her arrival brought happiness
Light and harmony
Light and harmony
Light and harmony to all of Anáhuac.

Juan Diego was passing closely by the mountain
Juan Diego was passing closely by the mountain
And drew nearer when
And drew nearer when
And drew nearer when he heard the sound of singing.

To Juan Diego the Virgin said:
To Juan Diego the Virgin said:
"This is the hill I've chosen
This is the hill I've chosen
This is the hill I’ve chosen for my alter to be built."

And amongst the painted roses of the tilma
And amongst the painted roses of the tilma
Her beloved image
Her beloved image
Her beloved image she has left upon it.

As of then, for the Mexican people
As of then, for the Mexican people
To be a Guadalupan
To be a Guadalupan
To be a Guadalupan was something of an essential.

In their sorrows, they kneel over the fennel.
In their sorrows, they kneel over the fennel.
And with their eyes raised
And with their eyes raised
And with their eyes raised towards Tepeyac.

Dearest mother of all the people of Mexico
Dearest mother of all the people of Mexico
Who art thou in heaven
Who art thou in heaven
Who art thou in heaven, pray for us to God.


[VIDEO LINK]

We could have used more than one run-through of it on the bus before we got to the Shrine … but that’s all we got. When we arrived at the Shrine, we went into the same gift shop for a bathroom break before we went into the Plaza of the Americas.


video

This time, as a group, we walked into the New Basilica from the plaza singing the La Guadalupana. Frankly, the quality of our sung Spanish wasn’t there, but our hearts were. I took a long, continuous video as we entered the Basilica and went down to the conveyors below the tilma for our second visit.

A great deal of preparation for the Pope’s impending visit was visible, both in the plaza and inside the Basilica, where the number of people was easily as large as it had been on Friday. Mass was again being said at the main altar, with a number of Mexican pilgrims processing in with banners and other religious iconography. In fact, although we had planned on hearing Mass in one of the upper chapels at 10:00, we couldn’t – they were all in use. We had to delay our Mass until 11:00. Having a free hour, we went into the Old Basilica, which is now mainly dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration.

One reason for the building of the New Basilica in the 1970s was that the Old Basilica, as magnificent as it is – and in my opinion it has a far more suitable ambience for the miraculous portrait of the Mother of God than the dated 1970s-chic décor of the New Basilica – it was far too small for the number of pilgrims that now make their way to Guadalupe each year. An important consideration, yes, but ultimately not the decisive one. Built at the base of Tepeyac Hill, the Old Basilica was erected on even more sandy soil than the Metropolitan Cathedral downtown, and lists to an even more noticeable degree. Looking closely at it from certain angles the façade immediately brought to mind the Leaning Tower of Pisa, although the cant is obviously not to the same degree. Where it’s really noticeable is inside, where you literally feel that you are walking on a slanted floor, generally uphill from the doors to the high altar at the front of the church. The foundation had shifted so much that the building was literally unsafe by the mid 20th c., and it was indeed closed for a number of years, although again it is my understanding that the wonders of engineering have also stabilized this building and will keep it from shifting or listing even further. It was an experience being inside it, however, besides the dark carved-wood beauty; I felt a little off-balance all the while.

Roberto took us to the front of the Old Basilica, to where a life-size replica of the tilma now occupies the spot where the original was displayed for many, many years, and explained a lot of the iconographic imagery contained in the image which the Aztecs could literally read like a book. The colors of her dress and mantle, the pattern of stars on the latter, the flower-like designs on the dress, the band around her waist above her pregnant abdomen, and so forth – all have meaning, and told the Indians that the Mother of the Spaniards’ God was their mother as well, and wanted the two peoples to be one. [This LINK has some good information about the symbolism.]

There was a smaller gift shop in the Old Basilica, just outside the Adoration Chapel that was currently being used – but I think most of us spent more time in the chapel than in the shop.

