It's a Sunday mass in Spanish. Despite our little grasp of the language, we went inside, egged on by this faithful crowd, into the cavernous Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church was packed, those among us who didn't come earlier for this 9 AM mass had to stand up at the back. We didn't mind, we were in the house of God and it felt good. And a great way to start immersing in the culture of a foreign land. The Lady, after all, is a national symbol for all Mexicans.
Visiting the basilica from downtown isn't a hassle despite its 'outskirts' location. After a free breakfast of enchiladas at the hostel, we walked to the nearest subway station at Isabel La Catolica. Two things that immediately struck me - not only is their subway much cleaner than New York City's, the fare is outrageously cheap at only 3 pesos (about 23 cents!).
We bought the tickets (boleto) at a booth where a very friendly agent offered us subway maps. There are 12 lines crisscrossing the entire metropolitan area and the price is the same regardless of distance. It took 2 train transfers - with two very long walks to transfer points (correspondencias) - before we disembarked at La Villa-Basilica Station. The flow of people on a Sunday morning meant all we had to do was follow 'em.
|The old and new|
In a country full of old churches, our first one in Mexico isn't that old. Built sometime in the 1970s, the circular basilica is where the original image of the blue-mantled Virgin of Guadalupe appears on a tilma (cloak or apron). This Marian apparition was seen by a native Indian named Juan Diego in December 9, 1531. The tilma now hangs in a bullet-proof, temperature-controlled enclosure right above the main altar.
|Standing Room Only mass|
Adjacent is the Old Basilica, officially known as Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey, built in 1531 at the very site of the apparition where the Virgin Mary commanded Juan Diego to have a church erected. This was where the tilma used to be displayed. There's a hill behind the two basilicas called Tepeyac with several smaller churches dotting it.
On the road leading to the basilica square, stalls selling religious stuff and other tourist kitsch abound. Quite interesting was how some enterprising Mexicans have converted an old building into a rest room (or WC) for a fee! Meanwhile, a nearby American Embassy branch (AKA McDonalds) is enticing locals and visitors alike with McBurritos A La Mexicana.
Even after the morning mass has ended, many more Catholics surged on, many of them carrying replicas of the Virgin for blessing. Nowhere else have I seen a country so intense in their devotion at this so-called Empress of Latin America. All of Mexico just adores her. And so does other Marian devotees from all over the world. Never mind the language barrier.