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Today (April 16)  is her memorial, although Eastertide matters take precedence. You can read about her anyway!   Loyola has the entry I wrote on St. Bernadette for The Loyola Kids Book of Saints up on their website – you can read the whole thing here. 

Bernadette’s life wasn’t easy to begin with. She and her family lived in terrible poverty in a village in France called Lourdes. By the time she was 14, Bernadette had been sick so often that she hadn’t grown properly. She was the size of a much younger girl. She, her parents, and her younger brothers and sisters all lived in a tiny room at the back of someone else’s house, a building that had actually been a prison many years before.

They slept on three beds: one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. 12912673_1739425146300211_1906595173_nEvery night they battled mice and rats. Every morning, they woke up, put their feet on cold stone floors, and dressed in clothes that had been mended more times than anyone could count. Each day they hoped the work they could find would bring them enough bread to live on that day.

Bernadette’s life was terribly difficult, but she wasn’t a miserable girl. She had a deep, simple faith in God. She didn’t mind any of the work she had to do, whether it was helping her mother cook or taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. There was, though, one thing that bothered her. She hadn’t been able to attend school very often, and she didn’t know how to read. Because of that, she had never learned enough about her faith to be able to receive her first Communion. Bernadette wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but her days, which were full of hard work, left little time for learning

Like other girls, Bernadette had many friends. She spent time with them in the countryside, playing and gathering wood for their families’ fireplaces and stoves. One cold February day, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend, doing just that. They wandered along the river until they came to a spot where a large, shallow cave called a grotto had formed in the hilly bank. Bernadette’s sister and friend decided to take off their shoes and cross the stream.

Because she was so sickly, Bernadette knew her mother would be angry if she plunged her thin legs into the icy water, so she stayed behind. But after a few minutes, she grew tired of waiting for her companions to return. She took off her stockings and crossed the stream herself.

What happened then was very strange. The bushes that grew out of the grotto walls started blowing around as if they were being blown by a strong wind. Bernadette looked up. High above her in the grotto stood a girl.

Some photos from our 2012 trip to Lourdes. The photo of the little image above is also from that trip. I bought it from an artist whose workshop was way off the main drag of religious souvenir shops in Lourdes. As I bought it and one of her hand-made rosaries, she quipped, “Now you can say that you have something that is really from Lourdes – not China.”

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The family home

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— 1 —

We’re back! Life has slipped and tumbled back into the normal paradigm: school, sort-of-homeschooling (Hey, there was a lot  of learning that happened in Mexico, wasn’t there?), work, music….etc.

— 2 —

Here’s a post I pulled together with links to all the entries on the trip to Mexico, with some thoughts on safety and links to our accommodations. It’s called I went to Mexico and didn’t die

—3–

This coming Sunday is, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina is in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. Here’s a page:

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–4–

In case you didn’t know it (er…I didn’t) – the Feast of the Annunciation is being celebrated on Monday – (because the actual date fell on Palm Sunday)  You can download a free pdf of my Mary and the Christian Life at this page (scroll down a bit). If you want to spring .99 for a Kindle e-reader copy, go here. 

And hey – with First Communion/Confirmation/Mother’s Day/Graduation season coming up – check out my books for gifts! 

–5 —

From Atlas Obscura – I’d never heard of this – it sounds similar to our local Ave Maria Grotto. The grace in the found object. 

Brother Bronislaus Luszcz, a native of Poland, spent 23 years building this collection of large grottos. He used local Missouri tiff rock to create beautiful statues and mosaics freckled with found and donated objects like seashells and costume jewelry. He began the work in 1937, though the seeds of his endeavor were planted long before.

While Brother Bronislaus was growing up in Poland, he would watch as pilgrims trekked through his home village on their way to a shrine for the Virgin Mary. The memory of the pilgrims lingered in his mind even after he moved to the United States and inspired him to begin constructing his own shrine. 

–6–

In an era in which the only movies that seem to make it to the screen are remakes and comic book-based…you read a tale like this and you wonder…why not this story? Wouldn’t this be a fantastic movie – or even television series? Let’s do lunch and make it happen!

