This is part 5 in a series.
For part 1, click HERE. For part 2, click HERE. For part 3, click HERE. For part 4, click HERE.
Padre was supposed to call us at about 10am so we could walk down to the street to meet him. I wasn't too worried when he hadn't called by 11 - we were all on vacation, after all - but I started praying that everything was all right with him. At 11:30 he called and said that the cough that he had started having on the way back from San Miguel the night before had become really bad, so he had driven home to Leon and had to have an injection of something and get some sleep. He said that he would pick us up at 1pm. We were going to end up in Guadalajara that night so we could fly home the next day.
We had agreed ahead of time that his mom and sister would come with us because we would be passing by a favorite shrine of his mom's, and he could also take her to visit relatives in Guadalajara. The shrine of Nuestra Senora de San Juan de los Lagos is a major focus of pilgrimages in central Mexico, and it was an amazing experience!
It's just like the descriptions of pilgrimage sites in the Middle Ages (my favorite era), with the streets surrounding the basilica filled with little tiendas.
I was particularly drawn to the ones that were selling crocheted items (there were quite a lot of them!), with the women crocheting goods to sell while waiting for customers.
When we entered the church, it was completely packed, and the central aisle was full of pilgrims walking on their knees to the the altar, where mass had just started. There is a mass every hour and a half at this church every day of the week, with the first one at 5:30 AM and the last one at 7:30 PM. Every one of them is apparently as packed as this one. Some pilgrims walk here from hundreds of miles away!
We found a place to stand along the side, and the entire time of the mass, more and more people kept coming in and walking past us to the front, or going on their knees down the central aisle. Since the church looked totally full when we came in, I have no idea where everybody found a place to put their bodies. I don't think I've EVER been in such a crowd in my life. When it was time for communion, there was no way that people could come up to the front, so we all just stood in rows in the main aisle and the servers came down the aisles and served us communion. I received from a tiny nun, surely only 4 1/2 feet tall - wonderful!
The Pirate did most of the driving (several hours worth) because Padre still was wiped out and his cough, although better, was quite worrisome. While we were on the road Padre told us that many people who go to that shrine go in fulfillment of a vow that they make to God if He answers a particular request of theirs. He called this an example of "popular religion", which although faith is present, an abiding relationship with God is often absent. The focus of popular religion is on what the person wants, not what God wants, and often the people who go on pilgrimage don't otherwise go to church or have any concept of spiritual growth. Of course, there are lots of people who go on pilgrimage who are serious about their relationship with God (a mixed crowd, just like in Canterbury Tales).
We stopped at another sanctuary to the martyrs of the Cristero war before heading on to Guadalajara, but I didn't get any photos (I was pretty tired at that point). When we got into Guadalajara it was dinnertime and we set out to find a particular restaurant that Padre had told us about which served Argentine-style (LOTS of different meats brought on skewers). It took us awhile to find the place, and when we got within a couple of blocks of it we saw most of the trees in the median strip of the road being cut up and hauled away. We found out that early that morning a huge tormenta (storm) had come through and knocked over 81 trees in the city, and flooded a bunch of homes as well! After dinner - a great treat for us all - Padre took us to our hotel and went with his family to a relative's house. We were on our own until we got on the airplane the next day.