Tuesday, December 12, 2017

(199) A Homecoming to the Great Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City


The original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is behind the main altar and visible from any point in the new circular Basilica.  The image miraculously appeared on the tilma of St. Juan Diego on December 12, 1531 and is still vibrant close to 500 years later.  The tilma made from the Maguey Cactus should have deteriorated in 15 years.   The black tassel indicates that Mary is pregnant with the Christ child.  The image is full of symbols that amounted to a message that the Indians easily understood.  Aside from an image of Mary in the Catacombs, this is probably the only authentic portrait of Mary in existence…….as she actually looked on Earth.

      In April 1965 52 years ago the Archdiocese of Baltimore, my sponsor, placed me for a month in the home of a Mexican family to improve my Spanish in preparation for lay missionary work as a Papal Volunteer in Peru.  That was after a two month stay at Madonna House, a lay institute in Combermere, Ontario for spiritual formation.  It just so happened that the home where I stayed in Mexico City was only a 15 minute walk away from the great Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.   

       I was enthralled by the Shrine and its history and went there every day after my Spanish Class at the Instituto Cultural Mejicano-Norte Americano in downtown Mexico City.  Mary must have sent me there; my birth mother and I consecrated ourselves to her when I was about 13 years old and my wife Jaga and I renewed it a couple of times recently. 
The Shrine in 1965.  An American, Helen Behrens, ran an English Information Office and among other things sold a booklet guide and history of some 70 pages which she wrote.  There was at least one or two American priests who heard confessions in English and gave spiritual direction.  Easter was a festive occasion with Indian dances.  The biggest day of the year for the Shrine is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, a national holy day, also observed by Mexican Americans here.
The old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe constructed in 1709.  Notice that the Basilica and adjacent building are actually sinking into the moist sandy soil, once a lake bed.  Behind the Basilica is Tepeyac Hill, where Mary actually appeared to St. Juan Diego December 9 - 12, 1531.  The original church still stands there as seen in the background.  Looking closely, people can be seen walking on their knees to the main altar.  The gates have since been replaced.    
       The old 18th Century Basilica overlooks a large plaza.  The right side had been slowly sinking into the soft soil, once part of a lake.  Many pilgrims would enter the main gate and then walk 150 yards on their knees to the main altar with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe behind it. Each apparition of Mary has a special purpose.  For example, at Lourdes, France in 1858 Mary appeared to St. Bernadette 26 times to have a Shrine built where she would console and heal her children physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually.  Mary appeared at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 to warn the people of the world that they must repent or the dire consequences of sin would follow.  She also promoted the Rosary and asked the people to make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.  See my blogs #95, 96, 125, and 177.

Walking on his knees from the entrance of the plaza to the main altar as penance.

      Mary’s mission in Mexico City (December 9 – 12, 1531) was to establish the Faith among the Indians and to ask that a church be built where she would be a loving mother to millions of her children, nurturing their faith and bringing wayward souls to her Son in the turbulent centuries that followed.  At the time December 9 was the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
                               Juan Diego presenting the roses to the Bishop

As a sign of the authenticity of her heavenly message, Mary asked St. Juan Diego (canonized by St. John Paul II in 2002) to carry Castilian Roses (native to Spain that do not grow in Mexico, certainly not in cold December) that she personally placed in his tilma to give them to Bishop Zumarraga with her request for a church.  Miraculously, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on his tilma as shown above.  It is full of symbols that the Indians easily understood, amounting to a message.   The tilma should have deteriorated in about 15 years, but is still vibrant as ever close to 500 years later.  I covered the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe in greater detail and explained the meaning of the message and symbols of the image in my blogs #104, 105, and 106.  The links are in Appendix II. 
Previously Bishop Zumarraga was very worried about the inhumane treatment of the Indians by the Conquistadores and feared a bloody uprising.  Conversion of the Indians had been progressing very slowly.  He had to secretly send a message of protest to the King of Spain so that the local authorities would not intercept it.  Naturally the Bishop prayed fervently over the situation and asked the Lord to send him Castillian roses as a sign that his prayers were being heard.  Mary took care of that.    

