December 2021 - Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray for Us!
Some reflections on the deacons' recent trip to Mexico.
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
From the sky, Mexico City looks like any other big city; it is impressive how large it looks from the plane. It is in fact the second largest city in the world, home to over 20 million people making it the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. This metropolis has always been a large and populous city even from the time of the Aztecs. It is located in a valley and was initially built over a lake, the Lago de Texcoco. The Aztecs created artificial islands by dumping soil into the lagoon. This past engineering feat has resulted in the Metropolitan Cathedral now sinking at a rate of 15-20 inches a year.
This city is where the recent pilgrimage of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary deacons accompanied by another professor and myself began. We ventured here to experience for a week a Catholic culture. The Catholic Church has always had a great influence in the city, and religious orders like the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits established convents and missions throughout Mexico. The city is most famously the home of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the tilma of Juan Diego. Its cathedral is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
For a country that was entirely pagan to become so profoundly Catholic in a short time is one of the marvels of Mexico. Everyone has heard about the horrors witnessed by Cortés when he arrived in Mexico City, the center of the Aztec empire. Thanks to the sacrifices of many Catholic missionaries that followed and the visitation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the pagan idols and altars of unholy offerings were toppled and Christianity was rooted on the ruins of the original city. Upon entering Mexico and interacting with the people, one immediately senses their deep devotion and faith. It is the home of 19 SSPX priests that serve thousands of faithful here. Our group of deacons was able to witness fellow members of the SSPX working in the mission field in a country where Catholicism is still something tangible.
The first night of our trip was spent at the district house of Mexico in Mexico City where we were hosted by the district superior Reverend Father Pierre Mouroux. The next day we had the Holy Mass at the convent of the Minimas, right next to the priory, before heading into the city to visit the tilma at the Basilica. As happy as we were to see the miraculous image of Our Lady, it is hard to miss that the new basilica is an architectural horror. The old basilica, which is next to the new one, is a beautiful and ornate work of art (despite being on a slight angle because it is sinking). The present basilica looks more like a spaceship than a church; however, to witness the many pious Catholics giving honor to their Virgin Mother was an edifying experience.
In the afternoon, we traveled south in the city to the Shrine of Fr. Miguel Pro, a famous Mexican martyr during the Cristero War who was executed by a firing squad on November 23, 1927. At this time, the Masons had gained control of Mexico, but the faith of the people could not be extinguished and many martyrs were made. That night we headed south again through the swarming roads of Mexico City to the city of Puebla, with a couple of close encounters with other vehicles on the way.
We spent the night in Puebla, home of a new church for the Society. A beautiful baroque church is under construction there with a priory and school attached. Puebla famously has 365 churches in it, one for every day of the year. In the morning, our pilgrimage Mass was celebrated for around 40 thrilled faithful who came at an early hour to have the Mass. After a good Mexican breakfast we headed into the city to see the Basílica Catedral de Puebla, the most important church here. There is a legend that angels de- scended from heaven to place a particularly heavy bell in one of the towers of the cathedral, and that there is an underground river that flows under one of the towers. Afterwards, we went to the Convento de Santa Monica and then to Templo Conventual de San Fran- cisco, a beautiful baroque church and one of the oldest churches in the city. On both sides of the entrance is incredible tile work which is traditional to Puebla and on the left of the church is a 63meter high tower (which is over 200 feet tall!).
Later, we traveled 6 hours by car north-west to the city of León in the state of Guanajuato. It is the home of the family of one of the deacons who were our gracious hosts for the rest of the trip. In León we went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Light which is the headquarters of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of León. We also visited the Expiatory Church of the Sacred Heart, a neo-Gothic church that the people of León have been building since 1929. Underneath the church are extensive catacombs with seven crypts which contain the remains of more than 900 people. That evening we went to the city of Lagos de Moreno north of León to visit the Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption where there is the incorrupt body of St. Hermion, a young boy who was martyred around 300 A.D. during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian.
The following day we drove to the Cerro del Cubilete ("Dice Cup Hill") in Guanjuato, the country's geographical center, to see the Cristo Rey statue which stands on top the church at the summit of the mountain as a visible testament to the faith of the local com- munity. That night we visited the town of Guanajuato, the home of many beautiful baroque churches including the church of St. Cayetan, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato. The statue Our Lady of Guanajuato in the basilica is the oldest sculpture of the Virgin in America. It dates back to the conquest of Spain by the Muslims, in 714, when they took Granada. The Granada Catholics, fearful that the invaders would do something to their Virgin, hid her in a humid underground cave where she remained hidden for eight hundred years. The statue was rediscovered in the middle of the 16th century and gifted to the city of Guanajuato in 1557 to the mining town because of the wealth it sent to Spain.
On Sunday, the main Mass at the SSPX chapel Our Lady of the Rosary in León was offered by myself with the seminarians singing the Mass. The rest of the day was spent socializing with the faithful and playing some volleyball and basketball with parishioners.
On our return to the United States something that was impressed on each of the deacons was that we were leaving a place unlike any they had ever seen or experienced. The culture, the people, the way of life was one very different from the status quo back at home. The people of México have something special because their country has roots that are Catholic; their way of life is built upon a spirit that recognizes that we work and make beautiful things for God. It is not a way of life that revolves around efficiency, but rather one that values beauty for beauty's sake. The trip provided a nice breath of fresh air and impelled every one of us to aspire to be carriers and transmitters of the beauty of the Catholic culture which is ours.
The beautiful Catholic Mexican culture was lovingly arranged by Our Lady of Guadalupe just as she lovingly arranged the Castillean roses in Juan Diego’s tilma. Their devotion to Her is witnessed throughout the country and images of their beloved Virgin can be found on roadsides, cafes, shops and homes. She has brought hope to her children just as she did with Juan Diego on the road to Tepeyac when she spoke these words, ““Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” Let us also derive hope from her motherly solicitude as we entrust ourselves, our families, and our nation to her, who is Empress of the Americas.
“Christianity, even when watered down, is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags.”
In Christo Sacerdote et Maria,
Fr. Yves le Roux