Saturday, December 13, 2008
Revering a symbol of Mexican faith and identity
From the NY Times
She came into New York across the George Washington Bridge, a gold-framed portrait of a brown-skinned Virgin Mary escorted by a procession of pilgrims in gray jogging sweats.
A few carried torches that, along with the image of Mexico’s beloved Virgin of Guadalupe, left the Roman Catholic basilica in Mexico City that bears her name two months ago and reached St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday morning.
Jose Reyes, a stout 45-year-old construction worker who lives in the Bronx, got up at 4:30 a.m. with other members of his parish there, Immaculate Conception Church, to accompany the portrait into the city. Many local Catholic parishes with large Mexican congregations took part in the procession, a celebration of the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As he walked through Manhattan, Mr. Reyes said, a sense of pride filled his spirit.
“It’s indescribable what you feel when you’re walking with her, knowing that she came all the way from where your roots began,” he said after a 10 a.m. Mass at the historic Fifth Avenue cathedral.
For many in the procession, the grandeur of the city’s concrete monoliths, its wealth and its well-dressed denizens briefly faded amid memories of humble towns in Mexico, of families crossing borders to be together for the holidays and of children playing in timeless colonial church plazas.
It is a common saying that you are not really Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990, wrote that “after two centuries of experiment and failure, the Mexican people only believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”
According to Mexican lore, the Virgin appeared in December 1531 before an indigenous farmer and laborer named Juan Diego Cuautlatoatzin. The brown-skinned apparition told Juan Diego that she was the mother of Jesus and that she wanted a church on the Tepeyac Hill, the site of a former Aztec temple dedicated to the goddess Tonantzin.
Both Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe are passionately revered as holy incarnations of Mexican identity. Recognizing their evangelical significance, Pope John Paul II, who canonized Juan Diego in 2002, declared the Virgin of Guadalupe “Queen of the Americas.”
The portrait that arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday morning is a replica of the revered image kept at the Mexico City basilica. The portrait, about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, left Mexico City two months ago, and was brought by vehicle across the border, across the country and into New York, followed by pilgrims on foot and in cars.
During the Mass on Friday morning, the image was placed to the right of the altar. On the left was an image of Juan Diego.
Hundreds of Mexican families brought their young children in simple, traditional clothing for a special blessing toward the end of the Mass. The boys were dressed to look like Juan Diego, with a tilma, or cloak, bearing the image of the Virgin. In the story, that image was proof of her appearance on Tepeyac Hill.
“If there are any Juan Dieguitos, you can come up,” Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie said in Spanish. “We welcome all the children for this special blessing.”
Boys, from infants to toddlers, their upper lips sporting mustaches drawn with makeup or face paint, were brought up to the altar, some of them crying. Within seconds, the monsignor disappeared amid dozens of Mexican families. Only the hand he used to bless the children could be seen rising from the crowd.
Hipolito Garcia, a 35-year-old warehouse worker from Union City, N.J., brought his 5-month-old son, Rigo, and 3-year-old daughter, Roselyn, to the Mass for the blessing. Mr. Garcia is an illegal immigrant who is trying to gain legal residency through his wife, Teresa Calyeca, a United States citizen.
Mr. Garcia, who came to the New York City area from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala in 1991, said his prayers on Friday were for the legalization of the millions of Mexican immigrants “sin papeles,” or without papers.
“We also pray for a better economy,” Mr. Garcia said. “I have a job now, thank God. But we pray for things to improve all over. This economic crisis is worldwide.”
The portrait that made the trip from Mexico is owned by the Asociación Tepeyac de New York, an education and advocacy group that organized the procession, said a Mexico City government official who was at the Mass.