Sunday, December 21, 2014

Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Mountains

There is no doubt but that the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the major events of the year in the villages of the mountains of Guerrero.
Altar dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral of Tlapa
Over 5,000 (mostly) young people from hundreds of villages and towns in the Diocese of Tlapa travel to Mexico City during the days leading up to the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. Then, on December 8 or 9 or 10 (depending on the distance), they begin a relay run from the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe (located in Mexico City) back to their village, carrying a torch that was lit at the shrine itself. The runners tend to space themselves out at intervals of a hundred meters or so; after they pass on the torch, they are picked up by a truck and driven to the front of the line again.
One relay runner passing the torch to another on the way to Tototepec
Upon arrival in their village on December 12, the runners are received like royal dignitaries, with fireworks, confetti, flowers, music bands, processions, and a religious ceremony in the church. Everyone wants to light a candle from the torch that has come directly from the shrine in Mexico City.
One relay runner passing the torch to another on the way to Tototepec
Most of the villages organize a retreat in early December for the runners who will be participating in the relay run. Since I teach Scripture at the diocesan seminary, I was invited to speak with the young people in several villages about Mary in the Bible.
A runner from Atlamalcingo del Rio
Besides just sharing information about Mary in the gospels (and her one appearance in the Acts of the Apostles), I invited the participants to reflect on what it means to them to participate in this particular “devotion” to Mary. At the wedding feast at Cana, Mary invited the servants to do what her son asked of them. In the Magnificat, Mary refers to the humbling of the proud and the filling up of the hungry. What might it mean to us today in the mountains to have a devotion toward such a woman?
An all-male group from Tlapa praying for peace and a "better Tlapa"
In the Nican Mopohua, the 16th-century document in Nahuatl that refers to the appearance of Mary to the indigenous Mexican Juan Diego in 1531, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, tells Juan Diego that she wants a church built among the conquered, impoverished indigenous people so that “there I will listen to their weeping, their sadness, to remedy, to cleanse and nurse all their different troubles, their miseries, their suffering.” What might those words mean today? Are we invited today to participate in this same mission?
Azucena and her son Robert running toward Tototepec
I also asked the runners what they intended to think about while they were standing by the side of the road waiting to receive the torch or what they intended to think about while carrying the torch. I remember quoting on a few occasions Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s quote in God in Search of Man [sic] that “awareness of the divine begins with wonder,” and Catholic philosopher John Caputo’s quote in The Insistence of God that “if the name of God is not causing us a great deal of difficulty, it is not God we are talking about.” What might these thinkers have meant; how might that impact our experience during the relay run?
An all-female group from Tlapa
Finally, I invited the runners to share about what their hopes were in terms of this relay run. What difference did they hope it would make in their own lives? What difference did they hope it would make in the village’s life? Would the Mary of the Bible—who is Our Lady of Guadalupe—hope that the flame of the torch might “image” a flame in our hearts that would not soon burn out?
The Guadalupan group for 2014 from Tototepec
It was an honour and a blessing to have this time with the relay runners. I think they enjoyed the interaction during the retreat, and I hope that the interaction helped them to experience their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in a profound way. I know it has helped me.

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