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Good Friday – not exactly what I expected – again – and some disappointment that I probably could have avoided. But all in all, a good day – a good Friday.

This will be briefer than Thursday’s novella. I want to use my early morning time on Saturday to walk around a bit, not write, and then I’ll get the boys up earlier than normal for we are heading out of town just for the morning I hope – and if it is to be just for the morning, it will need to get going early.

Note: there are video clips of the procession, the concert and the Good Friday service at Instagram. 

My understanding was the that big Good Friday procession would begin at 11:30. I wasn’t worried about catching it “on time” – it’s a big procession through town and I knew that we’d be able to see it during a few-hour window. So after everyone woke up and gained some alertness and energy, we decided to try to get breakfast. The crowds were already gathering for the procession – and in case you were wondering, there was absolutely no change in the social tone from Thursday. It could have been any market/celebration day. We picked a random restaurant around the zocalo and ate – detail on that later. We then began our efforts to try to see the procession. The first clear shot we had was very good, but it was preparatory – it was of a (large) group making its way to the Cathedral for the beginning of the event. After that point once things got formally underway, it got more challenging. The crowds were very large and even though (honestly) most of us skew taller than the rest of the population, we had a difficult time finding a good viewpoint. We’d find something that seemed okay, but then it turned out not to be, or the sun came out and everyone pulled out their umbrellas and well, there goes that view. We finally walked towards what I thought might be the last third of the route, and scored.

The procession was certainly something to see – various groups in their uniforms, some beating drums, others winding noisemakers in the shape of crosses, others singing. The floats were, as you probably know, carried by men who, every once in a while would be relieved by others. There was singing and chanting Viva Jesus! One group of children walked carrying representations of the instruments of the Passion. At one point we came upon a large stretch of road that was evidently going to provide the end of the procession, and at several points along the way, classical musicians were playing sacred music, either from balconies or from ground-floor building alcoves.

But…it wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, and for some reason, I had expected a via crucis to be a part of it – I have no idea why. But what I discovered over the course of the day as I studied the listings of Semana Santa on church doors, was that everyone had their via crucis in the morning. Dang it!

Ah well. We’ll just have to see what else comes our way today…

But first, a glitch. One of our party started experiencing some stomach upset – well he’d woken up not feeling right, and it just wasn’t getting better. He needed to go back to the hotel, so I went with him, and it was good I did because once we arrived, we discovered a leak in the bathroom sink – so that needed to be reported and taken care of. Once I saw that it was underway, the other party and I set out to do some exploring to see what we could discern about activities for the rest of the afternoon. (it was about 2:30).

We first went into the Cathedral where I discovered that what I’d seen yesterday was Screenshot_2018-03-30-23-42-16.pngindeed a rehearsal  –  for a 3pm performance of Bach’s St. John’s Passion by the Orquesta Sinfónica Esperanza Azteca. There were no seats available, and it was quite crowded, so we didn’t stay for all of it, but what we heard was excellent, the power and beauty of the Cathedral matched by the sound filling it.

(It was also being either recorded or broadcast live – there was a small setup in the rear, which was interesting to watch, as one person followed the score and several others coordinated editing – for the broadcast was not just of the performance, but overlaid with it were translations of the text as well as dramatizations of the events.)

When we returned to the hotel with some medicine recommended by a pharmacist in IMG_20180330_171849.jpghand, Party #1 reported he was recovering pretty well and could probably eat. Given that it was still Friday, and Good Friday at that, we were committed to going meatless, and cheese pizza seemed  – as it does all Lent – the easiest route, and the one most amenable to an unstable constitution. There’s a pizza place a couple of doors down – we went and got a simple 4-cheese pizza, which, I’m telling you, was superior to anything you could buy in Birmingham.

It was then late enough to wander with the full expectation of hitting a Good Friday service, which we did – at 6:30 at the church of St. Dominic, site of the famed Rosary Chapel – the service was not there, but in the main church, which is ornate enough. The service was simple. It was rendered a little shorter by the fact that the Solemn General Intercessions were all spoken, not chanted, and there was no kneeling or moments of silent prayer. Also, no congregation “participation” in the reading of the Passion. The Dominican preached enthusiastically. I wish I’d known what he said…..

(Weird  side note – possible. I am almost positive that the conductor of the orchestra playing St. John’s Passion was in attendance at this service. He’s pretty distinctive looking – a long mane of dark hair – and after the service I saw him greeting people who were approaching him in a congratulatory way – and he was carting a cello.)

There was to be more happening afterwards, including a procession with statues of the Blessed Virgin and a corpus of Jesus in a glass case, but there was a long prayer service preceding it, and the Party with the unstable constitution was…unstable, so we headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow: everyone is looking forward to the end of Lenten and Good Friday disciplines, because there’s a lot of meat and candy around here waiting to be eaten….

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For those of you who haven’t been reading this week – we’re currently in Mexico. The first part of the week was spent in Mexico City, and now we’re in Puebla. Read previous entries, including a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe here. 

— 1 —

This format fits very nicely into the Holy Thursday tradition of Visitation to the Seven Churches – but the account won’t be broken up that neatly, for more than the visitation happened yesterday…and I want to write about that, too.

Thursday would be our last day in Mexico City, a fact that brought both relief and the slightest little touch of sadness. It’s always that way when we travel – just when you’re settling in and feeling comfortable with the neighborhood – it’s time to go. But relief as well, because Mexico City is huge and busy, and even though our quick Thursday morning walk showed us that Holy Thursday would be far less chaotic than other days (given most people wouldn’t be working and the streets were far emptier),  it would still be a relief to get somewhere where our sightseeing wouldn’t require either a long drive or fighting crowds to see what we wanted every time. (I’d be wrong on that last point, thought!)

So, Thursday morning, we awoke, cleaned ourselves and the apartment, packed, but then set out on to see last one sight before we checked out: the parish of the Holy Family, the location of Blessed Miguel Pro’s remains.

It was about a 3/4 mile walk in a direction we hadn’t explored before. Most shops and restaurants were closed, but the street vendors were out. We made it to the church, and prayed in front of Miguel Pro’s relics, which are contained in a small casket on the right side of the church. What was really unfortunate, but not surprising, was that the museum was closed – the museum that holds, for example, the vest he was wearing when he was killed and of course other interesting items and information. I didn’t think that through when “planning” this – that of course it would be closed on Holy Thursday. I am very glad we got to the church, but really regret not being able to see the museum with the boys. I find Miguel Pro’s story so inspiring and humbling (I wrote about him in the Book of Saints under “Saints are People who are Creative)  that even without the museum, visiting him gave me a boost, and I hope did so for my sons as well, not to mention those for whom I prayed there.

M had spied a vendor featuring chorizo on the way, so on the return, we stopped for a taco or two, then made our way back, gave the apartment key to the doorman, called an Uber, and were driven to the east bus station, from which we’d go to Puebla.

— 2 —

Bus travel in Mexico is not like it is in the United States – it’s more like it probably was in the US before the advent of personal cars and interstates, but with better buses. These major bus stations are like very busy airports – probably more so on Thursday because of the holidays. It was very efficient, although these situations are those in which one’s lack of a language becomes a real handicap. In international airports, signage is in English and most employees speak English. There’s no reason for that to be the case here – so it isn’t. Add to that the fact that it’s loud and of course native speakers in a chaotic, busy environment where things need to get done and get done now – are going to speak very quickly.

The buses run so often that there’s no need to buy a ticket ahead of time. I just wanted to get to Puebla mid- to late afternoon, so I knew if I showed up around noon, we’d be able to get on a bus within an hour – sooner that that, it turns out. I got to the ticket counter at 12:15, requested first class tickets on a bus to Puebla, and was put on a 12:35. Total cost, a bit over 600 pesos, which is $33.

We made our way to the proper gate, checked our suitcases, got luggage tags, went through security (didn’t have to remove shoes or laptops, though!), then attempted to board the bus. This is where the language thing was a problem – well, not a problem, just annoying. If I could have understood what the woman was saying to me, I wouldn’t have kept getting in line over and over, only to be told each time, una momenta senora! 

We arrived at the gate at about 12:20, so I didn’t think twice about attempting to board, but when she looked at my ticket, she told me to step aside – una momenta!. Then one group finished, she got on the PA and said something very fast into the din, people lined up, and so up we went…una momenta, senora! Finally, a manager who spoke a bit of English looked at my ticket and was able to tell me that we wouldn’t be boarding until right before the scheduled departure time – which is indeed the way it is. If your bus is at 12:35, you’ll probably board at about 12:33, sit down, and be driven away.

A word about “first class” – the boards I read indicated that it was worth the miniscule extra fee, partly because you get a bit of food. Well, we didn’t get any food. I don’t know if the seats were any better – they were indeed comfortable – and I did get WiFi – I don’t know that’s a feature of all the buses, or just restricted to first class. I’ll probably swing for first class on the way back, too – perhaps it will be less chaotic on Sunday and I’ll have a better sense of the difference.