We reassembled in the front of the New Basilica and were finally able to make our way to one of the upper chapels, and heard our last Mass in Mexico City, said by Fr. Peter. Afterward, we scattered, each to do our own thing – or rather each of us to do pretty much the same things just not necessarily in the same order. In my and Anne’s case, it was first to make our way up Tepeyac Hill to the church on the spot where Juan Diego found the miraculous roses, back down and around to the gift shop where we made our purchases, and then back to the New Basilica for our time with Our Lady.

As far as the gift shop goes, well it was an indescribable experience. I cannot convey with words the confusing chaos of the way shopping and transactions were carried out – made almost unnavigable by the language barrier. It seems that there were little areas of “jurisdiction” for the various sales-people, so that when I found a tee-shirt right inside the front door and the young lady started right away writing me up a ticket, and I indicated I wanted also to help me with an item not seven to ten feet away, she made it clear she could help me and another clerk had to take up – and a separate ticket. Nor could we take our merchandise with us as we shopped around the store. So we ended up assembling a stack of handwritten tickets and nothing to show for it. A large stack of handwritten tickets, because we did the majority of our souvenir and sacramentals purchasing there. And nothing to show for it. Then we were to present the tickets to a central cashier and pay … at which point I told Anne (I was really feeling stressed by the total chaos and sensory overload) that we were paying all at once for an accumulation of merchandise that I wasn’t sure we would even remember what all we had bought – or how to go about finding it! Luckily, one of the young clerks had perceived how clueless I was, and had managed to communicate to me that I should go pay, then bring the stack of tickets back to her. And, sure enough, when I did, she took them and scurried around from here to there and back again and suddenly we had all our purchases in hand and were ready to go. She was a life-saver! – or at least a sanity-saver for me!

Leaving the gift shop, Anne and I went back to the New Basilica. I spied Fr. Juan Diego by one of the big columns hearing the confession of one of our group. That was something I’d been meaning to avail myself of during this pilgrimage, but had never found the right time. I went over and got in line, and a few minutes later I made my confession. Anne had found a pew – this was in one of the rare lulls in the liturgical activity that is almost constant in the Basilica. When I joined Anne, she went and made her confession. Meanwhile, I prayed the prayers to receive the Holy Door Indulgence that is available for Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy – the main door of the Basilica is, like in all Basilicas including our own in Natchiitoches, designated as a Holy Door through which pilgrims can pass and, under the usual conditions[1], receive a plenary indulgence. I also prayed for all the intentions that made it into my little “pilgrimage notebook,” including some others that came to mind. This is where the presence of Our Lady in that place really did hit me, perhaps not as intensely as others have reported in the presence of the tilma, but as a definite reality.

We remained there in prayer for about a half an hour, bringing us up to the 14:00 time designated for the group to gather again by the big statue of Pope John Paul the Great between the two Basilicas. We did so, as usual it taking about twenty minutes for stragglers to make their way there, then we walked to where the bus awaited us and we set out again through Mexico City.

I don’t think it was very far or long before we stopped for lunch, at a cafeteria attached to a department store called Sanborn’s. Once again the food was excellent, and we had a bit of time to wander around in the store – which reinforced an impression I’d had already that, for all the abject poverty that may be witnessed in various parts of Mexico City as well as in the countryside, and the drug-trafficking violence that is notorious in certain regions (mainly the borders, both north and south, as I understand it) this “third-world” country does have access to all of the amenities of a “first-world” country, at least in the cities and most of the places we visited. The hotel was definitely first class. One thing that I did find surprising, however – and perhaps this is related to the difference between “first-“ and “second-worlds” and the standards of education – in contrast to Europe, in my experience, and despite the relative proximity of Mexico to the United States – it really seemed that relatively fewer people that we interacted with had any facility with English. But what can I say? – so few people in the US have any language whatsoever beyond English, and as I apologized to one clerk along the way when I caught myself attempting my pitifully limited Spanish even after she had demonstrated that she was perfectly able to communicate in English, “I’m sorry – your English is much better than my Spanish!”[2]

Then we set out for our last excursion, about an hour and a half drive to the suburb of Coyoacan. Along the way we watched the last half-hour or so of For Greater Glory, then Fr. Juan Diego related his vocation story – how an Irish-Canadian ended up as a friar with the name “Juan Diego,” in prison ministry in Nicaragua. It was a fascinating story, especially his description of his relationship with the inmates whom he serves.

