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Church and State

     Travel and go back in time. Go to Mexico City and take the road leading to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and, on her feast day, December 12, you will see a mass pilgrimage such as followed the road to Santiago in Spain of to Canterbury in England in the Middle Ages. Many simple Mexicans travel for days, often on foot, sometimes even on their knees to the shrine. They lose days or even weeks of work, but they count on the Virgin to bless them, to cure their ailments, or to console them. It is a demonstration of simple, burning faith such as is seldom seen elsewhere in the Christian world. To accommodate mass assemblies, an ugly modern concrete building has been erected close to the gracious colonial shrine.
     Spain has just celebrated on December 8 the important Feast of the Immaculate Virgin, but it rated few religious references. It was described as the longest "bridge" of the year, as Spaniards took days off to go to a warm beach, causing unsaintly, even devilish traffic jams on the highways.
     The relationship between Church and Mexican State has long been difficult in Mexico and remains so, even though relations between Mexico and the Vatican have been restored. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the symbol of Mexican nationalism (la mexicanidad), and even atheists are devotees. Historians say that Juan Diego, the peasant to whom the Virgin allegedly appeared, never existed, but woe to anyone who accepts that view. Ironically, it was the custodian of the shrine, Guillermo Schulenberg, who dared to express it publicly. He was fiercely denounced and removed from his job.
     The situation has become acute, since Mexicans are demanding that in the year 2000 the Pope declare Juan Diego a saint. The Cardinal Archbishop of Mexico has demanded that Schulenberg apologize. Other clerics have called him "the Devil's Advocate", which ordinary Mexicans assume means that he is possessed by the Devil, but which in reality is a Vatican term meaning that he has been appointed by the Pope to present the negative case in the sanctification process. Perhaps that is really what is happening. The Pope is in a difficult position, since he has removed from the list of Saints individuals like St. George, whose existence in doubted. How can he sanctify the symbol of nationalist Mexico when he has downgraded the national saints of England and other countries?
     Every country in Latin America has its national Virgin, and the people are indifferent to the Virgin of other countries. Idolatry? The Virgin of Guadalupe is allegedly the Virgin of the Americas (which would give her continental primacy), but the other countries do not welcome the competition to their own Virgin. Were the Pope to sanctify Juan Diego, he would alienate millions of Catholics. My guess is that he will not. Stay tuned.
     The Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego are the symbols of Indian Mexico. The Virgen de los Remedios, the Virgin of the Spanish conquistadores, is forgotten. I once tried to find it in an industrial section of Mexico City, but could not. No one knew where it was.
     Meanwhile, the struggle between the leftist PRD Mexico City government with both the Catholic Church and the official PRI national government continues. Some time ago we reported on the effort of PRD leader Cuautémoc Cárdenas to remove the railings around the Cathedral. The rivalry of symbols continues as the PRD plans to build in this central location an imposing official residence for the governor of the city. I would be a center of attention, since Los Pinos, the official residence of the President of Mexico, is far from the center of town. The massive building would sink the city budget and the sagging ground of the metropolis, but is would be a bully pulpit for the governor plotting to become president.

Ronald Hilton - 12/12/99