After a not-very exciting two hour ride  – the first part crawling through Mexico City traffic, and the last on highway, with The Mighty Macs playing on the television hanging in the front of the bus (maybe that was one of my first class benefits? The Mighty Macs? Well, then, of course it was worth it…) we arrived in Puebla, and attained a taxi through the same pre-paid system they had in the Mexico City airport – really quite effective in heading off scams.

—3–

Our hotel is an old one in the centro, just a block from the Cathedral. I let the boys chill, then set out on my usual recon mission – checking out the neighborhood, finding quick food, convenience stores, and just getting the lay of the land.

WUT.

I knew a lot of things. I knew that Puebla is not a small town (it’s the fourth-largest in Mexico, but with an historic center that was part of its appeal to me). I knew that it’s school vacation time in Mexico. But I also knew that it was, er, Holy Thursday – you know the first day of the Triduum, and part of the reason we’re here is to experience the big, serious Good Friday procession?

So I suppose what I expected as I set out was some sort of subdued preparation vibe. No. I put it this way in my head as I walked around.

Well I guess Lent is definitely over! 

Big crowds, family groups everywhere, characters posing for photos with kids, toy vendors clacking their annoying toys, huge clouds of balloons for sale, food vendors, every shop open and just…people enjoying each other and enjoying life.

Not what I expected, but, as the day wore on and I absorbed more of the experience, probably exactly what I needed to break some frankly puritanical (French-Canadian Jansenist mother combined with low-church Methodist dad) currents still running in my blood – although a lot of that was shaken loose by my late husband’s deep, but relaxed and humane piety, it’s still there, and this was an education.

I stopped in the Cathedral – which was coursing with visitors (if you’ve ever been to St. Patrick’s in NYC – it’s the same kind of vibe – just a constant flow around and around) and was treated to a performance – from the dress and relaxed attitude, I’m going to guess it was a rehearsal, but perhaps not? Anyway, it was some kind of oratorio – perhaps the Messiah, although it was a section with which I’m not familiar. Or it occurred to me, it could have been a Mass or even Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It was lovely. I hope it was a rehearsal and I can figure out when the actual performance is – I didn’t see it posted.

–4–

I returned and got the boys. This was about 4:30, and they’d hardly eaten anything all day, so time for refueling before the Mass fast sets in (we’d be at the Cathedral for the 7pm). There’s a tiny shop right next to our hotel that serves tortas – one got chicken, one IMG_20180329_165031.jpggot full on Cubana and I got milanese – which I finally learned is what they call veal. Slathered with bean spread and avocado, they were delicious, heated in a press. There was an option for some heat, but the shop owner warned by over-enthusiastic son against it, dropping a tiny drop on the back of his hand and inviting him to try it – Brave one took a taste, his eyes widened, and he shook his head: no gracias! 

We then wandered until Mass time – I’ll talk more about Puebla in tomorrow’s post, because I’m sure we’ll be covering much of the same territory in a different way today.

We decided to settle into seats for Mass early – about 6:30. The Cathedral is very lovely, but kind of weirdly set up. There is just not a lot of seating. You walk in, there’s this huge, gorgeous octagonal altar, about twenty rows of seating, and then a huge closed off area for the organ and choir. There’s seating on the side, yes, but in all I can’t see that there are actual seats for more than a few hundred people. What I finally theorized was: first, when it was originally constructed, they probably didn’t have pews, so there was more room, and secondly, when it was originally constructed,  perhaps the organ space – if there was one – wasn’t as large as it is now.

So we thought it was a good idea to claim a seat early – which it was. It got very crowded, naturally. And it wasn’t bad getting there early – we could watch the preparations, mostly one fellow who climbed high above the altar to light the (oil) candles and working to replace a couple of them.

Liturgical notes:

  • Mass was celebrated by the archbishop (or a bishop – there are auxiliaries – but given his age I’m presuming it was the archbishop. Only one priest concelebrant, a deacon, an MC, and an interesting collection of serving ministers. Candlebearers and the VIMP (who holds the archbishop’s accoutrements during Mass) were older women dressed in identical grey suits. There was one teenage girl who was the actual altar server. Other robed adults floated around doing things. (Unlike the Shrine of Guadalupe, where everyone on the altar  – including the troop of servers) were male.
  • The music was provided by the organist and a small choir of adults, with a strong tenor cantoring the responsorial psalm. I have no idea what they were singing (there was no “worship aid” as we like to call it…), but every piece was known by the congregation by heart. The music sat between emotional Latin pop church music and more traditional sacred music, leaning more towards the latter in tone.
  • During the Gloria, two other women in grey suits were in charge of ringing the bells which were very cool – I didn’t get a good photo (partly because there were signs everywhere forbidding photography – I’m thinking just during Mass – I hope) – but will try to go back today or tomorrow.  There were two large rings of small bells – maybe two dozen – mounted on pillars for the choir area behind us. They are rung by pulling ropes – and one worked great, but the woman ringing the bells behind us couldn’t get them to work, as valiantly as she tried during the entire Gloria!
  • The archbishop preached, in a sincere but subdued tone, so that even if I understood Spanish, I don’t think I would have been able to understand him. I saw several people look at each other and shrug during the homily.
  • No foot washing, which was great in my book, but unfortunately no ritual stripping of the altar either – which is always such a solemn and sobering moment. The archbishop did of course process then to the altar of reservation back behind the sanctuary followed by a couple of hundred of us.

–5 —

What to do now? Well….I ventured…there’s this tradition of visiting seven churches where the Eucharist is reserved on Holy Thursday night. I’ve always wanted to do it, but doing so in Birmingham would require driving all around town – there are so many churches here – we could probably knock of seven in about thirty minutes.

They were not super enthusiastic, as well as doubtful about my claim, but you know what? I wasn’t too far off. If we had been totally business-like about the whole thing, and not stopped to watch and observe and figure out some new sights we were seeing it wouldn’t have taken longer than thirty minutes.

So we set out. And discovered something new and quite wonderful. Those of you with roots in this culture won’t be surprised. But I don’t and I was. This visitation of the seven churches is A Thing.  It’s what everyone is doing on Holy Thursday night – wandering around the center of the city with their families and friends, stopping in churches, praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament and enjoying the end of Lent -for at the door of every church were vendors set up selling the typical snacks of this area – the corn, the little tortillas, frying, topped with salsas and cheese, and turnovers.

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I was stunned. I don’t know if this is the “correct” way of seeing it, but this is what came to me as we walked amidst the other families, joined them in prayer and smelled the scents of bounty:

After the Last Supper, Jesus took his friends to the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to stay awake with him. They didn’t. They slept. As we pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday night, we are trying to stay awake, to keep watch with him. We know this. But in this culture, it takes on a different flavor. The entire community – not just me as an isolated individual – is remaining with Jesus, not in strained imitation, but in joy and trust that as he remains faithful to us, we are going to try to be faithful to him, as we are, in community and in joy for the life we trust he has given us – a life that is real and full because of him. We flow into his Presence in the church, we pray, we keep watch, and we flow back out into the world as it is, knowing that in the midst of it, he lives, and we are doing our best to stay with him – not just by ourselves, but as a people.

Plus, you know, Lent is over!

One really intriguing note – that perhaps someone familiar with this can explain. At every church door, in addition to the regular food being sold, there was a table, usually manned by  a religious sister, of big bags of white sheets and scraps of..something. I could not figure out what it was – I originally thought it was wax left over from candle making. I finally asked one woman in some broken Spanish, and a sister who spoke English approached and explained: No not wax but leftover sheets from host-baking. “We eat them as a snack,” she said, “We think they are delicious.” And indeed, as the night went on, that’s what we saw – people walking about munching the scraps. I don’t know if it’s something that is only done this time of year, or all the time.

–6–

So finally, the churches. I don’t have time to figure out what churches we went to. We just started at the Cathedral, and moved towards lighted bell towers. Every church was full of people praying, and many had lines to go in – the doors were marked entrada and salida for crowd control. There were different things going on in each church – silence in one, the rosary being prayed in another, sisters singing in another.

Photos below, with video at Instagram. I also don’t have time to artistically arrange these photos – gotta get going, and this Wi-Fi is unreliable. So I’m going to toss them here and hope for the best. You can click on photos and enlarge them.

–7–

Well, I probably have more to say, but this has taken long enough – time to rouse the troops and get ready for the Good Friday procession…..

Oh, and check out my entry in Living Faith tomorrow. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in the outskirts of Mexico City. I suppose it is a suburb? I don’t know. Rather than even attempt public transportation, we went the Uber route, getting up and out earlier than usual  – 9:30 – which meant we arrived at the Basilica a bit after 10.

I admit I was startled. We’re riding through this typical busy Mexican business area, the driver stops, I look to the left, and there’s the basilica right across the road!

I was startled a second time, when we actually went in. The basilica complex is, indeed, in the middle of the town, but large, with many different areas and buildings, including Tepayac hill where Our Lady appeared. All I knew about it ahead of time was: the new basilica has a negative reputation because it’s modern and secondly, you view the tilma via a moving walkway. I had envisioned that this moving walkway was in the midst of a vast space and that there was some buildup to the approach. Well, not the way we got in!

