Editor’s note: Bishop Robert J. Baker recently led a group of diocesan pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Following is one participant’s account of this journey.
By DIANE TODD
We are 10 pilgrims who began our journey to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 9. We gathered at Charleston International Airport for an early morning flight to Houston, where we changed planes for our flight into Mexico City. Millions of other pilgrims were also journeying to this holy site for the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day celebrations.
We first met in Charleston, some traveling from the Columbia area and even one traveling from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Our group was shepherded by Bishop Robert J. Baker, who was assisted by Father Basil Congo, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Charleston. Other pilgrims were Florence Abole of North Charleston, Mely and Sinforoso Elephante of North Charleston, Bill Iglesias of Charleston, Louise Jardine of Charleston, Frances Moeller of Columbia, Monica Szymanski of Chapin, and Diane Todd of Gaithersburg, Md.
We came to this pilgrimage site of Our Lady of Guadalupe during this jubilee year for many reasons, but with one focus to give praise and honor to the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the patroness of the Americas, and the patroness of the unborn.
Once we arrived in Mexico City, we were greeted by our guide, driver, and master of ceremonies, Salvatore, who whisked us away to the Hotel Metropol, which became our home for our stay in Mexico. Once we unpacked, we walked to a nearby church, where Bishop Baker and Father Congro concelebrated a wedding Mass with a local parish priest. It was an event to remember, with many customs different from our own in the United States. Back at the hotel, we were joined by Mely and Sin, who missed the flight from Houston, but arrived in time for dinner.
On Sunday morning, we traveled to our first pilgrimage site, the one that commemorates the first miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This shrine was built on the site where Blessed Juan Diego’s uncle was cured by Our Lady of Guadalupe during her third apparition to Blessed Juan Diego. Bishop Baker and Father Congro concelebrated Mass at this shrine with a priest from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
After Mass, we were anointed with holy oils from the shrine of St. Philomena. Then, we were on the road to our next stop Acolman, a 16th century monastery. At this church we noticed that the people brought their dogs to church. The dogs were quite well behaved, however. We visited the museum and saw where 16th century Mass was held in an amphitheater setting and where early converts received instruction on their faith. We were gathered into the van and were driven to an Indian cooperative, where we saw a demonstration of some of the uses of the century plant. The fiber of this plant was the same as that used in Blessed Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak, which has maintained to this day its sacred and miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We sampled some native beverages and paid a short visit to the cooperative’s shop where their native wares were sold.
Salvatore again gathered his pilgrims into the van for a short trip to a native restaurant where a buffet was provided. After lunch we traveled to the archeological zone of early Aztec culture, the pyramids of the moon and the sun. Here we learned about the many temples that have been discovered during the last century. Many have been restored for visitors to see a culture that dates back to 200 B.C.
The group re-formed after a visit to the open-air souvenir tables. We witnessed this day a phenomenon which was repeated over the next few days. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an eternal flame burns. Each day, representatives from churches and villages throughout the country arrive at the basilica, where they light a torch and bring it back to their villages for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These runners are followed by buses and open trucks decorated with large reproductions of Our Lady and adorned with lights, flowers, and streamers. Fellow villagers riding in the ornate vehicles cheer the runners on to their destination. For the next two days, we saw these and many other groups of people walking, running, biking and driving to the city for the feast day activities.
On Monday we took to the road for a long trip to the healing Shrine of St. Michael, the Archangel. St. Michael appeared to Diego Lazaro de San Francisco three times in 1631 and showed him a spring of miraculous water. Diego took water from this spring and distributed it to the sick at the local hospital, where all who drank it regained perfect health. After Mass we obtained water from the well to bring back home with us. We traveled to Ocatlan and the site of the miracle of Our Lady of Ocatlan. We visited the healing spring and took advantage of its healing waters. We drove to the church of Our Lady of Ocatlan, where her miraculous image is enshrined. We were able to pray the rosary in a private chamber behind the main altar. The sisters who live adjacent to the shrine provided lunch and accommodations where we freshened up.
After lunch, we took advantage of the courtyard to take photos, and then drove to the 17th century cathedral in Ocatlan, which had been recently visited by Spain’s queen mother, who has been providing for its restoration. This church was built on the site of some of the first baptisms performed in America. Bishop Baker was allowed to enter its ancient pulpit/ambo, where he gave a very brief (two-sentence) sermon. We then began our two-hour return trip to Mexico City.
As this was the eve of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we saw many more pilgrims going to Mexico City than we did the day before. We also saw fireworks and heard gunfire which signaled the beginning of the rosary at churches that do not have bell towers.
That night at the hotel, most of us stayed up to watch the 11 p.m. live television coverage from the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The more adventurous went down to the plaza to see the festivities live. Either way, we were able to witness the adoration that the Mexican people have for Our Lady of the Americas. At midnight, everyone sang happy birthday, Mexican-style, to Our Lady, which was followed by Mass.
The following day was the culmination of our trip, our visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day, followed by a walking tour of Tepeyec Hill. We were able to take part in the Mass of the Roses, where Cardinal Romero of Mexico City accepted bouquets of roses and many other gifts brought by pilgrims from throughout North America. Both Bishop Baker and Father Congro took part in this Mass, which was the high point of the pilgrimage. Afterward, they were given rose bouquets by Cardinal Romero, which they shared with us. While we shopped at a religious articles shop, Bishop Baker and Father Congro toured Tepeyac Hill and then joined us for lunch at a Mexican McDonald’s. We walked back to our van, along streets lined with vendors and native Indian dancers. Many pictures were taken that day, including one of Father Congro donning a native headdress.
We went to the sight where Blessed Juan Diego was baptized and then toured the third largest plaza in the world, where the Cathedral of Mexico and the offices of Mexico’s president is located. Back at the hotel, we gathered for our last dinner in Mexico.
Since we had an early morning departure, we were up early. Salvatore received a blessing from both Bishop Baker and Father Congro, after each of us had given him our farewells. It was difficult to bid farewell to these happy people, but most of all to Our Lady of Guadalupe. But we knew that she will always be with us as the mother of Our Lord and as patroness of the Americas.