Mary, the ultimate missionary, brought nine million Indians to the Faith by 1540, making up for the losses due to the Protestant Reformation.  That was probably the largest mass conversion in world history.  Previously, the Spanish missionaries were able to convert only a few.   Mary was a source of strength during colonial times; the fight for independence from Spain, sparked by Fr. Manuel Hidalgo in 1810 – 1821; the loss of Texas, California, and the southwest in a war with the United States in 1848; numerous revolutions; political instability, economic crises; a very bloody persecution of the Church in the 1920s which ignited the Cristero War, etc.  
One mystic asked Mary: “Where were you through all of this?”  Mary is said to have answered:  “I was there all the time.”  She got them through it all as the Lord willed.  Go to my blogs #42, 120, 132, & 181 as well as http://www.history.com/topics/mexico/mexico-timeline for a timeline of Mexican history and a movie.
       Through 30 days at her shrine in Mexico Mary gave me my start in Peru on May 1, 1965 and prayed me through the next 14 years plus.…….teaching Chemistry, the Methodology of Science Teaching Business, and Economic Development at the Marianist Universidad Católica de Santa María in Arequipa; giving  short courses to in-service science teachers; giving talks; writing articles/editorials on the Faith, science, community problems, the economy, etc. for the local newspapers and radios; working with the handicapped; and promoting vocations.  The experience included being pick pocketed three times, having my watch stolen right off my wrist, accusations of being a CIA agent, giving a talk to a hostile anti-American audience, Marxist student strikes, riots, martial law, climbing a 19,000 foot volcano, a week in jail, and more.
The new Basilica built in 1976.  It has a circular floorplan so that the image of the Virgin can be seen from any point in the building.  The New Basilica has nine chapels on the upper floor. Its crypts beneath the main floor house 15,000 niches and 10 chapels.  Its seven front doors are an allusion to the seven gates of Celestial Jerusalem referred to by Christ.

Fast forward to January 2017 when we visited our son and daughter in Dallas, Texas.  Jaga got the bright idea of making a three day pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  It was a homecoming!    The changes over 52 years were startling……..a magnificent new basilica, baptistery, expansion of the plaza to include a stage, an underground parking garage, an Evangelization Center Pavilion, a public market pavilion with restaurants instead of makeshift stalls, a new museum, beautiful landscaping and gardens, better security, etc. 
But to my dismay, they went backwards in one very important aspect.  Except for English speakers at the information centers, there is very little for Canadians, Americans, and other international pilgrims, most of whom speak English……no English Information Center and no full time English speaking priests.  This would be a great apostolate for a retired American priest.  See Appendix I for three projects that I proposed to the Knights of Columbus, but would also be good for other organizations as well.

      Being more comfortable confessing in English, I was directed to a wonderful 93 year old Mexican priest by the name of Padre Dr. Jesús Soto, who heard my confession in his Casa Sacerdotal (Priests’ House) with the help of an English-Spanish missal and a magnifying glass.  During that time of intense persecution, he said that the Cristeros hid the image in a private home.
                        A panoramic view of the immense plaza with an Aztec calendar on the right.      
The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe attracts about 20 million pilgrims each year, more than any other Christian shrine, more than double the second largest, Lourdes (8 million) and Fatima (5 million). The Hindu shrines in India attract many more. Among the notables that have visited the Shrine are:  the last three popes, President John Kennedy, and President Charles DeGaule of France.

                          Picnic time and rest in the Plaza.
Whole towns make annual pilgrimages, each with a group of several hundred pilgrims.  On a Saturday a town's participation might number well over a thousand pilgrims.  One group that included students invited me for breakfast and we had a good time.  They were waiting for others who chose to walk the 20 miles.  On Saturday, our last day, thousands came up the Avenida Guadalupe to the main entrance and we had a hard time walking in the opposite direction against the current back to our hotel……ideal for pick pocketeers.

               Going up the Avenida Guadalupe to the main entrance of the Shrine.

It’s cold walking to the Shrine in the early January morning, but by noon it’s pleasantly warm.  The street cleaners were out in force with their brooms since 4 or 5 am, working hard on the park like island separating the six lanes of the Avenida de Guadalupe.  Heartwarming was my encounter with a wrinkled old woman.  After I thanked her for keeping her area so beautiful and clean, she replied: “I do this for la Virgen de Guadalupe”.  Her menial work is an act of love.  She’s going to make it to Heaven before all of us.   May we do likewise with our jobs and housework…….. “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” or “All for the greater glory of God”, the Jesuit motto.
There’s daily Mass on the hour from 6 am to 8 pm, each attended by at least one or two hundred pilgrims while confessions are going on.  The miraculous image is above the main altar.  One can obtain a closer look by going to the crypt and standing on a moving belt under the image.  In the back of the Basilica is a showcase with a cross bent by a terrorist bomb in 1921 that could not even scratch the image just above it.  In the crypt there is a large gift shop and information center.  Just outside is another information booth where a priest blesses the medals, rosaries, etc.A major event in the Basilica.  The circular design without supports allows for an unobstructed view from practically any location inside as well as outside when the attendance exceeds capacity and pilgrims must stand in the plaza. 
Leaving the Basilica and turning left, we pass the Baptistery where thousands of babies from all over Mexico are baptized.  Just above it is the beautiful Recinto de Cristo Rey with the Beatitudes and plants lining the path to a statue of Christ the King and memorial to the thousands of martyrs of the Cristero War.  Their rallying cry was: “Viva Cristo Rey” or Hail Christ the King.  The Recinto Memorial gave the message that the Cristeros and the martyrs did not die in vain.  Even though they were betrayed in 1929, they did achieve eventual victory.  Today Mexico is still a secular state, but there is relative religious freedom that they laid down their lives for.  And Mary had a significant part in that victory.  The statue of Christ the King seemed to say: “THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL” (Matthew 16:18). 