The driver dropped us off across from a bottom entrance to the basilica. We walked in, followed the crowd, and boom there we were on this maybe 30-foot moving walkway and, well, look up right now because there she is!

What I didn’t understand, but do now, is that the tilma is, of course, actually hanging in the church, so that you can see it while you are within that space, and also from underneath, where the moving walkway runs.

(If you want to see video, go to Instagram.)

You are also free to go back and forth on the moving walkway as much as you want. There’s no guard forcing crowd movement. It wasn’t super mobbed today, so we felt very comfortable going back on a the walkway a couple of times before we ascended to the church.

Where there was Mass going on. It was offertory – Mass with about 15 concelebrants a deacon, a slew of servers and a male choir (boys and men). The sign outside that I later read indicated this was the Chrism Mass – but is this a diocesan Cathedral, too? It isn’t, is it? Can non-Cathedrals do a Chrism Mass? Anyway, we got there too late to see any Chrism-related activity anyway. The core of the Mass congregation filled maybe half the church, with the rest of the space filled with people drifting in and out.

After Mass, we toured the site. Some notes:

The old basilica has been damaged in earthquakes, and you can really tell. The whole place is crooked – I tried to capture it in photos, but I am not sure if I was successful –  from the floor to the columns to the baldacchino. It’s a very strange feeling walking around. I can’t see how one more Big One isn’t going to do the place in.

 

I didn’t hate the new church. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, and I’ll just go ahead and say that I didn’t think it was bad at all. I think what it is that the ceiling swoops so low (it’s supposed to evoke Mary’s mantle taking everyone into her care) that it obscures the lack of wall décor – you really don’t notice it, partly because of that low beamed ceiling and partly because most of your attention is on the tilma.

The place was fairly busy, but not crowded. The feeling was relaxed, grateful reverence. I saw one woman approaching the tilma on her knees. Priests were hearing confessions in the church after Mass, and there were long lines.

There are a lot of vendors on site – I was a little surprised that they sold refreshments on top of the hill around the chapels are out there, but, why not?

Third favorite personage after the Blessed Mother and St. Juan Diego? St. Pope John Paul, hands down. He was everywhere.

I’m very glad we went – one more layer added to This is Mexico.

 

Before we leave the shrine – take a look at these ex votos.  I have seen all different sorts of ex votos left in churches around the world: imitation body parts, crutches, plaques, blue and pink ribbons (in gratitude for babies), photographs – but never anything like this: small paintings relating the specific story of the answered prayer. They are fascinating and lovely. They help make it all very real.

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Our Uber driver back into the city spoke more English than any we’ve had before, so we had a chance to talk – an interesting story of a graduate student looking to emigrate to Canada in order to teach.

I had him drop him off at the Zocalo, where we ate a quick lunch at a Mexican fast food place, then wandered a bit back and forth until we ended up, first at the Cathedral – where we heard some choir and organ practice, but didn’t have a chance to see much more – it was closed off for Triduum preparations. A disappointment but one I probably should have expected. Back outside.

When you’re in this area, one of the things that is impossible to avoid is a constantly beating drum – it’s “Aztec” dancers right outside the Cathedral. I think they are there all the time, drumming, burning herbs and dancing. I didn’t hang around and watch because I think they’re annoying, and I don’t know the motivation for them being there – is it just because it’s a convenient place to snag a lot of tourist attention? Is it a protest against Christianity? Is it more than a protest? I don’t know. It may be nothing but opportunism, but it’s still aggravating. So we moved on to the very interesting site right next to the Cathedral – the Templo Mayor. You can read more about it here, but the short story is that it’s a fairly recently (1970’s – on) excavated site of a major Aztec (Mexica) temple. There’s a large outdoor section that shows the various stages of construction and a few artifacts and elements they have left in situ, and a museum – larger than I’d expected – that exhibited many more artifacts, including the huge stones depicting various gods that have been found.

Layers upon layers, both in the landscape and in the culture.

 

My next goal was to see the Diego Rivera murals in the National Palace, but alas, it was not to be. The place was closed up, tight as a drum, which I should have expected – late in the afternoon on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Closed, probably for the rest of the week. Oh well….next time.

A bit more wandering (one stop for a fresh pineapple drink), then caught an Uber back to the apartment. A few doors down from the apartment, a small crowd was gathered outside an office building and a mariachi band was playing. A man explained to us that a woman was retiring – it was her last day in the office – and this was her sendoff.

Time for some rest, and then dinner at a place I’d seen a day ago and pegged as a good spot for us – large busy, with roast chicken and other meats in evidence, as well as tortillas being made. It was good, although I’m still stumped by about 50% of the menu – my percentages are going down, so that’s progress. I had a fantastic Caldo de Gallina (basically…soup) with chicken. J had something that was not called flautas, but ended up being basically flautas, and M had a big plate of steak, cheese, peppers and onions all cooked together – sort of fajita-like, except, as I said, cooked together. There was a lot, so I helped. It was very tasty.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was fun to experience: all locals, every table, it seems, marked by large bottles of Victoria beer – nothing else was being consumed except liter after liter of Victoria beer. The jukebox was going and tables of women were singing along. A cat wandered through. Price? A little more than usual because I had a beer (not a liter of Victoria – a small bottle of Negra Modela. I think the tab was 268 pesos: about $15 for the three of us.

Tomorrow: a bit more Mexico City and then…the bus to Puebla.

As usual – head to Instagram for videos. I also have a real camera with me and am taking actual photographs with it, but I also left the doohicky that I need to transfer the photos from a SD card to the computer at home. 

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Today, we took Monday’s lessons inside to a cooler place – the really superb National Museum of Anthropology.

 

 

The museum is located, along with many other sites, in the massive Chapultepec Park, Mexico City’s Central Park, but with more museums, a bigger zoo and…vendors. Dozens and dozens, lining the paths to both the zoo and the museum (and perhaps further – we didn’t venture beyond that area). This week is school holiday week in Mexico, so the park was thronged with families, and I’m guessing that the vendor scene is a feature of weekends and holidays – it was amazing. It was standard stuff, with not a lot of variety: candy stalls, taco stalls, toy stalls, spicy snack stalls, and face painting and temporary tattoos. The vendor yelling was impressive and constant.

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So, not really like Central Park after all. One of the boys said as much: “This is sort of like Central Park, but different…”  Teachable Moment Mom asks why. They look at me. I say, “Because people in New York City don’t have kids. Mexicans still do….”

First, let me backtrack. The day began with an actual breakfast. I am not a breakfast person, but I know from experience that with travel, you never know when your next meal is going to be possible, so it’s best to fuel up if and when you can. I went out before the boys woke up, and walked around scoping out possibilities. Turns out there were two busy breakfast places right next to our apartment. I took photos of the menus outside, and returned to translate. I thought this would save time and possible disasters. It was very good, and per usual, very cheap. One kid had pancakes (came with scrambled eggs, sausages – more like hot dogs – refried beans and that tortilla salad I need to figure out), the other had mollette – which is basically toast (in this case half a sub-shaped roll) slathered with beans and cheese and a few other things – along with scrambled eggs, those hot-dog type sausages and that salad. I had an omelette with ham and cheese..with beans and that salad. What is it?! Included were drinks – the juice of the day which seemed to be mostly strawberry, coffee and tea, as well as a little dish of jello placed in front of us before we ordered. Price: 120 Pesos, or about $6.50.

I’m telling you…..I now understand why American retirees flock to this part of the world and why money transfer from Mexicans working in the US is so important. Those dollars go a long way.

Then we walked to the park (about two blocks from the apartment). Encountered the throngs of families out for the day, as well as the vendors starting to hawk their wares. Made our way to the museum  – admission , 70 pesos, about $3. It’s a stunning museum – world class, and, not surprisingly, the finest collection of MesoAmerican artifacts we’ve ever seen.

 

 

The first floor is organized around a plaza, chronologically covering the history of MesoAmerica, beginning with the earliest migrations  – we skipped that room and went straight to the pre-Classic/Teotihuacan room. The most impressive was, not surprisingly, the Aztec (or Mexica) room – I feel as if I finally have a good sense of the Aztecs.

A couple of notes on the museum:

First, the main placard in every room was in both Spanish and English, but the signage on individual pieces was in Spanish only. If I had known about that, I might have IMG_20180327_121512.jpgsearched online for some sort of guide before coming.

Secondly, while some interests in the United States might shy away from addressing the issue of human sacrifice, or downplay or even outright deny it, the Mexicans themselves don’t. The descriptions didn’t hesitate to say, “This has a cavity for collecting blood of human sacrifices” and so on.

It was fairly overwhelming and even Maya Guy was experiencing Museum Fatigue, so we skipped the second floor which is dedicated, I think, to the traditional and living crafts of indigenous peoples.

A charming scene: A man with two children about eight and ten years old, had employed a guide – an older, fellow, huge, with a big beard and a voice to match. They were Spanish-speaking, but the dynamic was still clear and quite wonderful – the children were absolutely engaged, asking all sorts of questions about each artifact, which the guide patiently – and loudly – answered.

