On my way back from a visit to the US I decided to stop in Mexico City to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As I walked from the METRO (subway) to the grounds of the shrine, passing beggars and vendors of all sorts, I saw the old basilica at the end of the street – a welcoming sight.
Entering the grounds and approaching the new basilica, I could see the tilma of Juan Diego above the altar in the rather modernistic basilica. The image is smaller than I had thought and is high above the main altar.
I passed in front of the image a few times and then, after a visit to the shop in the basilica, I entered the basilica for the next Mass, which was accompanied by children and teachers from a Catholic school.
You cannot get very close to the image but have to pass on moving walks under the image. I passed there many times – but it seems strange craning your neck to see the image (and take photos).
Then I decided to walk around the grounds, visiting the various churches and the museum. I was deeply moved by the bright image of San Juan Diego above the altar in the Antique Parroquia de los Indios.
Then I passed to the Capilla del Pocito, the site of an ancient well. Entering the church and passing by the well there is a strong smell, possibly sulfur. The well shows the effects of earthquakes and other movements of the earth.
The church has paintings of the four apparitions. As I read the descriptions, I noted a classic translation fail. More on that later.
But then I walked to the area call La Ofrenda. There is a life-sized panorama of statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe with people, mostly indigenous, coming to pay her homage. I do not know how authentic they are, but I was moved especially by the man offering incense and the child offering lilies.
But then I walked nearby and came across an image of Juan Bernardino, the sick uncle of Juan Diego. On his woven mat, un metate, he is reaching out to the Virgin who appeared to him and healed him.
As I approached the area, I was three young people from Jalisco in native clothing taking pictures. I offered to take a picture of all of them and they were glad. I was glad to see young people, conserving their indigenous identity and their Catholic faith. Passing them later, I heard them speaking a language other than Spanish.
As I reflected later that day, I was not very moved by what I saw except for the image of Juan Diego, the statues in La Ofrenda, and the young people I encountered. Even though I passed by the image many times, I was not moved by the image – as much as by bronze sculptures of Juan Diego by the moving walkways.
I think it was partly because I am more moved by the story and by the encounter of Mary and the Americas, in the person of Juan Diego than by an image. Also, I had no one to really share the experience with.
But I decided to return the next day. I sat for Mass in a different place and saw the image from a different angle – with the cross at one side and an image of Juan Diego at the other. Sitting quietly, waiting for Mass, I felt much more connected to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe - who makes sense in the light of the Cross and in the light of the indigenous of the Americas.
As I left I saw two people approaching the basilica on their knees in the plaza in front of the church. I had seen two during Mass the first day.
During that second visit I experienced a peace that still pervades me, as I have returned home to Honduras.