She zoomed over forlorn dusty roads, responding to the beckoning call of new adventures. The airborne sensation and the freedom of the road ensured that she climbed on her trusty Harley-Davidson time and time again. Long before the hashtag #CarefreeBlackGirl was coined, Bessie Stringfield was living her life freely on her own terms—riding her motorcycle across the United States solo.

Born in 1911, Stringfield got her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout, while she was still in her teens and taught herself how to ride it. As chronicled in the 1993 book Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road by Stringfield’s protégé and eventual biographer Ann Ferrar, at the age of 19, young Stringfield flipped a penny onto a map of the US then ventured out on her bike alone. Interstate highways didn’t yet exist at the time, but the rough, unpaved roads didn’t deter her. In 1930, she became the first Black woman to ride a motorcycle in every one of the connected 48 states—a solo cross-country ride she undertook eight times during her lifetime. But not even that satisfied her wanderlust. Eventually, she went abroad to Haiti, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

And you just wonder….how many other stories are there?

And the answer…one for every person. 

At least. 

–7–

It’s Easter Season! Below are related excerpts from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first is about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience deep joy, peace and has a mission.

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

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Well, we are back, and as is always the case with travel, we wonder if we ever left at all.

That first dinner in the Argentinian restaurant? It was barely a week and a half ago, and seems as if it were months. Months.

So no, we didn’t die, and while this will be mostly a summary post with links to all of the trip entries, I want to address the general issue of safety.

For you know, even though we did see a lot of Americans in both Mexico City and Puebla, outside of the all-inclusive resorts on both coasts, Mexico doesn’t seem to factor very strongly as a potential travel destination these days. People are not really sure why they might want to go, and they’re concerned about safety.

I can’t speak to the first question, for my answer is not going to be the same as yours. I travel – and take my kids traveling – because my interest in history and culture takes me places, and also because I’m deeply interested in how people live – in my own community, across the state, the country and in other parts of the world. And – although this should be the subject of a separate blog post – I want to educate my kids on that score as well: the world is much, much bigger than the 8th or 11th grade corner of one particular school in Birmingham, Alabama, and so let’s not let that one tiny corner define or limit us.

But safety? Here you go.

People hear “Mexico” and they immediately fling up State Department warnings in your face. And I will confess that the first time I went to Mexico – to a small town west of Saltillo back in the summer of 2010 for a parish mission– I almost backed out because of safety concerns. I think I was skittish anyway – although that might have been mostly a factor of it being barely a year since Mike died – but then not long before one of the final commitment deadlines there was a major incident in Monterrey – I have no recollection what it was, but it was random and although Monterrey is huge and wasn’t close to General Cepada (the town where the mission was going), it struck me as vaguely threatening especially since the University of Texas pulled its study abroad students out of Monterrey in response.

But I didn’t back out, and we went, and as I walked around the town with my kids as they ate ice cream and played on the town playground, I wondered what in the world I had been so worried about.

 

So by the time 2014 rolled around and my kid had for some reason become obsessed with the Maya, I didn’t think twice about renting a car and driving us around the Yucatan (wary, though, of rip-offs and scams, both at gas stations and, unfortunately, by the police at traffic stops.)

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That is not to downplay safety concerns. There are certain areas of Mexico I wouldn’t go – border towns, some other towns known for crime, most related to the drug trade. You do hear of tourists being victimized in resorts on both coasts, but most often there is some kind of explanation – it is, not, to say, totally unpredictable and random. So for example, just a week or so before we left, a US family of four was found dead in a condo in Akumal near Tulum, which in turn is near Cancun. As it turns out, the family’s tragedy wasn’t due to violent crime, but has been traced to carbon monoxide from a gas leak. Absolutely a reason for caution – that’s a real danger in substandard and unregulated construction – but it doesn’t go in the “violent Mexico” file, either.