 

I had not intended to go to the zoo but it didn’t seem as if it were that far away on foot, we were done earlier at the museum than I’d expected, so why not?

Eh. We shouldn’t have wasted our time. The zoo is free, and it shows. It seems as if the animals are mostly in the deer family – antelopes of one sort or another – and given the fact that it was mid-afternoon, of course, most of the animals were sleeping. Including this tapir, which is not dead.

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We spent about 45 minutes walking through – that was enough. We then headed up to Chapultepec Castle – you can read about it here. Short version: it was built in the 18th century for the Spanish Viceroy, then used as a military academy. It was the site of an important battle during the Mexican-American War in which the very famous and deeply revered Niños Héroes gave their lives – one leaping from the roof wrapped in the Mexican flag in order to prevent the US forces from claiming it. (modern historians say that there’s probably a lot of mythology that’s grown up around this incident, if it ever actually occurred.)   The castle is the only one in the Western Hemisphere actually ever inhabited by a real monarch – Maximilian I for those few years before he was shot.

It wasn’t fascinating, but it was a good walk up, and a good thing to experience as a part of the history of Mexico and one more thread in the very complicated weave of Mexican identity.

 

 

(Photos is of a ceiling mural depicting the boy leaping from the roof. View is from the hill, looking down Reforma towards the center. Our apartment is just on the other side of the skyscraper with the colored staircases on the right.)

We then walked to a grocery story about half a mile away – the only one even near our apartment. It was a Superama, where the search was on for 1) Pomade – Hair Guy is fully aware of the Mexican male’s mastery of his hair and was confident that if he was going to find quality hair product anywhere, this was the place  and 2) That precious commodity which is contraband in the US:  Kinder Eggs. Both were acquired.

Fun feature, seen in this photo: “Dog parking.”

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(Most interesting to me – why is it in English?)

Then we ubered back to the apartment – it would have been a mile walk, but we’d been walking all day, we needed to save time, and it was maybe two bucks.

Back for a bit of a rest, then about six, we went back out and got AMAZING tacos and the first truck we saw around the corner – bistek, pollo and el pastor. I don’t need to eat anything else while I’m here. You can just feed me those one dollar tacos loaded with quality meat, that stringy cheese and nopales and I’d be good.

Then grab an uber to….ARENA MEXICO!

Yup, we did Lucha Libre.

Nacho Libre has been playing on a loop in our house for months, with probably 50% of the conversation being made up of quotes (You are the be-est. It’s all political. I don’t believe in God – I believe in science.).

So of course when I saw that Lucha Libre happens, not only on the weekends, but on Tuesday night, I put it forward, and of course they wanted to go.

I only have twenty minutes before I need to get them up for the day (Our Lady of Guadalupe, here we come!) so I’m going to make this as fast as I can – first a rant and instructions on how to do Lucha Libre.

In prepping, I read so many blog posts and discussion board posts that said essentially: Lucha Libre is great fun but OOOOOOH be careful! It’s in a dangerous part of town, there’s scalpers and scam artists and you probably want to go with a tour, and not venture to accomplish on your own.

Balderdash. Stupid. Ridiculous.

Here’s what we did: We got an Uber, rode the mile to the Arena Mexico, got out, stood at the box office in a line that was to my eyes and ears, about 75% non-Mexican tourists, got our tickets (140 pesos apiece – about $7), walked around the block looking at the vendors, went to the gate where we were lightly searched (women by female security gaurds), then escorted to our seats. Watched the show, left two hours later – hopped in one of the many waiting taxis outside, and rode home.

Honestly, so much that’s out there about going to Lucha Libre makes it sound like you’re taking your life into your own hands and venturing to an underground cockfighting match. If you are arriving at this blog post wondering, in fear, “Can I do this without a guide or tour?” Of course you can. And you won’t be alone. It’s a very, very popular tourist thing to do – Joseph recognized a group that had been right ahead of us climbing the Pyramid of the Sun yesterday at Teotihuacan.

One more note about process: Sometimes when venturing into entertainment events in other countries, we might indeed get confused – what do I do? Where do I sit? No worries about that here. After you are searched, your ticket is scanned by one man. Then you take two steps, and another man tears your ticket in half. Then you take two more steps and another man – and usher – grabs your tickets and takes you to your seat (you tip him a minimum of 5 pesos a seat – it’s how they make their money). You are immediately approached by vendors who bring you whatever – there seems to be one guy who is assigned to take care of a certain section, and then there are other roving vendors constantly coming by – drinks, popcorn, tacos and then, in weird collection – one big tray containing nachos, fruit cups and…ramen cups.

(One more suggestion – because of the constant presence of food and drink vendors, try to avoid an aisle seat. They’re just doing their job, true, but in doing so, they’ve got to block your view.)

 

 

 

It’s…fake professional wrestling. That’s it. But with masks (mostly – there were a few who didn’t have masks). There were, I think…six rounds of wrestling. Five of them were tag team and one was just between two. The wrestlers: Mephisto, Inquisidor, Terrible and the like. It was insanely fake. I don’t get the appeal, but the appeal is, indeed strong, and wow were people getting into it. The group in front of us was a middle aged married couple who both looked as if they could be on university faculties, and I’m thinking a child and spouse – a thirty-ish woman and man – the man was full-on hipster with beard and man-bun and everything and he was ALL IN, intensely watching, yelling, booing and cheering, as were the screaming young women behind us.

I wouldn’t take time to go again, but I’m very glad we did (as were the boys – they had a good time and were amazed at the spectacle, the comedy – for it is funny – and the crowd.) The whole day was simply fantastic people watching and a great immersion into Mexico City life…

For some video from Lucha Libre, go to Instagram. We’ll be at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for part of today, so follow me on Instagram Stories for that. 

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Teotihuacan is a solid hour away from Mexico City. There are a few options for getting out there, if you’re not driving yourself: Take a tour; take public transportation (bus) or do a taxi or Uber (or some other similar service).

I decided that it made the most sense to let this be our first ever Uber experience – and it was the right decision.  Uber has its problems, true, but it really is a tremendous innovation to a) be able to let the driver know your destination ahead of time, so he can decide whether or not to take the job  b)pay via the app  c) see ratings. It takes so much stress out of the experience. In this case, I know that the weird path I’m being driven through the back streets of a town was on purpose and not an attempt to run up the fare….

Agustin was our driver. An older man, he has almost 4,000 rides to his credit, was polite, but since he really didn’t speak any English, there was no conversation, which didn’t bother the Introvert at all. We just rode out of town, seeing the sights and listening the American oldies on the radio.

We left later than it’s recommended for Teotihuacan. The site is large and mostly unshaded, and does get crowded, so the optimal experience would be a very early arrival. But…I had tired boys who I really didn’t feel like awakening at the crack of dawn again, so we ended up getting there around 11:15.

Most people, to the extent that they know about Teotihuacan at all, assume it’s an Aztec site. Mexico City=Aztecs, so that’s right, isn’t it? No – by the Aztecs rose to power, this site was largely uninhabited. No one knows much about who they were, what they were about, or why the community collapsed.

It was hot, but not unbearably so – but then I have a high tolerance for heat. It’s cold that I run from. The site was pretty crowded, with visitors from all over. Mexicans, of course, but also Germans (of course – they and the Brits  are the most enthusiastic European travelers), Japanese swathed in scarves, and a lot of Americans (Look. I know that in this hemisphere, we are all Americans and I am always aware of that and try to write accordingly. But there is just not succinct shorthand for speaking of inhabitants of the United States other than “American” – so it will have to do.) – family groups, but mostly groups of young people. Students, I’m assuming.

(Admission: 70 pesos apiece – about 3.85 USD.)

It’s an impressive site for its size and the act of imagination it takes to visualize a thriving community and the work it took to construct it.  I assume that a society that constructs such huge temples matches the effort with elaborate ritual and a complex way of life, and since we don’t know much about it – is an intriguing mystery to contemplate.

 

 

But… Michael and I both agreed that we prefer the Mayan sites in Guatemala that we visited: Tikal, Yaxha, Aguateca and the other one I can never remember the name of. There’s more known about them, the landscape is more to our liking – having howler monkeys leap and, well, howl right above your head is hard to beat –  and there’s just more there. As I said, Teotihuacan has the sight of the site itself, which is worth experiencing, the massive pyramids, and some very interesting murals that have survived – but that’s it, really, that’s on site and not in the museum.

It’s definitely worth seeing, but Michael and I are sticking with the Maya for now.

 

 

A couple more notes from that part of the day:

  • The major goal people have in Teotihuacan is climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I was game, but I was dreading it, mostly because a)it’s a lot of steps up, and that is, you know, tiring and b) coming down these things is far more nerve-racking to me than going up. I think I’m going to die from exhaustion climbing up, but I know I’m going to die from crashing down those steps on the descent. But hey! I didn’t die! First, there were so many people there, there was a line to ascend, and it was a slow moving line, which meant that in the steepest part, you’d take three steps, wait a minute and then take three more, so I didn’t even feel close to dying. Secondly they had rope handrails, so I could join the other old ladies and hang on to that for dear life on the descent.
  • (I think this was another reason that my younger son, although he liked the day, was not as keen on it as he has been on the Maya sites – there were just so many people, it wasn’t as meditative as experience as he’s had in the other sites, most of which, with the exception of Tikal, we’ve had mostly to ourselves (and Marlon, our guide on this most recent trip). But even Tikal, while certainly more touristed, has many more different areas, and is shrouded in jungle, so you don’t feel part of a crowd.
  • There are many vendors, even on the site. They each sell exactly the same items (annoying jaguar whistles and obsidian knives), and they say the exact same thing the many vendors at Chichen Itza said: Almost free! Almost free!

