24 February 2016

Reflecting on the Pilgrimage to Mexico

Last week I got an email from Taylor Marshall asking if I would be willing to be interviewed for an episode of his podcast, The Taylor Marshall Show [LINK]. Of course, I said yes, and yesterday afternoon he and I had a pleasant twenty-minute chat via Skype about the recent pilgrimage. Here is the result [LINK]. I'm the third guest, but don't jump right to me. The others, our spiritual director and a fellow pilgrim from Shreveport, have fascinating insights.

Note: Taylor also posted his own reflections last week [LINK].

09 February 2016

Mexico 2016 Day 6 – Tuesday 09 February

As Anne's and my flight would not be departing until 15:00, and Roberto told us our shuttle to the airport would not depart the hotel until noon, we slept in, sort of. We were up about 07:00 and went down for our last breakfast in the Galleria Plaza. Then we went back to our room and got to the arduous task of packing to go home. It’s always “fun” trying to put more into our suitcases than we arrived with, because of the various souvenirs and other items we purchased, including a fine small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that Anne was concerned would not survive in the checked baggage and thus took care of in her carry-on. But we did manage it – one trick is to bring at least some items, including in my case some very-comfortable-but-really-on-their-last-legs shoes, that you are willing to leave behind to free up some space! We decided to go ahead and check out early (I think it was about 09:30), then take some time wandering around the nearby streets. Anne still had a few souvenirs and sacramentals – including some more medals and rosaries – that she wanted to obtain.

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.

07 February 2016

Mexico 2016 Day 4 – Sunday 07 February

We were up for an early breakfast and departure on the bus by 07:30, headed out of Mexico City entirely toward San Miguel del Milagro, about two hours to the east in the state of Tlaxcala. We could feel our ears popping as we left the huge bowl in the midst of the mountains in which is Mexico City – I think Roberto might have said at one point that we topped out at about 10,000 feet above sea level. And that was going  through a pass between Monte Tlaloc to the north and two mountains to our south that had all our attention. 

It was a beautiful, albeit hazy, day, perfect for viewing Popocatepetl (“The Smoking Mountain”) and Iztaccihuatl (“The White Woman,” also called La Mujer Dormida, “The Sleeping Woman,” because from a certain aspect it looks like a sleeping woman). Both of the mountains, respectively the second and third highest in Mexico, are volcanoes; Iztaccihuatl is dormant, but Popocatepetl is very active. We slowly rounded them to the north, and were graced with seeing Popocatepetl belch out several clouds of steam. 

Mexico 2016 Day 3 – Saturday 06 February

We were able to sleep in about a half-hour later, getting to breakfast about 07:00 then to the bus for an 08:00 departure. We went directly to the Church of Sagrada Familia, just having time along the way for Morning Prayer. This Church of the Holy Family contains the shrine and relics of Padre Miguel Augustin Pro, a priest-martyr of the Mexican government’s brutal persecution of the Church in the 1920s which gave birth to the Cristeros rebellion (more later) [LINK]. In secret, Padre Pro went around celebrating the Sacraments when they were forbidden by the government, but was eventually captured and executed on trumped-up charges without even the benefit of a trial. His execution was filmed pour discouragement les autres (Okay, I know it’s French, but that paraphrase of Napoleon’s famous statement is what came to mind) and gives us the iconic shot of him standing cruciform, a crucifix in one hand and a Rosary in the other, before the firing squad. He was beatified in 1988 – and so is properly “Blessed Miguel Pro” although common parlance tends to retain the simpler “Padre Pro” – and I am certain he will be canonized one day. Incidentally, the effect of the government’s attempted use of his public, recorded execution was exactly the opposite of what they desired.

Mexico 2016 Day 2 – Friday 05 February

Our first full day in Mexico City. We got up to be down to breakfast in the dining room for 06:30, to be at the bus by 08:00. Anne and I had breakfast with Arsenio and Gemma, another spread of a variety of foods, both familiar and unfamiliar. I had fried cactus leaf for the first and only time in my life. I also had a “tamale” that was unexpectedly filled with a sort of white cheese; it was not really to my liking either, and there was never a “real” tamale on the buffet. In fact, there was little if any of what we Americans consider “Mexican” food (of course, really “Tex-Mex”). But there were plenty of good things to eat, including abundant desserts. We did not go hungry. Some veterans of cruises likened it almost to the experience there.

Mexico 2016 Day 1 – Thursday 04 February

Anne and I were up shortly after 03:00 and left Natchitoches about 04:30, arriving at the Shreveport airport at about 06:00 for our 08:04 flight to Dallas. We had an unpleasant surprise of a $40 checked-baggage fee for each of us.[1]  We had breakfast and passed through security. I finished transcribing various friends’ prayer intentions into my pilgrimage notebook as suggested by Taylor Marshall in an email a week or so ago, for presentation to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

We had an uneventful flight to Dallas where we first exchanged $600 US for Mexican pesos … which I would later learn also uses the “$” sign. I’m not sure what the exact exchange rate was there (it’s notoriously not that great, but we were paying for the convenience since neither our bank, nor any other that I know of in Natchitoches, does currency exchanges), but in general the exchange rate was $18 pesos per $1 US; I just used 20 as a rough on-the-fly estimate. We also grabbed a bite to eat, then boarded the plane for Mexico City a bit after they began boarding but well before wheels-up. We had another uneventful flight, except for some kind of immigration form that they only had in Spanish. Luckily, a young lady seated next to Anne was able to talk us through it. The pilot announced early in the flight that there was some turbulence at normal cruising altitude (36,000 ft.?) so he kept us low at about 28,000 ft. for the duration of the flight, which made the views of the landscape quite striking as we crossed into the rugged mountainous area around Mexico City.

01 January 2016

Next Trip – Another Pilgrimage – Mexico City, 04-09 February 2016

Sooner than I ever thought, it seems I am going on another short excursion. Here’s how it came about. 

For about a year and a half, I have been a member of the New Saint Thomas Institute, an innovative endeavor in Catholic theological and spiritual formation spearheaded by Dr. Taylor Marshall [LINK]. As I understand it, I am among a couple thousand Catholics from all around the world working more or less at our own paces under Dr. Marshall’s multimedia tutelage toward earning currently-available certificates in Catholic Philosophy and Thomistic Studies, Catholic Theology, and Catholic Apologetics, with a certificate in Patristics soon to be added. In addition to short HD video presentations of the key points of each unit’s subject matter, with lively discussion among the members both in the units themselves and in more general fora, Dr. Marshall also presents periodic audio podcast discussions elaborating on certain points or questions that arise among the members.

It was in listening to one of those podcasts a couple of months ago that I discovered that Dr. Marshall’s response to long-standing discussion among the members wishing for some kind of conference was to offer two guided pilgrimages in the next year. One he announced to be to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the other to various sites in Italy including, of course, Rome and Vatican City. Having only a little more than a year ago made the pilgrimage to Rome, I naturally focused in on the one to Mexico City, although with it being scheduled for February – during the Spring semester – I figured there was no chance I could possibly go. Taking off two weeks during the Fall semester to go to Italy was a one-time opportunity, justifiable because of the specific importance of Rome in several of the history courses that I teach.