Saturday, July 31, 2010


When I say Mexico here, I actually mean Mexico City, DF, the federal district which is the equivalent of Washington, DC. Its airport and its most famous shrine were special treats for us pilgrims to our sister-parish this past week.

Elvia, born and raised in Colombia, speaks perfect Spanish, of course. The same cannot be said for Vivian or for me! I, for one, wondered how I would deal with the language barrier even in the airport—trying to find my way hoping that similarity to English and Italian would be enough. After all, I am in someone else’s country, and the reasonable thing (right?) is to expect that everyone who comes into another country can cope with the language of that country…

In the case of the airport, though, this fear was unfounded. The signs everywhere were both in Spanish and in English. No doubt the large number of Americans who fly in is one reason, but I think there is another: the sense of hospitality, of courtesy to guests. They want people to feel welcome in their homeland. So in many cases people's English was as clear as ours.

This was confirmed for me after we ate lunch in a restaurant with the Timon (the sister-parish steering committee for our education project with the children). Having come from breakfast with Fr Valentín, the pastor, and the bishop, Mons Francisco Escobar, I was still dressed in clerical clothes, definitely not the tradition in this country for all kinds of historical reasons. I wondered aloud what others in the restaurant thought of me, both a foreigner and dressed as a priest. I was assured that there was no issue at all; Mexicans are tolerant and have a great desire to respect all people. This was both a relief and an eye-opener for me. Sensitivity to others is a beautiful thing; we most realize this when we are on the needful, receiving end of this virtue.

Once we were picked up at the airport, Rolando took us to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. The old original basilica is sinking, so it is closed; a new basilica has been built nearby. It is a huge (permanent seating for 10,000) circular structure, filled with sites for confessions, chapels for daily Masses with smaller groups, candles, flowers, and so on. The axis, the central focus of the basilica is clearly the main altar—the sanctuary is elevated over the rows of pews. But one might have asked, where is the Blessed Sacrament? And where is the tilma, the cloak of St Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of the Blessed Mother?

Behind the sanctuary there is a moving sidewalk that passes people in front of the image (smaller than we might think, but then it was a man’s robe)—this allows for a full view of the image while keeping folks from blocking the view of others.

And around the corner from this area is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. It is kept away from the main part of the church and is a place intended for quiet prayer. The tabernacle itself is “hidden,” as it were, by a massive bronze enclosure, on which are written several phrases from the Gospels (hard to read because of the ornate lettering)—“This is My Body, given for you”; “Who eats this bread will live forever”… We paused to pray in this lovely and peaceful place before continuing to Temascalapa for our “real” visit.

I learned so many lessons in just a few hours: hospitality, courtesy, prayerful quiet, kindness. I learned these all again a hundred times over in the course of our actual visit to the people of San Francisco de Asis parish. But that is a story for another time.

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