I’m not making any comprehensive claims for safety in Mexico. There’s serious crime in Mexico City, and, I’d guess, in Puebla. But I can say that as we walked around most cities, both day and night, I felt absolutely safe.  Both cities were bustling with people, mostly in family groups. Shops and restaurants were open, street vendors were all over the place, and the feeling was just as it is in any similar community. Sure, you’re going to see a few more soldiers and police standing around with big guns than you are in the United States, but guess what? You see that in Europe, too now. As I said in my post going through my trip-planning process, when I initially honed in on Antigua, Guatemala as a Holy Week destination, I thought, “How odd that I feel safer planning to be at a big public event in Guatemala than I would in almost any European country.”  Consider that last spring break at the end of March, we went to London. The week before we went, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on the Westminster Bridge – where we would walk –  and a couple of months later, another attack occurred in the Borough Market – where we spent time. We’ve been to Barcelona and walked on La Rambla.  In August, 2017, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on that street killing thirteen. We’ve been to Christmas Markets in Germany – in 2016, a tractor-trailer barreled into a Berlin Christmas market, killing twelve. This carjacking, which made the national news just a little over a year ago, occurred three streets from my house.

I am not afraid of walking around in Mexico City.

Mexico was great, and I fully intend to return – hopefully at some point to the Oaxaca area (for me)  and (not on the same trip) to Palenque for my son. At least. As a beginning. I’m fascinated by the layers of culture in Mexico and the complexities of the Mexican identity. I’m not a romantic about Mexico – it has a fraught past and present, but what country doesn’t? And although I believe that US immigration is broken (who doesn’t?), Mexico’s approach to both immigration (from its south) and emigration (to its north) is characterized by cynicism, hypocrisy and opportunism. But you know what? Justin Trudeau is a tool and supports wretched public policy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back to Canada some day.

So. Here are the posts from the trip, in order. Oh, let me offer a few more practicalities for those interested.

We stayed in:

This apartment in Mexico City. Very well located, right next to the Four Seasons Hotel, one block of La Reforma, two blocks from the Chapultapec Park.

This hotel in Puebla. It was good for us because the room was very large – it was a family room, which meant there were four beds in two sections. The hotel was an old building with lovely tile floors and enormously high ceilings and a balcony. It might not be for everyone though – if you want a newer, shinier type of hotel experience, or at the very least, you want a good shower – stay somewhere else. Not having ever been to Puebla, I just wasn’t sure if I went for a higher priced hotel, what I would be paying for – I didn’t know what the centro was like – if it was clean, super-noisy or what. Now having been there I can say that any hotel you pick in the centro will be just fine.

Last night: Marriott Courtyard Mexico City. It’s more expensive than many hotels you would find, but you absolutely cannot beat the convenience – it is attached to Terminal 1 , from which all international flights (except for Delta) leave.  As we were trudging to check our bags Monday morning at 5:30 AM, I was so glad we hadn’t stayed anywhere else..

We didn’t take public transportation in Mexico City – we either walked or did Uber, which worked great for us. Same in Puebla. I was open to riding the subway in Mexico City – even though it’s kind of notorious to the point that they’ve instituted “Women and Children Only” cars – but we never needed it.

Mexico is a very inexpensive destination. Your dollars will go a long way…

 

Background – why we went to Mexico during Holy Week.

Sunday 3/25 – the trip down and the first evening in Mexico City.

Monday 3/26 – Teotihuacan and going to the movies in Mexico City.

Tuesday 3/27 – The National Museum of Anthropology, other parts of Chapultepec Park, and Lucha Libre

Wednesday 3/28 – The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Thursday 3/29 – Bus from Mexico City to Puebla;  Holy Thursday in Puebla

Friday 3/30 –  Good Friday in Puebla 

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday I – Cholula Pyramids and astonishing churches

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday 2 – Vigil-hopping and street food

Sunday 4/1 -2 – Easter Sunday – Mass in the Cathedral, museums and dance – and the bus back to Mexico City, and then the trip back on Monday. 

And this post!

For more photos and videos, see Instagram. 

 

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Tuesday morning here – the high schooler stumbled off to school at the usual time, but I’m letting the homeschooler sleep in. He has boxing this afternoon, and our main priority this week is reinvigorating the piano fingers that didn’t get exercised all last week – so he can rest. Plenty of learning happened last week, after all.

Let’s finish up Holy Saturday.

