Note: All photos are from Napoleon Jacobs unless noted.
Three days into my summer assignment at St. Peter Chanel, I received text messages from Napoleon Jacobs and Fr. Craig MacMahon, OMV about a trip to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At lunch, Fr. Larry, the pastor, asked me whether I wanted to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe with Fr. Craig and the RCIA team. YES.
I had thought that parish work would preclude me from taking any trips. But who wouldn’t miss such an opportunity?
Funny. A few days before leaving Boston for the summer, I had felt that I should bring my passport. Why should I bring it? I wasn’t planning to go south of the border. Tijuana? Yeah, right. Quickly, I called Boston to have my passport sent to me.
On July 12, 2019, the group headed to Mexico City. There were eight in total: Fr. Craig, myself, Adonela, Nap(oleon), Virginia, Spring, Alice and her daughter, Elaine. I almost forgot my luggage at the security line at the airport. My preference is to check in my luggage. Fortunately, I found my carry-on bag.
Six of us flew on Volaris, a Mexican discount airline, while Alice and Elaine flew on Delta. What is it like to fly a Mexican discount airline? Nothing is free with a dash of disorganization. But we landed safely in Mexico City.
As we were driven to the hotel, Nap, on his fifth or sixth trip to the Basilica, noted that the streets felt like those in the Philippines: people selling in the streets and crazy driving. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Quijotes, a 15-minute walk from the Basilica. The amenities were great and the staff were helpful.
The tilma was amazing to view. Four moving walkways are available. Most avoid the first because it’s hard to see anything that close. But Fr. Craig noted that being in the first is like being under Mary’s mantle. Second and third are the most popular. Each viewing highlighted a different part of the tilma for me. Several times, the eyes varied; other times, the grungy condition of the tilma; handful of times, the crown over the image.
The little surprises
The group marveled how Our Lady of Guadalupe shaped this pilgrimage. Many little surprises awaited us. We had known that Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles was visiting Mexico City. On Saturday the 13th, while we were waiting by the windows for Mass intentions, the archbishop and the archdiocesan media team came up to the window for visiting clergy. The bishop was celebrating the 10 a.m. Mass, the same one Fr. Craig was scheduled to concelebrate. A conversation between Nap and Sara on the media team prompted this video.
We were invited to join the rest of the LA pilgrims to proceed into the basilica for the Mass.
Atop Tepeyac is La Capilla del Cerrito, a chapel dedicated near the spot where Juan Diego first met Our Lady and later found the roses. Connected to the chapel is the cloister of Discalced Carmelite nuns. Inside, the noisy crowds seemed like a distant memory. They welcomed us although we arrived past visiting hours. We purchased religious articles. One of the nuns asked for prayers for vocations because the community is small and aging.
On Sunday the 14th, we visited the Guadalupana Museum. The space sat below the plaza, making it more like an oven. The museum exhibited the items people left in gratitude to Our Lady: paintings, theses, awards and trophies. Near the entrance, organizers were encouraging people to create a handcrafted heart. Alice and Elaine jumped at the opportunity. We all contributed intentions, which Alice sewn into the heart. We left our creation behind at the museum.
I was intrigued at how the entire site celebrated every stage of life. That Saturday, the basilica celebrated multiple weddings, a quinceañera and a First Communion. That Sunday, we visited the two crypts where people were buried.
Because we were so close to the basilica, we always returned after lunch and a hotel break. It’s special to spend a Holy Hour at the Most Holy Sacrament Chapel in the basilica. The humongous tabernacle dominated the room. Part of the time I was trying to decipher the words on the tabernacle.
Overall, I enjoyed getting to know Fr. Craig and the rest of the RCIA team. Their insights after each day were inspiring to me.
On Monday, July 15, 2019, Fr. Craig was the only concelebrating priest. He had the honor of proclaiming the Gospel. After checking out of the hotel, we first visited the Holy Family Church in the neighborhood of Roma. The church contains the relics of Blessed Miguel Pro. We were surprised that a noon Mass was starting so we stayed. A woman sought Fr. Craig to hear her confession before Communion. Grace was always at work. Although the museum for the martyr was closed, the parish staff was helpful in selling us souvenirs. Somehow, I received three relics of the saint.
We had hoped to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral. But a planned demonstration by police officers prompted us to avoid downtown. We went to the airport early and had lunch at a restaurant. It was confusing which gate was our flight. But when the bus took us to the plane, there was a familiar name on the side.
I felt fine throughout the trip. But on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, Montezuma’s Revenge struck me hard. I managed to teach both my catechism classes after taking some Pepto-Bismol. But Fr. Larry’s call to a doctor brought stronger medication and relief. The likely source was the last local restaurant we had eaten in Mexico City on Sunday, July 14, 2019. I had a fruit-flavored water with ice. My habit is to suck on the ice cubes afterward. I suspect that the ice was made from tainted water. I suppose that after all the graces, there must be a small sharing in Christ’s pains.