Sunday, December 10, 2006

El Mundo Viene a Tepeyac

This weekend in Mexico City, things have kicked into high gear in the run-up as yesterday's memorial of St Juan Diego signals the home stretch toward Tuesday's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

If you've never seen it, there's nothing like it. As with no other saint or apparition under any title, Guadalupe is the defining symbol of the Mexican people, both at home and in the diaspora. For them, the Empress of the Americas (that's her title) isn't an object of distance or cold reverence, but "Mamacita" -- "Mommy" -- the queen, mother, essence and protectress of the nation.

For the feast and these days leading up to it, her children return to Tepeyac by the millions, and those who can't actually be there transport themselves in spirit the world over, filling cathedrals and other large churches in the dark of night for the traditional late-night vigil of the Mañanitas and Midnight Mass. (The shots here come from last Sunday's celebration in East Los Angeles, where 30,000 showed up. Among them was none less than Msgr Diego Monroy Ponce, the rector of the Guadalupe Basilica.... And as further proof of her reach, on Tuesday a Guadalupe monument will be dedicated in... Kansas.)

If you've never seen it, tomorrow night's Mañanitas will rock you to your core. If you can tune into Univisión, do so -- they've already got wall-to-wall coverage. The Big Night begins at 11pm Eastern, with celebrity anchors in the plaza, correspondents in satellite hotspots and all the media trappings of a papal visit, just without the Pope.

Just when you were convinced that the Anglo church was off to hell in a handbasket and had reached the point of no return in its reenactment of the Donatist heresy, beholding the experience is a comforting reminder that, in a universal church, hope springs eternal and we have so much still to learn and embrace... if we keep our eyes, and ourselves, open to it. Not to mention that, with the Aztec dancers and drummers, people of all stripes and all sorts of cultural dress leading the crowds in speaking to the Tilma in the most sincere, affectionate and loving of terms, it's one of the best and most effective examples of inculturation you'll ever see, not to mention one of the most pure, sincere mass manifestations of faith you'll ever find. Ever.

The ironic thing is, one of the US Catholicism's biggest nights -- quite possibly its biggest, Christmas and Easter Vigil included -- keeps taking place every year while its Anglo contingent is, literally, sleeping... and while it fades ever quicker into the minority.

According to the latest numbers, Latino Catholics make up for 42 percent of the church in America, having provided 90% of its growth in the post-Conciliar period. Especially on this 475th anniversary of the apparitions to Juan Diego, it's too beautiful, and too significant, an event to let slip by -- the ceremonies in Mexico City are echoed before throngs in LA, New York, San Antonio, Detroit, Phoenix, Denver, and a horde of other places.

A friend of mine just got back from her first trip to Mexico, and was able to see this in a very real way. She told me of a man she met who was planning to bike the 160 kilometers from his town to Guadalupe to be there for the feast, of people who devote their life savings to buying one nice suit or dress for the day they're able to climb Tepeyac, to the innumerable images of the Tilma, far as the eye could see, carried and worn to the shrine basilica and the plaza outside, on T-shirts, on posters, in flowers.

The latter were taken up an emotional notch last year, as a new rendering flew off the shelves depicting Guadalupe with our first Mexican Pope -- Wojtyla, in case you couldn't figure it out -- resting in the nook of her shoulder. Apparently, those images were in high evidence again this year.

So if you can watch, watch. For far-flung readers, stay tuned for a load of shots and stories on the feast.

AP/Danny Moloshok