The taxi driver got us back to Puebla around 5, I think. I walked around a bit by myself while the boys chilled in the room, with the plan being to regroup around 7, then walk the city, peeking into  churches in which the Easter Vigil was ongoing, and eating here and there. We’d go to Mass from beginning to end in the morning – they would be happening every hour on the hour almost all day at the Cathedral.

First, a general comment. I really was not expecting commerce as usual to be the case – but it was, and that continued to Sunday. In Cholula, I’d asked a souvenir shop owner if shops would be open on Easter, and she nodded vigorously. “Oh yes,” she said, “It’s a very good day for us.”

So on Holy Saturday night, Puebla was bustling from end to end – just like a typical Saturday night, I’d imagine, and perhaps even more so, considering it was vacation.

The churches I looked in on this round of walking were still being set up and cleaned – in many of them the statues were still veiled, which was even the case when we looked in during Vigil Masses – is there a moment during the Vigil in which they are unveiled? I don’t know.

So below are some photos of that walk – notice that in one church, white balloons are a design feature. All I could imagine when I saw that were the inevitable sounds of popping during the coming Vigil….

Also go to this Instagram post for a video of a lovely light aria performance in a courtyard. (Click on the arrows superimposed on the first photo to see the rest in the post, if you are viewing it on a computer.)

 

Return to the room, pick up the boys walk some more. The younger one satisfied his curiosity about Mexican street corn – he liked about five bites of it and then that was enough. Logically speaking, I know that since mayonnaise is mostly oil, therefore it is fat and not radically distinct rom butter – still, I don’t care. The notion of corn slathered in mayonnaise is just gross. He’d had the cup version at a festival here and liked it, and really wanted to try the cob version – as I said, It was good for a few bites, then enough.

Every church we looked in during a Vigil Mass was full. (In case you are wondering about the propriety and awkwardness of just “looking in” during Mass – remember that these are all traditionally constructed churches fronting on busy streets. During Mass, the doors are flung wide open, and people do wander in and out constantly. A metaphor for faith in the midst of the world.)

Below are some photos. Go back to that Instagram post for video, which includes a  bit of recording of music.

Oh, and there was a weird light show on the Cathedral facade that we couldn’t make head or tail of.

Remember that I wrote that on Palm Sunday, the churches don’t just hand out palms – you bring your own, and most have been purchased at the church door from families selling, not just plain palms, but woven standards and even crucifixes they’ve constructed from palms. It’s the same with Easter Vigil candles – you bring your own, and there are people selling them at every church door. They’re not little taper candles with paper disc protectors – they’re pillar candles, some in glass, some not, and they’re all decorated in imitation of the Paschal candle. People who use candles that aren’t in glass supply their own holders, and most off what I saw were simple good sized plastic or Styrofoam bowls.

Also – there are no “worship aides” in Mexico, it seems. At least in none of the dozen or so churches I saw Masses and Good Friday happening in. Some people had their own published missals with them, but there was nothing in the pews or handed out. All music was sung without written copies. In the Cathedral there was a bit of solo and choir-only stuff that happened, but for most of it, the whole congregation sang from memory.

We returned to the room, and later, I set out by myself back to the Cathedral where the vigil would not be starting until 11. I had no intention of staying for the entire liturgy, but I wanted to see what they did with the fire and hear the Exsultet.

They didn’t do the fire outdoors (which they did in all the other churches we’d seen) – there is a huge courtyard and I don’t know why they couldn’t have built some awesome fire out there – it would be better than the silly light show – but they didn’t. Because of the awkwardness of the interior (remember it’s got this big organ/choir area in the middle of the Cathedral, with a few seats in between it and the altar and more to the side and behind) – I couldn’t really see what the fire was like, but I’m guessing it was just in the aisle in between choir and sanctuary. The Exsultet was magnificently sung, and guess what – even though it wasn’t in Latin, singing it in Spanish is just as smooth.

There’s video at this Instagram post. 

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We are home now – first stop Chick-fil-A, second stop washing machine, third stop Zaxby’s.

Home.

It’s still a miracle, really. Will I ever stop feeling the wonder at being in Mexico City at breakfast time, then home in time for lunch? I doubt it, and I don’t want to. It is a wonder, I’m grateful for it even as I feel a sense of unease at the sense of obligation it brings. Previous generations had it so hard and produced such beautiful, truthful things. I have it so easy, I have so much more time…what am I doing with it?

