The saints are everywhere in Mexico. The country is dotted with shrines, the most famous of which is Guadalupe, once a village outside the capital, now swallowed up by the sprawl of the Federal District (it only seems to be us English-speakers who talk of Mexico City: here it is called “Mexico, D.F.”) But there is also the shrine of the Sacro Nino de Atocha at the small town of Plateros, which is the country’s second shrine. This shrine, which attracts huge crowds to see the tiny image of the Christ Child dressed as a pilgrim, does not even merit its own Wikipedia page in English. Here is the link to the Spanish article. You can also read about the shrine at its own bilingual website here.
Plateros is a not very attractive town in the state of Zacatecas, and thus somewhat out of the way of the usual tourist route. You only really go there to see the shrine. And seeing the shrine is quite an experience. For the first time in my life I actually had to queue to get into Church and queue for some considerable time. As at Guadalupe, quite a few pilgrims enter the Church on their knees. Next to the Church is a hall the walls of which are covered with ex votos – small primitive paintings, often on tin or even glass, which illustrate the donor´s story. I found these intensely moving. I suppose the reason for this is because each ex voto is a testament to lived faith, to an existential reality. This is not a place where theory counts for much, but rather where the precepts of the gospel have been experienced at first hand. I think we need more of this!
But the faith of Mexicans is seen in more or less every Church in the land. It is, for want of a better expression, a very devotional faith. The statues are not just decoration. You see people press their hands against the glass that shields the Suffering Christ. And you also see evidence of devotion to saints who, though not of Mexican origin, flourish here more than elsewhere. Where else do you see weekly devotions to Saint Cecilia advertised? Or people turning up to devotions to Saint Francis wearing those funny little cut down Fransiscan habits? Also of note, particularly in the Federal District, is devotion to Saint Charbel Maklouf, who is vrtually unknown in the United Kingdom. Saint Charbel was born in Lebanon in the nineteenth century and has a reputation as a miracle worker. He has recently been added to the universal calendar, and I assume his cult was brought to Mexico by Maronite immigrants. The kingdom of saints is real to the people of Mexico.
Another devotion that is practised here is the Mass of Divine Providence on the first day of the month, which is heavily attended even when this falls on a weekday. The idea of the Mass of Divine Providence is to ask God Almighty to provide for his people over the coming month. This means, not to put too fine a point on it, to make sure they get through the month with enough of the essentials of life, not least of all food. In a country like ours, where every one has enough food, and where we throw food away in shocking quantities, this is a salutary lesson of dependance on God, something that rich and poor alike should all feel.