In Coyoacan, we visited the Franciscan church of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist), the last of the many stunningly beautiful Catholic churches we toured. Obviously the architectural disaster of the Post-Vatican II era struck Mexico just as it did the US – the New Basilica at Guadalupe is the case in point, I would say – but in the admittedly statistically limited (and doubtless skewed) sample set we experienced the post-Conciliar design ethos was thankfully absent. And each church had its own flavour, of course. Along the way, visiting mainly Dominican and Franciscan churches, the differing “architectural philosophy” of the respective orders was pointed out, and when it was brought to my attention I noted how much the simpler Franciscan churches resembled my own Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at home in Natchitoches. That actually makes sense historically – there was a heavy Franciscan presence in early Natchitoches, as I understand it, and in fact until the 1850s the original name of the church which eventually became a Basilica was indeed "St. Francis"; there is indeed a statue of St. Francis on the grounds behind the sacristy. 


Here, in San Juan Bautista Church, a couple of features notably unique to this church included: 1) Whereas I previously commented on the many effigies of the crucified Jesus, just down from the cross, lying shrouded in a glass coffin, here there was to my surprise a similar life-size depiction of the Blessed Mother lying in the sleep of (perhaps) death – her “Dormition”[3] – wrapped in the blue mantle studded with golden stars that she wears in the image on the tilma

Also, nearby, 2) Well, if there were depictions of the Spanish Our Lady of Guadalupe in any other church we visited, I did not notice them. (There was so much to see – sensory overload was constant!). Here there was one. There were also huge paintings depicting the conversion of the native Mexican peoples – San Juan Bautisto was built on land donated by the Conquistador Hernan Cortes, near what became his own personal home – as well  as an active Adoration Chapel off the left transept. Once again, breathtaking.

Outside the church, just across a small square, Anne’s new buddy Pablo made sure we experienced two of the three things he said people come to Coyoacan to taste – the coffee, the ice cream, and churros. Churros are fluted, ridged, deep-fried dough that’s well-dusted in sugar while hot – crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside – and in this case filled with ice cream! Wonderful!

Finally, back on the bus, we headed back to the hotel for a half-hour chance to freshen up before being taken out to dinner for our last meal together as a group in Mexico City. The stop back by the hotel also gave a chance for a one pilgrim who was not able to join us on this last day’s excursion to join up with us. One of our pilgrims was an 88-year-old man who did not walk well. He came with us on Friday and Sunday, spending much of his time in a wheelchair which Pablo generally pushed (as well as, at least at one point, little Jude Marshall), and his wife said that with the first visit to Guadalupe he had really accomplished his goal for this trip. He did join us for this dinner out; there were, however, a small number of pilgrims who, for whatever reason, did not, choosing to go their own way for whatever reason.

On the trip back from Coyoacan, also, Fr. Peter shared his vocation story, telling how a “book-priest” – a priest who trained mainly in canon law and did not end up in the “pastoral track” – nevertheless ended up as the rector of the cathedral in Shreveport, and Roberto read off the flight, departure time, and gate information for the various small groups and individuals who, it turned out, were leaving the hotel pretty much half the day on Tuesday. The earliest group had to be up and ready to roll out by 06:00; we were in one of if not the latest group, not departing the hotel until noon.

