12 / 12/ 12
The fireworks continued, a constant barrage, for three nights this week. Ozzie, our Australian Shepherd, calmed down thanks to a low dose aspirin after which we ourselves had little trouble sleeping. The explosions continued though throughout the night, culminating in the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s (“La Guadalupana”) feast day yesterday.
The fireworks were yet another reminder that Mexico remains predominantly Roman Catholic: over 80 per cent of the one hundred twelve million Mexican citizens. It is a source of pride for many Mexicans that the Virgin Mary chose a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, to be blessed by her appearance before him in 1531. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared the Guadalupana manifestation of the Virgin to be “Patroness of the Americas, Empress of Latin America and Protectress of Unborn Children”.
A record 6.3 million persons from all over Mexico made the pilgrimage this week to the Virgin of Guadalupe’s shrine on Tepeyac Hill outside Mexico City. An estimated 20 million people each year visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, making it a more popular Marian shrine than that of Lourdes or Fatima.
Aside from the fireworks, Kate and I were impressed by the people’s devotion shown in honoring “the mother of the Americas”. On our way back to San Luis Potosi from Aguascalientes Monday the 10th, throngs of people walked along the roadside to their diocesan capital’s Cathedral. In our town of Soledad de Graciano Sanchez, on SLP’s outskirts, hand made
signs urged neighbors to attend a mass, a dance, a prayer vigil on the occasion of the Feast Day. In many Mexican neighborhoods, these events represented the culmination of weekly neighborhood gatherings during a forty day period leading up to December 12. Kate’s Spanish class at the University in downtown San Luis Potosi was not held on the Feast Day. In their conversation the day before, her “maestra” Karla told Kate that thousands of pilgrims walk on their knees many kilometers on their way to cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe across Mexico. A real “Via Dolorosa”.
But there was a difference in this week’s religious celebrations in some Latin American cities. Near us, in Aguascalientes, Disciples pastor Manuel Tovar helped an interdenominational group organize a worship service in the city center on 12/12. Pastor Manuel expected over 1000 people to join evangelical Christians from Canada to Patagonia in “a historical event that will change the spiritual atmosphere of the continent”. The “Adora America” event was the vision of
some New York City pastors led by Dominican pastor Rev. Carlos Jimenez and wife Lissette Acosta. Worship in Aguascalientes and other sites culminated with continent wide viewing, via satellite or webcast, of the “Adora America” service in the Meadowlands, New Jersey.
The “Adora America” counter event on the Guadalupana’s Feast day is one more sign of the rise of evangelical Protestant Christianity throughout Latin America. An article in The Economist magazine this year (http://www.economist.com/node/21551091) noted that even in Mexico there are areas where evangelicals now nearly equal the number of Catholic faithful. The evangelical surge is most evident in areas of Mexico where the Catholic Church and Mexican Government have less of a presence, Chiapas in particular.
The States of Aguascalientes and Zacatecas, historic centers of Disciples mission outreach, remain over 90 per cent Catholic. But the “Adora America” organizing in Aguascalientes signals a new evangelical boldness in the Catholic heartland. New evangelical Protestant churches in the remote Huasteca region of the State of San Luis Potosi include two Disciples mission churches. As in Chiapas, the relative lack of Catholic and government activity in the Huasteca and subsequent growth of the Protestant presence there account for a smaller Catholic majority in the State of San Luis Potosi.