Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Live from Tepeyac

Atop a hill on a winter's night, before 50,000 pilgrims inside, two million in the plaza outside and an inter-continental television audience estimated at about 100 million, what can only be called the global church's answer to the Super Bowl -- complete with athletes, sequined dancers, mariachis and performing celebs -- is underway at the Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City.

As many roses as people... pilgrims crying, pilgrims cheering... everyone singing along -- and everyone, everyone, saying "¡Gracias, Mamita!" "¡Gracias, Madre Santa!": "Thanks, Mommy!" "Thank you, Holy Mother!"

Passion being a universal language, you can tell they mean it... and you know that they know she's there... and you realize that Immaculate Conception will never, ever, be as exciting. Or beautiful. Or radiant.

At its climax, at half past midnight, the score of pre-Mass performers gathered behind the phalanx of vested concelebrants, led by Shrine rector Msgr Diego Monroy Ponce, and all together -- literally, the voices of millions as one -- to sing "Las Mañanitas"...
Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David, Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti....

(These are the little mornings that King David sang,
today for your saint's day we sing them to you....)
...levántate, virgencita -- mira que ya amaneció.

(Wake up, little virgin -- the sunrise has come.)
And at that final line, electric cheers -- the sound of ecstasy, the "yes" of belief -- rang out, of the kind you'll never find anywhere else, try though you might.

Trying to begin the Mass -- as folks keep trying to rush forward toward the altar and the tilma -- Monroy lifted his voice. As he praised the "Sweet Lady of Heaven, our Mother Guadalupe" inside, though, the clamor beyond the opened walls of the modern, stadium-esque basilica was coming not from the liturgical responses, but more cheers, exultant hollering, shouts, and, literally, bells and whistles.

Think Times Square on New Year's midnight and you've got the picture. Actually, more like a mere shade of it.

I've long loved this night, and it just gets better and better as the years go on.

Univision -- the Spanish-language network in the States -- is doing its usual all-out coverage from multiple spots, but cutting it short this year. At 3am.

In a pre-Mass interview with the outlet, Monroy summed up what Guadalupe is for her faithful at home and abroad: "She is our hope, protection, our help, our defense -- our identity." (His emphasis.)

The rector made a particular note of saluting the Mexican emigres tuning in, expressing his gratitude and praise for how their love of God and their loyalty to the "Empress of the Americas" -- the title given Guadalupe by Pius XII -- have remained strong in the face of trial.

Later, turning toward the tilma in his homily, Monroy asked the "Morenita de Tepeyac" to keep watch "in a special way" over her immigrant children, especially those "who have found sorrow, loneliness, illness, discrimination and abuses" on the other side of what he termed a "paralyzing wall" -- a thinly-veiled reference to the Mexico-US border.

"Sustain them with the joy of your presence," Monroy prayed.

In its first turn at hosting the event in New York, the rector of St Patrick's Cathedral Msgr Robert Ritchie noted to Univision that Stateside Catholicism's most-storied temple "was built by immigrants 150 years ago.

"And now, tonight," Ritchie said, "we welcome and embrace the new immigrants."

The cathedral was filled to its capacity of 2,700, with floods more outside its doors. (And, for the record, the network mistakenly identified the St Pat's rector as Gotham's Basque-born auxiliary and vicar for Hispanics, Bishop Josu Iriondo.)

A traditional New York hotspot for packed Guadalupe Day liturgies, Cardinal Edward Egan will wrap the city's celebrations there with the feast's final Mass tonight.

PHOTOS 1-2: AP/Miguel Tovar
PHOTO 3: AP/Claudio Cruz