Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Yesterday we rode the moving walkway below the famous relic of the Virgin of Guadalupe at her basilica in Mexico City and looked up at it from this angle. I was almost afraid to go -- would this shrine to the mother of Jesus (and of Mexico), a mother who revealed herself to a poor indigenous peasant, be exploitative or simply tacky? At least on this day, we were thrilled to find it neither, but rather very moving indeed.

"Am I not here with you, your mother?" The new basilica where "her shawl" resides is grand in the way of modern Roman Catholic architecture, for me reminiscent of the 70s vintage cathedral in San Francisco.

The old basilica sits next door, leaning badly after surviving a few too many earthquakes. Inside, it is under repair, full of scaffolding.

Up a short steep hill there is another chapel and the sites where the Virgin is reported to have appeared to Juan Diego.

There is also yet another small church, an architectural gem, dating from the 18th century, the "Templo del Pocito" (the small well). It's details are worth looking at more closely:

Were the Spanish builders of that era perhaps influenced by Moorish designs?

When we entered the basilica, mass had just begun. The hall was full of pilgrims, many families with babies, and some Mexican tourists. It was certainly not packed.

Judging by his miter (pointy hat) and staff, it was clear the celebrant was a bishop.

When the bishop rose to preach, we were astonished by his homily. Our friends in Mexico didn't accompany us on this visit to the basilica; they are among the millions of progressives here who have given up on the church as a guardian of property and unjust privilege. The Vatican has done a good job in Mexico of killing off any whiff of Liberation Theology, the radical Roman Catholic "preferential option for poor" outlined by some Latin American bishops. Yet what follows is a pretty accurate paraphrase of this bishop's preaching:

In Jesus, God lived lives among us, among you, alongside us. Jesus came to save us from our sins -- but sin is not just things individuals do wrong. Sin is also social. The system that creates poverty and violence is sin.

Our people suffer many kinds of sin, many kinds of violence. Narco-trafficking is a sinful violence. Violence in the home against women and children is also a sin.

There's not only violence between the people, but also violence done by state authorities to the people -- detentions, torture, and militarization. The army has been used against the people. The conditions that caused the violence in Oaxaca last year still exist; nothing has changed. [This was said as news of riots in Oaxaca last week and fears of more protests to come were the content of the front pages of newspapers.]

There is still no justice for the families of the 65 miners buried alive in the collapse of an unsafe mine in February. [The families are campaigning for prosecution of the mine owner -- they stand in the Zocalo in Mexico City with their banners.]

It is a wrong that there is no work for our people, so they have to travel to the north to work. There should be a just immigration law in the United States that protects those who go to work. As well, Mexico should understand the people displaced by the forces of global business who come north to Mexico! Mexico also should have fair and honest laws respecting immigrants from Central America.

When we told our friends about the content of the sermon, they were amazed. It seems we had stumbled into a service presided over by Mexico's sole "red bishop" -- Raul Vera Lopez from the backwater rural state of Coahuila.

Vera is quite a guy. He was made a bishop and sent to Chiapas with the expectation that he'd be a conservative successor to Mexico's last "red bishop" -- Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Crisobal. Instead, he too came to believe that his role was to defend his flock, the poor and marginalized, so he was shunted to the hinterland. There, he continues to outrage conservative Mexicans and the Vatican. He has spoken up for women raped by soldiers and for legalization of same sex couples. It certainly was a great privilege to hear this courageous priest preach.


Anonymous said...

I follow the news from Mexico and was pleased to find your blog. I will add a link, but I get so busy that I often miss news as it comes up. If there's anything special, please send me an e-mail with something like "News from Mexico" in the subject line.

Charles from MercuryRising
E-mail: CharlesUtwaterII (at) aol.com

Richard Grabman said...

A slight correction. Coahuila is hardly a "backwater". Saltillo is a major industrial center, and the state as a whole has thriving manufacturing, mining and agricultural concerns. It's also one of the more progressive states... after all, it is the state that first legalized gay marriage in Mexico.

Raul Vega may be "THE" Red Bishop, but Liberation Theology seems to be making a comeback, if the recent Latin America Bishops' Conference was any indication.

Kay Dennison said...

What a great post, Jan! A lot of people don't understand that if there were jobs in Mexico, they would stay there. My boss is an immigration attorney and we deal with the problems the they have here in the U.S. I get asked all the time if our clients are here legally and my answer is "I don't know and I don't want to know." I just do what is asked of me. My boss appreciates my stance.

I applaud the Bishop for his strong sermon -- he tells it like it is.

Jan said...

Here in south Texas, there is much emphasis on the Virgin of Guadalupe, so I was glad to see all the pictures. Thank you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jan, what a wonderful experience to hear the bishop speak. One wonders when Bishop Vera will be silenced.

I found my visit to the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe quite moving, and not at all tacky. There were more devout pilgrims than tourists many years ago, when I was there.

Off topic, I had an SSSS boarding pass on the flight home and got the full treatment. I asked why, and they said I was randomly chosen.

janinsanfran said...

Richard -- thanks for setting me straight about Coahuila. I was thrilled to find your blog and will be looking in on it regularly as I struggle to keep in touch with yet another complex set of struggles in another country I've come to appreciate a little bit.

Let's hope liberation theology is making some kind of come back -- people ought to be told they are human and they matter! Just as they need to tell the tellers "listen up!'

Nell said...

Thanks for your posts from Mexico, Jan, and to all the commenters, partiularly Richard.

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