       Proceeding further, we climbed to the chapel on the top of Tepeyac Hill where Mary actually appeared to St. Juan Diego.  The Aztecs named  the hill, Tepeyac, which means mother goddess which they adored.  The old basilica and chapels are full of beautiful Spanish colonial art. 

                  A view of Tepeyac Hill and its chapel where Mary appeared.  On the right is the museum.
Lodging. We stayed in the modern Hotel Ferri at Sara 4605, about ten blocks away and only $35 per night via the internet or phone 5759-4833.  We made friends with Diego Londono, a pilgrim from Colombia, who took us to a delightful group of contemplative nuns (Orden de la Inmaculada Concepción) who house pilgrims at $10 per night plus meals a couple of blocks from the Shrine (for reservations e-mail concepcion_beatriz@yahoo.com.mx or phone 55-77-07-31) at Francisco Morenos 122.  There we met Fr. Dan Leary, who brought an American family with their child to seek healing for her brain tumor. 
Transportation. The nuns put us in contact with a taxi driver named Jorge Taboada Cortes, whom they use all the time.  What a great guy!  He charges $12 to the Airport and would take a group of six for an all day tour of Mexico City for $80.  Of course there’s also buses and a well developed and extensive subway system. 
This fascinating shrine is right under our noses; let’s take advantage of it.  After seeing the fervor of thousands of pilgrims each day, especially on Saturday, one can conclude that today the faith is alive and well in Mexico due in great part to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, although considerable evangelization is necessary.  See http://nanotube.msu.edu/SMG.html for more detail in regard to visiting the Shrine.
Proposed Projects for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Knights of Columbus has had a special attachment to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is not only the patroness of Mexico, but all of the Americas.   In 2012 the Knights of Columbus financed 50 pilgrim images that visited a church near every council in the USA.  I was very much part of it in our parish, participating with a procession in regalia, Mass, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration in the presence of her image.  The underwriting of the movie “For Greater Glory” inspired in me an intense interest in San José Sanchez del Rios and the Cristero War.  I wrote several articles whose links are attached.  In addition, we have a number of councils in Mexico and six of their knights were martyred in the accompanying persecutions and are now canonized saints.   
Our Lady of Guadalupe is our patroness too and Americans hardly know anything about her.  If they do, they are afraid to make a pilgrimage, stay in a hotel in Mexico City, struggle with the language barrier, and walk the streets at night.  For a modestly priced comfortable and secure hotel, we had to walk a half hour in the morning and again in the evening……..good exercise of course.
Thus I propose three projects:
1) Sponsor and/or run an English Information Center.  It could be a small or large room in the crypt of the Basilica adjacent to the Basilica Store or adjacent to another religious store to the right of the old basilica.  It would guide pilgrims and sell books on the shrine, the Cristero War, and Mexico in English.  It could also make available Knights of Columbus materials for recruiting and guide pilgrims to the Knights of Columbus Memorial in item #2 and the retreat house/hotel in item #3.  The Basilica could sell religious articles there as well.
2) Finance a memorial to the Knights of Columbus martyrs in the new Plazoleta or Recinto de Cristo Rey to the right of the new basilica and baptistery.  The recinto or garden was awe inspiring to me.  The beatitudes line the path which leads to a large statue of Christ the King with the inscription “Viva Cristo Rey”.  It gave the message that the Cristeros and the martyrs did not die in vain.  Even though they were betrayed in 1929, they did achieve eventual victory.  Today Mexico is still a secular state, but there is religious freedom that they laid down their lives for.  After seeing the fervor of thousands of pilgrims each day, especially on Saturday, one can conclude that today the faith is alive and well and Mexico.  Of course much remains to be done in evangelization.  
3) Build and manage a retreat house/hotel within a block of the shrine.  It could be 3 to 5 stories (land is scarce there) with at least 100 rooms.  Councils or a district of councils could send their men there for a pilgrimage/retreat.  Knights would have preference, but if there is space, pilgrims from all over the world would be welcome.  It would have English speaking clerks and at least one resident priest (that would be great for a retired American priest who speaks some Spanish as a Maryknoller).  The resident priest would serve as a spiritual director or retreat master and help the pilgrims to obtain maximum spiritual benefit, as an individual, family, or group of any size.  If well promoted in the Columbia Magazine or state newspaper, pilgrimages could take off.  In time the retreat house/hotel would pay for itself.
Items #1 and #2 could be quickly done and would not be expensive.  Item #3 is a major project that would require considerable planning, negotiating, and financing.  For items #1 and #2 perhaps you could first talk with the Director of the Basilica, Monseñor Enrique Glennie Graue.  The Information Center next to the religious store could put you in contact with him.  Regarding the retreat house/hotel, perhaps your delegation could look into the feasibility and perhaps start preliminary talks with the authorities when you are in Mexico City.
Articles on the Knights of Columbus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexican Persecutions, and the Cristero War – Accesible at http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com.