 

So…how do we get back??

I had read that getting an Uber car was iffy on the way back. First, there aren’t that many Uber drivers hanging around the site, waiting, and secondly, cell service can be a problem. Both seemed to be an issue for me when I started trying..the app wasn’t cooperating, and there didn’t seem to be any cars nearby. So I walked up to the ticket guy and asked where the bus stop was and he said, “Across the road – it comes every fifteen minutes.”

And so it did. Cost: 52 pesos apiece (about 2.85). It wasn’t one of those luxury Mexican buses, but it was fine and very comfortable, although the ride did take a while. We stopped in the town before hitting the highway, but not just to take on new riders. Two law enforcement agents boarded at the stop, one with a video camera in hand. They walked through the bus (smiling, I might add – the one fellow fist-bumped both my sons), one observing and counting empty seats, and the other videoing the face of each person on the bus. Someone I know had had this experience, so I wasn’t taken completely by surprise – but it was still…interesting.

The bus goes to the big Norte station, which was still a ways from our apartment, so since we now do Uber…we did that.

Now I should note that at this point, no one had had anything to eat since a couple of sweet rolls around 9:30 am. Yes, we’d been hydrated (there’s no water available in the site, which we knew about,  so we had a backpack with water bottles that we carried), but still…it was 4, and time to eat. I thought we needed more than street tacos, but we were too messy and worn out for anything even vaguely formal, so as we neared the apartment, I peaked into a homey-looking place and made an executive decision – and so in we went.

It might not have been the best decision, but you know what? People were nourished and had a new experience. And that’s the most important thing of all! New! Experiences!

It was small, but busy – I was kind of surprised that at 4, every table was taken with people eating full meals. Were people still eating lunch? I’m thinking they were. Anyway, our waitress didn’t speak any English and the menu was all in Spanish, and things were moving pretty quickly, so I did my best. I mean, I do know “pollo” and “sopa” and a lot of other food-related words, but some mysteries remained.

It was a menu de dia – so three courses, plus flan at the end. First course: soup, fruit or salad. The boys got fruit (lesson one: “fruit” in Mexico is always going to be spiced. I should have anticipated that.) I got the soup which was just okay, tasting mostly of raw onion more than anything else.  Second course: rice, spaghetti or salad. We all got rice, which was…a small plate of rice. Third: about twelve choices of all types. We ended up with two chicken dishes – one grilled and one breaded and fried – and flautas. The chicken came with refried beans and something I could not figure out…but I think it was a sort of tortilla salad? Is that a thing? The flautas were good, my son said, although he really could not figure out how to eat them until he observed a woman doing so – she just stabbed her knife through the end of it and ate it from the other end on down.

The only drink we could discern was what was in pitchers already on the table: coconut water.

So, as I said, it wasn’t Instagrammable food, it wasn’t the best – certainly not up to the standards of the simple, fresh but really good food I had in Guatemala – but it got the job done and..oh…here’s how much I paid. 170 pesos.

Do you know how much that is?

$9.70.

For three complete dinners.

So…now it’s about 5:30. What to do with the evening, especially for tired people who really don’t feel like wandering about the city – we walked enough today, thanks.

There’s a movie theater just a couple of blocks away, so I looked up what was showing, not really thinking it would be worth it to go, considering we don’t speak Spanish. But then I noticed that in the listings, films were labeled with either ESP or SUB – and all the US films had SUB. I did a bit of research, and then, while the boys were chilling out, walked over to the theater to make sure, asking the girl in the ticket office if a film is labeled “SUB” that means the dialogue is in the film’s original language – in this case, English. Si, that’s what it means. Which surprises me – I thought they’d be dubbed. But apparently not (I think animated films are). So….

TITANES DEL PACIFICO

Was the evening’s entertainment.

(I never saw the first one. I survived this one. It was silly and loud but not offensive and IMG_20180326_191844.jpghad just enough emotionally-rooted character motivation and just enough interesting character actors to not bore me.)

Observations from the Mexico City movie-going experience at this theater, part of the Cinepolis chain:

  • Tickets are purchased for reserved seats.
  • They provide nifty, very substantial plastic trays for concessions.
  • Attendants were at the door of the theater after the showing, taking trays, dumping trash and emptying unconsumed drink into buckets.
  • Cost of tickets: about $3/USD apiece.

This is going to be one of the cheapest vacations I’ve ever had….

Videos can be found on Instagram. I don’t put videos here because I don’t know how to resize them and they always post in titanic form. 

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A very, very smooth trip. I am not in anyone’s fan club, least of all an airline, but I have to say that this Southwest flight from Birmingham to Houston to Mexico was one of the better flights I’ve had lately. First, there were no lame Southwest flight attendant hijinks, which I was dreading. Secondly – when the plane pulled away from the gate…it kept going. And going. Faster and faster until it was in the air! Fancy that…no ten minute waits on the runway followed by another ten minute wait, then followed by a thirty minute wait in which we are told, “Looks like we’re almost maybe perhaps next in line for takeoff.”

Airport moment:

Older (I can still say that! Sometimes!) woman sits down next to me at the gate. Gets out her phone. Starts talking. Loudly. This is what she says, no lie: Oh, she has no class. She speak so loudly all the time. Just no class. Well, yes, I hope they’re happy, but I doubt it will last. You know how it started right? They had an affair? He was married and left his wife for her?

Too bad she’s not as classy as the dame loudly gossiping about her in the airport!

****

One of the very tense moments in any transition from airplane to vacation stay in any city is the issue of actually getting there. Airport taxi rip-offs are everywhere, from Paris to Rome to most other places I’ve never been. Mexico City actually has an excellent system for minimizing the chances of being overcharged or taken to parts unknown.

The taxi companies all have booths in the actual airport. You go up to a booth, and tell them the address of your destination. If you don’t have a lot of people with you, be sure to specify sedan or they will stick you in a van and it will be a hundred pesos more. (Not a lot but still). You pay the booth attendant, he or she prints out a ticket, and then you take it outside to the outside attendant and he or she hooks you up with a taxi. You’ve already paid, they know where you’re going – almost like Uber!

So that’s what we did – taking then about a thirty minute ride through a very busy city to our apartment. There was one stretch of road which was lined with market stalls, thronged with people, and with even more people darting towards cars stopped at intersections with toys, ice cream, and water for sale, and bottles of sudsy water ready to wash windshields.

***

The apartment’s good. The only negative (which I’ll mention to the owner and in the review) is that there’s no “guide to the area” – I’ve rented a lot of vacation apartments before and leaving a guide with directions for transportation (here’s the nearest subway stop, this bus line runs near the apartment, and so on) and favorite local restaurants and grocery stores is absolutely standard. It certainly makes life easier. But other than that, it’s good – two bedrooms, a large living room/dining room.

After a bit of a rest, we set out walking. I hadn’t intended walking all the way to the Zocalo, but that’s what we did, taking a break along the way for Mass. It was a long way (almost 3 miles) and (spoiler alert) we cabbed it back (I couldn’t get Uber to load properly at the moment).

We walked along the Reforma, the main central drag through Mexico City – lots of higher end hotels are located here, there’s a central walking and biking path lined with trees and benches almost the whole way, and I understand on Sunday mornings, they make the road pedestrian-only, which must be lovely.

It was busy, and the closer we got to the center, the busier it got  – it wasn’t unruly or crazy – mostly families of one size or another – but it was certainly a surging river of folks. In a way it was just like any other similar scene in any other city: lots of characters, from Iron Man to Mickey Mouse and street performers – the street performers were, however, in three categories and three categories alone: Hurdy-Gurdy organs, then a man playing an accordion while a woman holding a baby stands with a cup, and little children – no older than seven or eight years old – playing beaten guitars.  Those in the second category reminded me of the beggars in Rome, and I wondered if, as it the case with the Roma and their babies, the children are sedated. As for the little boys banging on their guitars? You might think it’s cute, but it’s really not. You can’t help but wonder what’s going on, and the little boys are clearly tired and even a little angry.

Our primary goal was Mass, which we hit about halfway through at a church I thought had something to do with St. Francis, but which I cannot for the life of me locate on the map right now. We’ll pass it again at some point – I want to go in and look at the décor more carefully, and take phots with my real camera. Some interesting points:

Those of you familiar with Catholicism in Latin countries probably already know this, but it was new to me. And I don’t know if this is standard practice everywhere, but at this parish in Mexico City, it was. In the US, we have our palms  given to us at the beginning of Mass. Regular old strips of palm leaves. We process, have Mass, and that’s it.