A question that weighs especially heavily after experiencing the highs – and in a more limited way – the lows – of a country like Mexico.

So, back to Saturday morning.

It did not begin well. Montezuma got me, and I can’t figure out where we met. Nothing but bottled water touched my lips. I didn’t have any fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in the preceding days. The only thing I can figure out is that Friday morning, we had breakfast and I had juevos awash in mole – I didn’t eat it all (they just drown things in mole sauce (why???), and to my palate it’s definitely overkill) – but I think that the little bit I did consume might have been it. Perhaps the mole had been reconstituted with local water and not heated at a high enough temperature to Kill Things. I don’t know. I do know it was miserable for a few hours there.

It took the morning for me to (mostly) recover. I sent the boys out a couple of times to wander, buy churros – whatever – just go. And they kept coming back like fifteen minutes later. Why are you here?

I took solace in the fact that if I, indeed, couldn’t get going at all that the Puebla centro is safe and interesting enough that they could, if seriously threatened, spend the whole day out there themselves, without me. (they’re almost 17 and 13, remember). There was a movie theater, too, if things got desperate.

But by about 11:30, I was confident enough of my system that I decided that our original Saturday plan could happen, albeit later than planned: Cholula.

Cholula is a neighboring town, but really, driving there, it seems more like a suburb. It’s six or seven miles away, but there’s no empty space between the two. The reason for going is this: what they think is probably the biggest pyramid, by volume, in the world.

Except you can’t see it!

For it’s under a hill and on top of the hill sits a church.

You can read about the pyramid here – in case you don’t know the reasons the MesoAmericans, particularly in central Mexico, could build their pyramids to such a great size is that they periodically enlarged them by building over them every few decades.

So, we Ubered it over there, startled by the immensity of the church-topped hill right there, with the town spread out around it. The driver let us out at a plaza lined with food and gift stalls, filled with visitors (it was Saturday, remember!) and in the middle of which were voladores, ready to take flight.

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What are voladores?

 The ritual ceremony of the Voladores (‘flying men’) is a fertility dance performed by several ethnic groups in Mexico and Central America, especially the Totonac people in the eastern state of Veracruz, to express respect for and harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds. During the ceremony, four young men climb a wooden pole eighteen to forty metres high, freshly cut from the forest with the forgiveness of the mountain god. A fifth man, the Caporal, stands on a platform atop the pole, takes up his flute and small drum and plays songs dedicated to the sun, the four winds and each of the cardinal directions. After this invocation, the others fling themselves off the platform ‘into the void’. Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hang from it as it spins, twirling to mimic the motions of flight and gradually lowering themselves to the ground.

It was interesting to see, although I don’t think “fling” describes the actions I saw. More like, “sit suspended and slowly start spinning while your hat-holding companions work the crowd below.”

I’m not going to recreate the next hour or so of activity step by step. Just know it involved: Seeing a huge line to enter the tunnel that’s been excavated through the pyramid. Getting the very clever idea that since we knew there was a museum associated with the pyramid, we’d avoid the line, get tickets for the experience at the museum and do that first. Getting ice cream. Going to the wrong museum. Going to the right museum, but being told we had to buy tickets at the tunnel entrance. Senora. Gracias. Waiting in line for thirty minutes (me sitting on a bench next to a rotating series of old Mexican men and women) to buy said tickets. Going through the tunnel.  Coming out the other side. Climbing up the hill to Our Lady of Remedies. Praying for just that. Very convenient. Climbing down and, knowing that we were on the complete opposite of the museum, saying, “forget it,” and heading into town instead.

With Mom fighting cramps every time her body changed position, it seemed. Which, you know, when you’re walking around, happens a lot.  Which explains why “forget it” is not exactly what she said in her head when understanding where the museum was in relation to where she ended up.

In all seriousness, it is an amazing sight, even though it’s a hill – for you know that under the hill lies an enormous pyramid and there you are on top of it with Our Lady of Remedies. The church is a lovely bright yellow, and it really does dominate the landscape of the town. In fact, as we left Puebla on Sunday, our bus drove on the highway several kilometers north – and I could see it from there.

