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MEXICO: The Second Rome

Rome, Constantinople, Moscow. The Orthodox Church claimed Moscow to be the Third Rome. Mexico will be able to claim that it is the Second Rome. The largest concentration of practising Catholics is now in Latin America, and Mexico is the most central great city in the Western Hemisphere. Despite criticism from scholarly Mexican ecclesiastics like Guillermo Schulenberg, Pope John Paul II is going ahead with his plan to visit Mexico and proclaim Juan Diego a saint. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas. "Non fecit taliter omni natione"--God has not performed this miracle for other nations. This has serious implications. the Virgin of Guadalupe was revealed to poor, illiterate Indians, for whom the Pope has special affection. Liberation theology supports this. In view of the coming canonization of Juan Diego, Mexican TV has been interviewing people about the Virgin. Whereas educated laymen would express themselves with some hesitation, the poor Indians were brimming over with devotion to her. A woman desperate for a child stole a baby from its mother in a Mexican hospital. The police, who found it and returned it to the mother, deserved all the thanks. She thanked the Virgin of Guadalupe, and took the baby to the shrine to thank Her personally.

The has a theological consequence. In Europe, the Catholics accept the Old Testament, on which the message of Christ is founded, and revere mostly male saints, like Peter and Paul and in Spain, St. James the Major, who became martyrs for the faith. In other words, the faith makes great demands of the faithful. In Mexico all that is overshadowed by the cult of the Virgin, who consoles and helps people and does not make demands. A Marxist would say that religion is the opium of the people.

Linda Nyquist has sent me relevant pages from Mexico, Land of Mary's Wonders by Father Joseph L. Cassidy, published by St.Anthony Guild Press in Paterson, NJ. A chapter is devoted to each of 27 shrines to the Virgin in Mexico. Each one has its special efficacy. The foreword discusses the history of such shrines and their theological justification. In quotes the Second Council of Nicea, Tertulian, Father Feijˇo (well-known to Spanish scholars), and Pope Benedict XIV. It also explains the habit of changing the clothes on each image, which gave rise to the Spanish expression "she dedicated herself to changing saintly clothes", referring to a woman who never got married. The Spanish revolutionary La Pasionaria pokes fun at this habit in her memoirs, and to non-Catholics it all sounds quaint.

I once said that I had failed to locate in Mexico City the shrine of the Virgen de los Remedios, the shrine of the once dominant Spaniards, so Linda has sent me the pages relevant to it, including a photograph of the little (11") statue of the crowned Virgin standing on a crescent moon. Is that a relic of the pagan cult of the Mother, the Sun being the Father, or is it so prominent in Spain because of Muslim influence? The image was brought to Mexico by CortÚs and hidden when his troops were forced to leave the City after the "Sorrowful Night". It was discovered by an Indian convert, and the shrine was built. During the 1597 drought, the Viceroy had the statue carried from the shrine to the Cathedral for a novena in her honor, during every day of which it rained steadily and the drought ended. (Actually, this was in August, when it normally rains in Mexico City). This happened again in 1616. The Virgin has the rank of Captain General in the army of New Spain; she holds a sword and a commander's baton. Both she and the infant Jesus have military dresses.

This sounds almost sacrilegious to outside ears. Its naivetÚ reminds one of the "charcoal-burner's faith" in Sicily, which was an element Italian anticlericalism. The result may be to alienate the Mexican middle and upper classes, offsetting the gains among the poor and the Indians. However, if Mexico City became the Second Rome, it would stimulate tourism and thus please the business community. This tourism may also help the shrines scattered around Mexico as described in Father Cassidy' book. Shrines to the Virgin and the maquiladoras may bring the much-need prosperity to Mexico. This miracle will rain dollars.

Ronald Hilton - 1/29/02