Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe Torch Run

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers. BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
                            Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (2001: Counterpoint)

Getting ready to leave Atlamajalcingo del Río with everyone's belongings
I thought of these lines this past week as I was accompanying a group of eighty-two persons participating in a “Guadalupan Torch Run” from the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City back to their home towns of Tlapa and Atlamajalcingo del Río. We arrived home on December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Father Bernardo blessing the uniforms that will be worn by the participants in the relay run
The Diocese of Tlapa has over 700 towns and villages, and there are very few of them that do not have a group participating in a Guadalupan relay run. Some towns have two or three groups (or more: Tlapa has about ten). Most people suggest that about 5,000 persons from the mountains here participate directly in the run.
Some of the organizers of the Guadalupan Torch Run
We left Tlapa at 9 o’clock on Wednesday night (December 9) and drove all night to Mexico City. We arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at 5 in the morning on Thursday (December 10), and the runners, some with guitars and mandolins, went to the shrine to sing “las Mañanitas” (early morning serenade) to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Later came participation in two different Masses, one in the older shrine dating from the 1500s and another in the newer shrine built in the late 1970s. A torch was lit from a candle in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe; as well, a large backup candle was lit in case the flame in the torch died out during the run back to the mountains of Guerrero.
The scene in the plaza in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
At about 3 PM (Thursday) we drove from the Shrine to Chalco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, and there the 82 runners began running the torch back to Tlapa (with one group of 22 planning to then continue on to their village of Atlamajalcingo del Río). It is a relay run: the runners are spaced out about every hundred meters, although the distance varies depending on the age and physical abilities of the runner.
One young runner with a copy of the tilma (cloak) that Juan Diego showed to the bishop in 1531
At about midnight we stopped for a few hours beside a gasoline station in Cuautla. The runners stretched out on the pavement and tried to rest. At 5 AM (Friday, December 11)) the run started again. This lasted all day, until we arrived in Huamuxtitlan, once again at midnight. There a family offered the floors of several rooms in their house and the backyard for all runners to rest for a few hours.
Running at sunrise along the highway between Cuautla and Izucar de Matamoros
At 6 AM on Saturday, December 12, we left Huamuxtitlan and the relay run continued to Tlapa. Entering Tlapa at about 9 AM, the people of a neighborhood called Contlalco offered everyone a hot breakfast. Then the sixty persons from Tlapa prepared to go in procession with their Guadalupan torch to the cathedral. The twenty-two runners from Atlamajalcingo del Río lit their own torch, and we continued on for another ninety minutes or so to their village. There the people were waiting to receive the runners with great joy.
Runners heading toward the parish church in Atlamajalcingo del Río
At 12 noon the bishop of Tlapa arrived in Atlamajalcingo del Río to celebrate Mass. After that celebration, there was a meal for everyone. Then—for me at least—home to bed.
Bishop Dagoberto blessing people as they go into the church for Mass
During these days of the run, I asked many people why they participated in this very tiring, difficult, and dangerous (since there are so many narrow roads) run. All referred to their love for “Lupita,” the affectionate name given to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many told stories of how she had blessed their lives. Their responses weren’t “explanations” in any “analytical” sense (thus, my initial quote), but their heartfelt words reminded me of Albert Einstein’s words in 1932 that “the most beautiful and deepest experience a [person] can have is the sense of the mysterious…” These people have that.
A mother and daughter running their part of the relay
Or, to follow up on that initial quote by Wendell Berry that began this blog, later in that same book called Jayber Crow, Berry writes: “And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will.” This is what I heard many of the runners suggest—except that, for them, Our Lady of Guadalupe plays a vital role in that “being led.”
Lalo during one of his many relays
It was a blessing and an honor to accompany these beautiful people in their “Guadalupan Torch Run.” They definitely earned my respect and admiration. National surveys in Mexico suggest that about 83% of Mexicans “believe” in Our Lady of Guadalupe; but those same surveys suggest that among the impoverished indigenous peoples, almost 100% “believe” in Our Lady of Guadalupe. This belief impacts their understandings of life, their imaginations, and, most importantly, their actions. I am grateful that these noble people allow me to learn from them and with them. What an incredible blessing!
The procession to the parish church in Atlamajalcingo del Río

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