Incidentally, Our Lady of Remedies, along with many other churches in the Puebla state, especially in and around Cholula, were heavily damaged in last fall’s earthquake. We saw a great deal of evidence of that – turrets and other features piled beside walls and so on.

 

What absorbed me most, though, was  the families. It’s not as if it were the first time  – in Mexico, that’s what you see most of – families, and most of the time, it’s multi-generational. Grandparents, parents, and children climbing the hill up to the church, waiting in line to enter the church, sharing a picnic, gathered at the top of the pyramid, under the shadow of Our Lady of Remedies. Little ones slung their buzzing, clacking toys around and wept at their dropped paletas, parents bounced babies in slings and grandparents, their stature usually about halfway between their children’s and grandchildren’s,  pointed out the features in the town spread out below and the volcanoes in the distance.

Deciding that our time in the two Archeology museums in Mexico City had probably been enough, we wandered into Cholula – as is the case with all Mexican towns, blocks of brightly painted buildings lined the streets and this being Holy Saturday, it was hopping. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, then found the Zocalo where we settled in for some lunch at a stand, then shopped a bit more – there was an extensive book section under the tent, and I bought several easy versions of classics in Spanish – probably 3rd-5th grade – the Iliad, The Invisible Man and a collection of Poe stories. We’ll see how serious our burgeoning MesoAmerican naturalist/scholar really is about learning Spanish, won’t we?

I then followed the lead of this blogger, found a taxi, and asked him if he would take us to two churches on the outskirts off Cholula and then back to Puebla – he agreed ($300 pesos was his price – about $15).

The churches?

First, St. María Tonantzintla. I got up at 4:30 am, and I’m tired, so I’ll let the other blogger fill you in:

Santa María Tonantzintla was constructed in the 17th century as a church for the local indigenous people. As was typical in Mexico, the local people incorporated many of their own beliefs into their religious symbols. This fusion produces a style which some refer to as “indigenous baroque”.

The church has a yellow body, but is nicely set off with red tile. The front ornamentation is rather simple, with figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary enclosed in niches along the front. The overall look is very pleasant.

It’s the inside where things get more interesting. A riot of figures cover every surface. The impact is stunning, your eyes are drawn over and over the surfaces, examining the many details. You can see children, birds, angels, flowers, and many other symbols. All are painstakingly crafted from plaster, then carefully painted or gilded.

I’ll go further than he does about the exterior – it’s not just “pleasant” – it’s distinctive and singular. The interior is as he describes it, and, as he continues – you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside. The people sell photographs and postcards and even a small book, and really, why not support them in their dedication to their own parish?

 

Our Cathedral rector traveled to this church a few years ago and snapped some interior photos after celebrating Mass – enjoy! 

Just a mile away is San Francisco Apatapec, fascinating and even startling because it’s so different than the first church – yes, the commonalities in structure indicate a proximity in construction, but instead of red tile, the second church is adorned with Talavera tile. I was a little restricted in photography because they had set up a tent that reached from the front door to the courtyard opening – I couldn’t get a good long view but I think you get the sense of it. Click on photos to get a larger version.

 

 

Aren’t they amazing?

And note – these are not located in the midst of grand cities or wealthy neighborhoods. What surrounds them may not be squalor, but it’s not a gated community either. It’s hardscrabble small town Mexico.

And of course, we were popping in on Holy Saturday afternoon, remember. Both churches were busy with preparation – people were dusting, scouring, trimming and arranging flowers. So here you have it: Beautiful – no, stunning – churches that are not imposed on or extracted from the sufferings of the poor by authoritarian hierarchs, but stand tall, rather, as expressions of the people’s love and worship of God, exploding with hope and trust in the Beauty that waits for them.

As I said…flight was at 7 am, which meant a 4:30 am wake-up. Thank goodness we were in an airport hotel. I might still be in Mexico City if it were otherwise. I’ll post on the rest of Saturday tomorrow. On Tuesday. Got it?

I’ll violate my general aversion to putting video on the blog (because you can’t resize them)  by sticking this one of the voladeros here:

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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.

IMG_20180329_203349.jpg

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. 

 

 

 

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