The final meal was at a fine “French-Mexican” restaurant called “Mexsi Bocu” – a pun on “Merci Beaucoup,” opened a few years ago (as I understand it) by a French chef who married a Mexican woman and decided to create a unique cuisine combining their respective heritages. Anne and I ended up sitting at a table with one of our group whose husband decided he was too tired for this last excursion – and it was quite late, after a full day; if I recall correctly, we were verging on 21:00 before we were placing our orders, and maybe after 23:00 before we loaded up for the return to the hotel. Roberto, Pablo, and even Mario the driver joined us at our table, and although Mario evidently had little or no English, it was a welcome opportunity for us to get to know Roberto and Pablo even better. As I said, we became quite fond of both of them by the end of our few days with them, and in addition to their great skills as guides – and Pablo’s going the extra mile to help out Anne yesterday – this meal cemented that affection. They kept up a lively conversation about their own personal histories as well as the joys and travails of a tour guide. They’d never worked together, I understand, but in my opinion they make a great team, complementing each other perfectly. During the meal, I passed around my little brown pilgrimage notebook, and everyone present wrote their name and email address into it, from which I planned to compile a master list on Google Docs and share it with all.

Finally, no earlier than 23:00, we were back at the hotel. Anne and I had heard of a small group of pilgrims who would end the day up on the roof of the hotel where there were pools, recreation rooms, conference rooms, and even a bar, but had never joined them. We did so this evening, and although it was too cool to sit out by the pool we found a table and chairs just inside where a small group of us, including Fr. Juan Diego and Taylor – who brought half a bottle of fine Oban Scotch that we all enjoyed (even Anne took a sip) – visited, shared stories about how we had come to be there; reminisced about various things that had really struck, impressed, or moved us; and generally just didn’t want to let go of the bond that had been forged in a few short days.[4] But eventually – after midnight – we had to.


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More Pictures from the Day



 












































































[1] Confession within a few days either way of performing the indulgenced exercise, receiving the Eucharist on the day of performing the indulgenced exercise, having no attachment to sin, and praying the following prayers for the intentions of the Pope: the Apostles’ Creed and three Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes.
[2] That is actually, in hindsight, one of my big regrets – that I did not invest some time in learning at least the basics – a few necessary phrases and the numbers as well as the Spanish words for a few items I knew that I would be looking to buy (neckties, mugs, teeshirts, and the like – my standard personal souvenirs). In my defense, there was relatively far less prep time for this trip than any other I’ve done, since it came up late last year, just before the busiest time of a semester, followed by the always-busy and never-very restful Christmas break and return to the other busiest time of a semester, and the time for departure was almost here before I knew it. I picked up a few necessary words and phrases along the way, but was severely handicapped throughout this trip in a way I did not feel even in Italy. There I was quite proud of myself at least once when, confronted with a clerk who had absolutely no English, I was nonetheless able to cobble together enough doubtless very poor but understandable Italian to successfully complete the transaction. Here I was truly humbled by my ignorance and dependence on others.
Incidentally, mention of Italy in this context does bring to mind something funny, however. Even though I did know such things as “gracias” and “una cerveza,” I found myself unconsciously lapsing into Italian rather than Spanish – saying “grazi’” and ordering “una birra” instead! Go figure….
[3] Although the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life is a dogma of the Church, whether she was Assumed into heaven before or after experiencing death has never been defined. If the former, she would enjoy the company of Enoch and Elijah as the only humans never to have experienced death, as would have been most fitting for her since she was preserved completely free from Original Sin by her Immaculate Conception; it would thus be theologically fitting. On the other hand, a tradition of the Church does say that in order to unite herself more perfectly with the salvific Passion of her Son she chose willingly to experience death in this world before being rejoined with Him in heaven. In any case, “Dormition” means “Falling Asleep,” even if euphemistically referring to bodily death.
[4] Kind of like me in writing this account of the last full day of our pilgrimage. My subsequent trip-journaling, which gave birth to the “travels blog,” is always an enjoyable experience allowing me to relive the experience all over again as I scour my notes, my memory, my pictures, as well as the Internet regarding the things we saw and did, and I do find myself not wanted to bring it to a close.

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