It’s different here. Outside of the church are crafters and vendors of artifacts made of palms – the intricately woven standards you might have seen, but even very elaborate figures, such as the crucifixes you see in the photo. People buy those before (and after) Mass, and bring them into church.

Now, we were not there at the beginning, so I don’t know if there was a procession, but it was the end of Mass that intrigued me.

After Mass, everyone who has something – either purchased that day or from home – brings it up to the front for a blessing (It’s like what I’ve seen at the Hispanic community’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Masses in Birmingham – everyone brings up their religious objects, no matter how big, at the end for blessing.)

What was thought-provoking to me was that while, as is normally the case, perhaps ten percent of the congregation received Communion, almost everyone had a sacramental to be blessed and take home. I need to think about it more and work it out, but the dynamic seems to be that Mass is the locus of blessing, the presence of Jesus. From the Mass, we can take the sacred back into the world, into our homes.

Those of us who are frequent Communion-receivers frame that dynamic in terms of the presence of Christ within us in Eucharist – but those who don’t receive the Eucharist frequently still find a way. A powerful way, it seems to me.

 

 

One of the reasons I want to go back to this church is to take a closer look and better photos of the medallions of the evangelists in the sanctuary – you can barely see them running across the center above. What was great about them (again, maybe this is a common motif – I’ve just never run across it before) is that each of the evangelists is, as usual, paired with his symbol – ox, eagle, man, lion – but here they are riding them. It’s fantastic.

After Mass, we just made our way over to the Zocola, which is massive. The added treat was that there was obviously something going on – we could see a crowd gathered, attention directed towards a covered concert area. It was to be a symphony performance – Beethoven’s Ninth.

If it hadn’t been the end of a long travel day with two boys who’s only consumed donuts in the morning for their daily sustenance, I would have stayed for the whole thing. But as it was, I could sense the mood in my crew, which was a hungry one, and there were no food vendors of any sort around, so we took a turn around the square and peaked into the Cathedral (Mass going on in two places within – we’ll go back later in the week for a closer look during the day), all with the first movement resounding in the air. It was a lovely, stirring welcome to Mexico City, and a reminder of the contrasts so much a part of this culture: Beethoven in the square, with impoverished little boys banging on beaten-up guitars four blocks away.

 

We took a cab back to the area of our apartment, and started looking for food. The restaurant at the end of the block I’d been thinking of was closed. We walked around a bit, almost decided to do just sandwiches from the 7-11, but then I said, no, we’ll go back to the Argentinian restaurant not far from the apartment, and that was a good decision. The food was great – excellent fresh empanadas, two huge hamburgers and a fabulous skirt steak for me. It was a fairly casual restaurant, but the service was so old-school and so many levels above the Hey guys, how’s everyone doing style of American eating, the boys were intrigued.

So there you go. I’m writing this Monday morning, and we have a long day of Teotihuacan – the main attraction – ahead. We are knocking it off today because museums are closed on Mondays, so we might as well….

Video at Instagram. 

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Let’s go to Mexico City!

Regular readers know the story: when I realized that my older son’s spring break fell during Holy Week this year, the first thing I did was fume, make many speeches in my head, and then decide that No Spring Break For Us this year – we’ll stay in town, and you will Serve All the Liturgies, everywhere.

But then I recalled some thoughts I’d been having the past few years, thoughts centered on my desire to experience Holy Week in a place where they really do Holy Week, with seriousness and  lots of processions. Spain came to mind – Seville’s Semana Santa is renowned – but, well, two things: first, I didn’t want to do the go part way around the world and back in the space of a week. We did that last year when we spent Spring Break in London, and it was a great time, but I didn’t want to do it again. Secondly, well…big, huge, Christian centered-public events in Europe? Isn’t it strange that we live in a time when we might think, “Huh. I think it might be safer to do Holy Week in Guatemala than in Spain.” It all came down to: in Seville, I’d be constantly, nervously looking for trucks and people with backpacks, but in Antigua…I wouldn’t.

For that was my first idea. Last summer, my younger son and I spent a week in IMG_0311Guatemala doing mostly Maya-related sites, and I had originally thought I would try to work a day or so in Antigua, but it was really too far from where we were centered. So when I started the Semana Santa research, Antigua popped up again – alongside Seville as the site of big celebrations. What followed that was a look at the map and the decision that Copan, Honduras wasn’t really that far – Copan is the location of some very interesting Maya ruins that are my son’s bucket list. My original plan then developed: we’d  fly into Honduras, spend the first part of the week in Copan Ruinas, then go to Antigua for the Triduum, and then fly out of Guatemala City. I got so far as to reserve an AirBnB in Antigua and a hotel room in Copan Ruinas. But…

Oh, the airfare! It was pretty high and never budged from the heights. It wasn’t, surprisingly, the Honduras part – it was the Guatemala City leg that was out of sight. They must have very high airport taxes or fees in Guatemala or something (we flew in and out of Belize last summer). I just wasn’t willing to pay over $700 a ticket to go to Guatemala – this conviction was particularly acute because at the same time, I was starting to mull over a trip to Japan for next summer, and heck, we can fly to Tokyo from LAX for $700.

So…a couple of months ago, I started considering a plan B, and an obvious one popped into my head: Mexico City.  I immediately ran it past the boys. Archaeology-Mad 13-year IMG_20180310_144930.jpgold said, without hesitation, “Teotihuacan!” and was all in, while the almost 17-year old, amenable to just about anything, was his usual amenable self. I’m sure he did a calculation of how much money he would fail to make by not being here to work that week, but in the end, his interest in new places and adventures won out.

And did you know Southwest flies to Mexico City?

A lot cheaper than going to Honduras and Guatemala. A lot less travel stress than heading across the Atlantic.

And hopefully…processions and exploding Judases everywhere.

We have a few goals, but no set plans. I may be an obsessive travel researcher (it’s almost as enjoyable as the actual trip to me….), but I don’t plan much. So, I’m sitting here the night before we leave realizing just now that I’m not really sure how to get from the airport to our apartment. And we’ll be there in about 18 hours. I guess I better get on that.

The general goals for the trip are:

  • Teotihuacan
  • Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Museum of Archaeology
  • Various other art and history museum

As I said, we’re spending the Triduum in Puebla. Someone here had suggested Queretaro, and I thought about it very seriously but finally settled on Puebla – it’s a bit closer and just struck me as more interesting.  Or

So…stay  tuned! Check in on Instagram throughout the day and here in the evenings or mornings. And if you have any quick tips for either place, comment here or shoot me an email at amywelborn60 – AT – gmail DOT com.

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 — 1 —

Happy Friday! Happy third-to-the-last Friday of Lent!

In case you missed it, last weekend, my 13-year old and I had a few days in New Orleans. Blog posts about the trip are here,  here, here and here.

 

 

(And, as always, on Instagram)

— 2 —

The next journey will be coming up in a bit more than a week. I’ll set the stage and open the curtain a bit by explaining that my older son’s spring break is…Holy Week. This ticks me off big time. Catholic schools having spring break during Holy Week? Please.

The reason given being – around here at least – is that the Catholic schools follow the public school calendars most of the time. So many people have children in both systems, I suppose there would be too many complaints to do it any other way.

(The glitch in the argument, in my mind, is that there are several large colleges in and around Birmingham, all big employers, and I think they’re all on Spring Break this week, causing, I’ll presume intra-family hassles of one sort or another.)

Anyway, when I first realized this, I went all hard core and said to myself…we are staying in town and we are going to All the Liturgies, and what is more, they are serving at All The Liturgies.

But then…

I revisited thoughts I’ve been having over the past few years, thoughts which centered on the desire to spend Holy Week somewhere where they actually do Holy Week in a big, public way.

So we’re doing that.

(Hint: We’re not crossing any time zones in any substantial way….)

 

 

—3–

Speaking of holy days and such, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Check out this post on what I’ve written about St. Patrick, or if you don’t want to bother, just click here for my entry on him from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints and here for my chapter on the Lorica from The Words We Pray.

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(I love this art – but then I love most vintage Catholic line art – from a book, The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick  by Irish writer Katharine Tynan.

And of course, this leads me to tediously remind you that if you are looking for Easter gifts, I’ve written several books that might be of interest – for children, young adults, women and even new Catholics. Keep them in mind for Easter, as well as the upcoming Sacramental Season:

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Signed copies of some titles available here. 

–4–

Here’s a wonderful story:

 

 

Developer Gene Dub has donated an entire four-storey building to give homes to some of the estimated 100 pregnant woman who find themselves homeless in Edmonton each year.

He heard about the need on a radio show, then thought about what he could do.

“I just happened to have a building,” said the local developer, speaking Thursday after his gift was celebrated at the 2018 housing awards. 

Dub specializes in rehabilitating historic buildings. This one, the old Grand Manor Hotel, was built in 1913 near 98 Street and 108 Avenue. He bought it eight years ago, renovating it and continuing to rent it as low-income housing. The 18 studios and one-bedroom units were renting for about $500.

It’s a gift worth $3 million. 

Capital Region Housing had been looking at buying the building last summer, said Greg Dewling, executive director. But finances are tight.