My blogs #145 & #153 at give a good idea of what Council 3335 does.  Blog #39 has a “Knight’s Prayer”, #106 describes the Pilgrim Virgin of Guadalupe the KofC sponsored, #126 is about Christopher Columbus, #143 on the Rosary in the Park, #146 honors the 60th Wedding Anniversary of our former grand knight to promote long lasting marriages, #153 on our monthly newsletter, #154 protests Council 3548 honoring a pro-abortion governor,  #166 Knights promote the true meaning of Christmas, #170 on the Kof C Free Throw Contest for the developmentally handicapped, #172 on the death of our very faithful brother knight, #173 on Council 3335 Awards,  #181 on the role of the KofC in resisting the Mexican persecutions..  

The “Knight’s Prayer” might be good for the Columbia Magazine.  That is 
(39) A Knight’s Prayer to Christ, His King and the Knights of Columbus 


Articles relating to Latin America, particularly Mexico include Blogs #22 on San Martín de Porres, #42 on Blessed R.P. Miguel Pro during the Mexican persecutions,  #104 – 106 on Our Lady of Guadalupe, #120 on the Cristero War, #132 on Blessed José Sanchez del Rio, #181 on the Mexican Martyrs.

                     Articles relating to Latin America, particularly Mexico include Blogs #22 on San Martín de Porres, #42 on Blessed R.P. Miguel Pro during the Mexican persecutions,  #104 – 106 on Our Lady of Guadalupe, #120 on the Cristero War, #132 on Blessed José Sanchez del Rio, #181 on the Mexican Martyrs.  The Fatima articles are also included.

  #120 The Cristero War: The Historical Context of "For Greater Glory", the Star Studded Movie http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2013/08/120-movie-for-greater-glory-and-its.html

    #132 Blessed José Sanchez del Rio: Boy Martyr & Real Soldier of Christ..........His Participation in the Cristero War & the Intense Persecution of the Church by the Government of Mexico

     #181 VIVA CRISTO REY: THOUSANDS DIED FOR THE FREEDOM TO PROCLAIM IT......The Role of the Knights of Columbus for Religious Liberty Against Persecution of the Church in Mexico http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2016/11/181-viva-cristo-rey-thousands-died-for.html

           #104 Our Lady of Guadalupe (I): Binding the Americas Together 

      #105 Our Lady of Guadalupe (II): Mary's Message to us in the Image

#106 Review of the visit of the Pilgrim Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Marian Prayer Prograof the Knights of Columbus at St. Louis Church Gallipolis December 11-16, 2012

      #22 Learning From St. Martin de Porres

      #42 Blessed Padre Miguel Pro S.J.: 20th Century Mexican Martyr for Christ the King

#65 The Papal Volunteers for Latin America (PAVLA) After 50 Years V - Long Range Effects & What Are They Doing Now?  See also Blogs #61, 62, 63, and 64.

      #95 International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima Visit; Its History & Message 

      #96 International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima Visit (II): Its History & Consecration of the World to        the  Immaculate Heart  http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2012/10/blog-post.html

      #125 World History and the Power of the Rosary & Mary's Intercession..........The War on Terror is just       another chapter in a 1300 year war between Radical Islam and Christian Western Civilization

      #177 The Consecration to the Immaculate Heart and the Course of World History

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