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Battle of the Virgins



     H.G. Wells' imaginary time machine has a substitute: travel in space is travel in time. Go to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe near Mexico City to relive the Europe of similar mass demonstrations of faith at shrines like the Virgin of Montserrat in Catalonia, of which she is the patroness. All Latin American nations have their own Virgin patronesses. I once had difficulty persuading one Central American that his country's Virgin was just a symbol of one, universal Virgin.
     Mexico once had two rival Virgins. The Spanish one, located not too far from Guadalupe, prevailed in New Spain, but now it is completely forgotten. When I tried to find the shrine I finally gave up, since no one could give me precise directions. The Indian Virgin of Guadalupe won. A priest at the shrine said a few years ago that the story of Juan Diego and the Virgin was a pious legend. Public indignation forced his removal. I said the same thing to a presumably secular Mexican scholar. He said stubbornly that the Virgin was an indispensable part of Mexico.
     Mexico is celebrating her three-day festival, December 11-13. It was estimated that three million pilgrims would attend. Televisa, which is close to the government, paid special attention, with a helicopter taking aerial views. Church and state are now happily reunited in mutual recognition. Pope John Paul II will be coming again in January. His sweeping attacks on capitalistic nations have endeared him to the people. The bankers and their friends observed a discreet silence.
     Televisa interviewed a priest at the shrine. He uttered the usual pious platitudes. He did not seem stupid. What was he really thinking?

Ronald Hilton - 12/12/98


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     David Crow, an esteemed WAIS member who lives in Mexico, comments:
     "The "priest" to whom you refer is Guillermo Schulenberg, former abbot of the Basilica in Mexico City, where the shroud bearing the Virgen of Guadalupe's image lies. Schulenberg suggested in 1996 that the truth of Mexican Catholicism does not rest upon the legend of Juan Diego --which was tantamount to denying the historical veracity of the Virgen of Guadalupe. Schulenberg has since retired, due more than mandatory church retirement statutes than the scandal he incited.
     When I accompanied my mother (Methodist, to be sure) to the shroud, she remarked that "anyone could have painted it." I responded that she was missing the point. Faith, by definition, is beyond rationality: that is, neither rational nor irrational. The Virgin of Guadalupe is both a "pious legend" and an "indispensable part of Mexico".

Ronald Hilton - 12/15/98


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