Then Dub phoned him up.

He said: “‘Do you think you could make it work if I donated the building?’” Dewling recalled with a laugh. 

Yes, that would work just fine.

 

 

–5 —

Erin Shaw Street is a local Birmingham writer, active in many areas and platforms. She wrote this fantastic, brave, moving essay on the second anniversary of her sobriety:

I don’t remember many details of the conversation. The alcohol had wrecked me, drinks from after parties and my sad after party of one. Years of drinking to self-medicate, drinking to try to keep up with what the world told me to be, drinking for energy (I know), drinking to cope with physical pain and anxiety. This was not about “fun” and hadn’t been in a long while. Dehydrated and shaky, Sondra walked me along the edges of the Colorado River. She was a mother too, and a seamstress. I think she said something about vintage lace. I said things like:

“But you don’t know what I’ve done.”

She assured me that this world was filled with people who had done all the things I had done, and then some. And that there was actually a way to move through this life healed from those mistakes. She shared because she had been there. She had stopped drinking and stayed stopped and done the work to look her past in the eye and it did not kill her.

Also would I like a smoothie?

That is what I remember: we walked, talked, and drank smoothies. She told me there was a way to get better, but I’d have to do the work and find community. The sun made my head hurt even more, and I stumbled back into the hotel and slept again, embarrassed to find my coworkers. They tracked down my phone, and a kind Uber driver returned it. He was deaf — I remember this, and I was struck by his act of kindness. He didn’t have to do that. Maybe the world was good. But first, to get through hell.

— 6 —

Watched: The Maltese Falcon.  

We are about to (finally) cut the satellite cord, and so I was scrolling through the movies I’ve dvr’d from TCM, trying to get at least a few watched. Images from The Maltese Falcon popped up and the 16-year old requested that we watch that one (I’d been moving towards On the Waterfront) because “it has the fat guy in it.”

(Sydney Greenstreet – we’d watched Casablanca a few weeks back.)

I hadn’t seen it in many years, and while, of course, it’s a great movie, it’s also just so slightly marred (in a very tiny way) by deep proclamations of love between Bogart and Mary Astor after 36 hours of acquaintance. It really makes no sense – unless impassioned I love you! after a day are really code for, Yeah, they had sex when she went to his apartment that night. 

— 7 —

Reading: Jane Eyre. 

Never read it before (in my own defense I was an insufferable Thomas Hardy teenage reader back in the day) and am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a very fast read, and really interesting from a theological/spiritual perspective, which I’ll explore more once I finish it.

In Our Time on the novel. 

 

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Seven Quick Takes

 

UPDATE 10/16:  Here’s the text of Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will canonize seven new saints. How convenient! Let’s take a look:

— 1 —

Salomon Leclercq (1745-1792)  was a LaSalle priest who was martyred during the French Revolution:

Brother Solomon was secretary to Brother Agathon, the Superior General, after having been a teacher, director and bursar. He always showed a great love for people and a great attachment to his work.Salomon Leclercq Having refused to take an oath, he lived alone in Paris in secrecy. We still have many of his letters to his family. The last one is dated August 15, 1792. That very day he was arrested and imprisoned in the Carmelite monastery, which had become a prison, together with several bishops and priests. On September 2, almost all the prisoners were killed by sword in the monastery garden. He was beatified on October 17, 1926, together with 188 of his fellow martyrs. He was the first one of our martyrs and also the first Brother to be beatified.

More from the LaSalle website on the canonization. A blog post of mine on a visit to the spot in Paris where the September martyrdoms occurred.

— 2 —

Manuel Gonzalez Garcia  (1877-1940) , Spanish priest and bishop, the “Apostle of the Abandoned Tabernacles:”

Blessed Manuel was sent by the Archbishop of Seville to Palomares del Río, a beautiful and secluded village of Aljarafe, but upon his arrival no one came out to meet him. The church was greatly abandoned: filled with dust and dirt, cobwebs inside the tabernacle and torn altar cloths. Upon seeing this situation, he knelt before the altar and thought about the many abandoned tabernacles in the world. This prompted him to start the “Unión Eucarística Reparadora”.

Manuel Gonzalez GarciaAt the age of 28, he was sent to Huelva where he saw many children in the streets. Later on he devoted his attention mainly in founding schools and teaching catechesis with the help of his parishioners.

On December 6, 1915, Pope Benedict XV appointed Blessed Manuel as auxiliary bishop of Málaga. He celebrated his appointment with a banquet to which he invited, not the authorities but the poorest children of the place. Three thousand children attended the banquet and accompanied him to the Episcopal Palace. He remained there until the night of the 11th of May 1931, the proclamation of the Republic, where a revolt expelled him and the Palace was burnt, destroying everything.

From Pope John Paul II’s homily at his beatification:

“That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter,” It is the Lord! ‘”(Jn 21: 7). In the Gospel we have just heard, before the miracle performed, a disciple recognizes Jesus The others will do it later. The Gospel passage, in presenting Jesus, who “came and took the bread and gave it to them” (Jn 21, 13), tells us how and when we can meet the Risen Christ in the Eucharist, where Jesus is really present under the species of bread and wine. It would be sad if this loving presence of the Savior, after a long time, was still unknown by humanity.

This was the great passion of the new Blessed Manuel González García, Bishop of Málaga and then Palencia. The experience in Palomares del Río in front of a deserted tabernacle marked for life, and from that moment he decided to spread the devotion to the Eucharist, proclaiming the words he subsequently chose as his epitaph: “Here lies Jesus for it is here! Do not abandon him. “Founder of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, Blessed Manuel Gonzalez is a model of faith in the Eucharist, whose example continues to speak to the Church today.

— 3 —

Lodovico Pavoni (1784-1849) Italian priest. 

In Brescia, in 1807, he was ordained a priest and first launched the oratory. A book by Pietro Schedoni Moral Influences listed the reasons for the “rebellion” of young boys:  leaving inadequate schools for a job, bad influences of adult workers, and peer pressure. The author confirmed Lodovico in his personalist approach:  to concentrate on the personal and social formation of the young with a positive and preventative approach.

Lodovico Pavoni In 1812 when appointed secretary to Bishop Gabrio Nava, he received permission to continue with his “oratory”. In 1818 he was named rector of the Church of St Barnabas with permission to found an orphanage and a vocational school that in 1821 became the “Institute of St Barnabas”. Lodovico decided that the first trade would be book publishing; in 1823 he set up “The Publishing House of the Institute of St Barnabas”, the precursor of today’sAncora press. The boys could also choose to be carpenters, silversmiths, blacksmiths, shoemakers, experts in tool and dye making. In 1823, Fr Pavoni welcomed the first deafmutes to the school. He purchased a farm to set up an Agricultural School.

In 1825 he established a religious institute to continue his work. In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI authorized it for Brescia. On 11 August 1847, the Brescia Vicar Capitular, Mons. Luchi, established the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate or “Pavoniani”. On 8 December 1847, Lodovico and the first members made their religious profession.

On 24 March 1849, during the “Ten-Days” when Brescia rebelled against the Austrians, and both sides were ready to pillage the city, Bl. Lodovico, who had taken care of citizens during a cholera epidemic, performed his last heroic act of charity when he led his boys to safety to the novitiate on the hill of Saiano, 12 kilometres away. A week later he died at the dawn of Palm Sunday, 1 April 1849 as Brescia was in flames. Lodovico’s ideal of education was a broad one, to dispose a person in his wholeness to be good. Fifty years before “Rerum novarum”, he grasped the religious significance of social justice and set an example by his own dealings with his employees.

Like St John Bosco after him, Pavoni’s used encouraging and preventative methods; he preferred gentleness to severity. He used to say, “Rigorism keeps Heaven empty”.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“This Jesus God has raised him up and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2,32). The interior consciousness, that became a burning and invincible faith, guided the spiritual and priestly experience of Lodovico Pavoni, priest, Founder of the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate.

Gifted with a particularly sensitive spirit, he was totally given over to the care of poor and abandoned youngsters and even deaf-mutes. His activity branched out in many directions, from that of education to the publishing sector, with original apostolic intuitions and courageous innovations. At the basis of everything, there was a solid spirituality. By his example, he exhorts us to place our confidence in Jesus and to be ever more immersed in the mystery of his love.

Here’s a comprehensive website dedicated to him, but it’s in Italian.

 — 4 —

Alfonso Maria Fusco (1839-1910), Italian priest.

(His website – also in Italian)

The daily life of Father Alfonso was that of a zealous priest, but he carried in his heart an old dream. In his last years at the seminary, one night he had dreamt that Jesus the Nazarene was calling him to found an institute of Sisters and an orphanage for boys and girls as soon as he was ordained.

It was a meeting with Maddalena Caputo of Angri, a strong-willed woman aspiring to enter Alfonso Maria Fuscoreligious life, which impelled Father Alfonso to move more quickly in the foundation of the Institute. On September 25, 1878, Miss Caputo and three other young women met at night in the dilapidated Scarcella house in the Ardinghi district of Angri. The young women wanted to dedicate themselves to their own sanctification through a life of poverty, of union with God, and of charity in the care and instruction of poor orphans.

The Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene was thus begun; the seed had fallen into the good earth of the hearts of these four zealous and generous women. Privations, struggles, opposition, and trials were their lot, and the Lord made that seed grow abundantly. The Scarcella House was quickly named the Little House of Providence.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“If you had faith like a mustard seed”, Jesus exclaimed speaking with his disciples (Lk 17,6). It was a genuine and tenacious faith that guided the work and life of Bl. Alfonso Maria Fusco, founder of the Sisters of St John the Baptist. From when he was a young man, the Lord put into his heart the passionate desire to dedicate his life to the service of the neediest, especially of children and young people, who were plentiful in his native city of Angri in Campania. For this he undertook the path of the priesthood and, in a certain way, become the “Don Bosco of Southern Italy”. From the beginning he wanted to involve in his work some young women who shared his ideal and he offered them the words of St John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3,4). Trusting in divine Providence, Bl. Alfonso and the Sisters of John the Baptist set up a work that was superior to their own expectations. From a simple house for the welcome of the young, there arose a whole Congregation which today is present in 16 countries and on 4 continents working alongside those who are “little” ones and “last”.

— 5 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero (1840-1914), Argentinian priest

At the end of 1869 he took on the extensive parish of Saint Albert of 4,336 square kilometers (1,675 square miles), with just over 10,000 inhabitants who lived in distant places with no roads or schools, cutoff by the Great Highlands of more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of altitude. The moral state and material indigence of its inhabitants was lamentable. However, Brochero’s apostolic heart was not discouraged, but from that moment on he dedicated his whole life not only to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants but to educate and promote them. The year after arriving, he began to take men and women to Cordoba to do the Spiritual Exercises. It took three days on the back of a mule to cover the 200 kilometers (125 miles), in caravans that often exceeded 500 people. More than once they were surprised by strong snow storms. On returning, after nine days in silence, prayer and penance, his faithful began to change their lives, following the Gospel and working for the economic development of the region. 

In 1875, with the help of his faithful, he began the building of the Houses of Exercises of the then Villa del Transito (locality that today is named after him). It was inaugurated in 1877 with groups that exceeded 700 people, a total of more than 40,000 going through it during his parish ministry. As a complement, he built the House for women religious, the Girls’ School and the residence for priests. With his faithful he built more than 200 kilometers of roads and several churches. He founded villages and was concerned about the education of all. He requested and obtained from the authorities courier posts, post offices and telegraphic posts. He planned the rail network that would go through the Valley of Traslasierra joining Villa Dolores and Soto to bring the beloved highlanders out of the poverty in which they found themselves, “abandoned by all but not by God,” as he said. 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

He preached the Gospel, using the language of his faithful to make it comprehensible to his listeners. He celebrated the sacraments, always carrying what was necessary for the Mass on the back of his mule. No sick person was left without the sacraments, as neither the rain nor the cold stopped him. “Woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me,” he said. He gave himself totally to all, especially the poor and the estranged, whom he sought diligently to bring them close to God. A few days after his death, the Catholic newspaper of Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.” Because of his illness, he gave up the parish, living a few years with his sisters in his native village. However, responding to the request of his former faithful, he returned to his House of Villa del Transito, dying leprous and blind on Jan. 26, 1914.

His website, in Spanish.

6–

Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), Carmelite:

Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city’s Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, ‘I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.’ That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.”

“Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.”

Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn’t enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.”

She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison’s disease.

Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make.

An excellent post at the Discerning Hearts website:

As a child, Elizabeth had found the strength to conquer her fiery temper only after having received the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time. As a Carmelite, she would read in Paul that it was Christ ‘who made peace through the blood of his Cross’ (Col.1,20), making ‘peace in my little heaven so that it may truly be the repose of the Three’.

Once she wrote to a friend, ‘I am going to give you my “secret”: think about this God who dwells within you, whose temple you are; St. Paul speaks in this way, and we can believe it.’

The call to praise the glory of God also included the call to share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, to be able to say like St. Paul, ‘In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church’ (Col 1,24) – and Sister Elizabeth had to accept suffering.

— 7 —

And finally, perhaps the most-well known, José Sanchez del Río (1913-1928):

Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan (Mexico), on March 28, 1913—his parents were Macario Sanchez and María del Río. At the age of 13 , Jose begged God that he too might be able to die in defense of his Catholic faith. In response to the bitter persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarco Calles, a movement of Catholics called the “Cristeros” rose up in defense of the Faith. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio told his mother, “In order to go to Heaven, we have to go to war.”  …

.blessed-jose-sanchez-2-1-1…When they got to the cemetery, Jose was already covered in his own blood. The soldiers showed him the grave, and said, “This is where we are going to bury you.” The boy responded,“That is good. I forgive all of you since we are all Christians.” He offered them his hand and said, “We’ll see each other in Heaven. I want you all to repent.” Perhaps trying to work on his love for his family, the soldiers asked him what he wanted them to tell his family; his response was, “Tell them that we will see each other in Heaven.” Finally, the soldiers told Jose that if he would say “Death to Christ the King,” they would free him and allow him to go home to his family. His response was, “Long live Christ the King!” At that point they shot him. As he was still alive after that, they gave him a coup de grace to the head and he died. Some versions of his story say that Jose made the sign of the cross in the ground with his own blood before being finally shot in the head.

     Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was killed on February 10, 1928, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005.  For us, he is a constant reminder that the call to follow Christ is for all people, whether young or old.  His feast day is February 10—the day he died.

Do you want to share with people what being Catholic is all about? Just talk about the new saints we’re recognizing this weekend: male and female, young and old, active and contemplative, from all over the world, of a variety of temperaments. Publishing books, reforming education, serving the poorest, offering their lives in prayer, offering their earthly lives in sacrifice –  an amazing variety in perfect communion, joined by their love of Christ and his people. Catholic.

Speaking of saints, Saturday is the feastday of St. Theresa of Avila, and look at this nifty way to read her story from my Loyola book:

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As you might be able to discern from my blog output this week…I’m not homeschooling anymore.

And not just because of the content in which I say, outright, I’m not homeschooling anymore. No, it’s the…sheer bulk of the posting that might clue you in. It is very weird for me to not have a head full of homeschooling notions in the evening and not have a day full of kid(s).

That’s a lot of creative energy….

Now if you’ve been following, you know that the my high schooler has been in school for two years, and for the past two years, it’s just been the now-11 year old and me. The decision for him to go to school was not sudden – it was sort of assumed it would probably be this way all along if the school in question continued to be maintain the quality it mostly has in the past. It seems as if it has, and even improved with new facilities, particularly a fantastic science lab. But for more that – go back over the posts this week. You will get an earful. Or eyeful.

— 2 —

Update on the Snapchat v. Instagram Stories journey. I am still Snapchatting (amywelborn2)– to some extent, although I’ve not done anything terribly interesting this week, so I have, I admit been scarce. But I do like Instagram Stories – I did a story yesterday on St. Clare, mixing up photos from our own trip to Assisi with some art – and I liked doing that sort of thing more there than I do on Snapchat. We’ll see.

— 3 —

Speaking of far more interesting pictures. The adult coloring book trend has another few months in it, and I am so happy to see Daniel Mitsui enter the fray. I am longtime fan of Daniel – I purchased a print of his wonderful Japanese-themed St. Michael – and was happy to see him make some pages available online a few months ago, and even more delighted to see that Ave Maria Press is publishing two sets of his pages:

Congratulations Daniel – and readers, do spread the word to all of your coloring friends!

 — 4 —

An odd bump in my stats this week. For some reason, my 2010 post on Saltillo , Mexico was getting a lot of hits, seemingly out of the blue. If you were reading back then, you might remember than in the summer of 2010, we did a parish-sponsored mission trip with Family Missions Company to General Cepeda, Mexico. It was a great experience. General Cepeda is in the diocese of Saltillo and I wrote a post on our visit there.

Well, a quick search showed that there was a claim of a miracle there – a  pretty lame one – someone just happened to be video recording the crucifix when the eyes of the corpus just happened to open.   Imagine that. Well, here’s the replica of that crucifix I purchased and brought back. I do love it, even with eyes closed.

"Saltillo Crucifix"

— 5 

Today is the feast of St. Jane de Chantal, great friend of St. Francis de Sales and foundress of the Visitation Sisters. Here’s a link to my post from last year on her, and I do invite you to go check it out and then follow the links to read some more of her letters – she writes in such a down-to-earth way and so practically about the spiritual life. I just love the way she so gently encourages her sisters to…maybe not take yourself so seriously?

6–

You have portrayed your interior state with much simplicity, and believe me, little one, I tenderly love that heart of yours and would willingly undergo much for its perfection. May God hear my prayer, and give you the grace to cut short these perpetual reflections on everything that you do. They dissipate your spirit. May He enable you instead to use all your powers and thoughts in the practice of such virtues as come in your way.

More of her letters  – so helpful and real. 

— 7 —

I wrote about St. Jane de Chantal in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Heroes.  The entry isn’t online, but here’s the first page….

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