Guadalupe: The experience of one pilgrim caught unawares

Nazar da Silva

As a complacent near-nonagenarian, I have learnt to take
long-distance travel in my stride: I read the scenery rather
than sign boards. I get taken to places unknown; but I have
my wits around me for sure.

For instance, my son and I were due to travel from Vancouver
to New York; so I expected to travel from the West coast to
the East. Never having travelled this route before, I looked
out eagerly for landmarks.

There were none. We seemed to be hugging the West coast; that
could only mean we were travelling South! My son reassured
me: "On this route we have to make a transfer in San
Francisco," he said. Thoroughly confused, I resigned myself
to fate! That's when he had pity on me.

          Flash-back: Many years, may be a dozen years ago, I
          was enthralled by an EWTN programme on TV. I only
          got a little bit of the programme but I was
          fascinated by the sheer devotion of the throngs of
          people who sang their hearts out in praise of God
          and in thanksgiving for the gift of His Virgin
          Mother -- Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I spoke to whoever would listen about my experience. It made
no impression on anyone. My own sister who is a nun and has a
two-year advantage over me in seniority, had been posted much
earlier to Mexico City; but she does not have any
recollection of this devotion. I spoke to family members who
live in this part of North America: they love to go to the
beaches on vacation; I said to them: "Go to Guadalupe!" But
then I came to discover: the village of Guadalupe which is
many miles northeast of Mexico City has nothing to do with
this devotion.

Here I am now, on a plane supposedly bound for New York but
proceeding in the exact opposite direction! And now I am
informed that we will be landing in Mexico City at supper
time; the next morning we would celebrate the Eucharist in
'the' Basilica! And, post noon we would be on our way to New York!

I was desperate to know more about the ground realities in
order to plan a programme to fit into such a tight schedule
but language was a problem. At the dining reception, the
person we met was a young lady. Her name was, believe it or
not: Guadalupe! I was over the moon! But not for long.
Language was the barrier. I had to wait until the next
morning. Guess who I met next morning in the vast breakfast

At 7 o'clock on a Sunday morning, the hall was practically
empty. That is why I noticed the two gentlemen that appeared.
By the time they filled their plates and picked a table to
sit at, I discovered that one of them spoke English! It did
not take me long to go across and barge in on their

I got a load of information: In the new Basillica, every
hour, on the hour, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, the
Eucharist would be celebrated. There is seated accommodation
for 5,000 people in this basilica. It is packed for every
celebration. Masses are also celebrated in the old Basilica
and five other chapels in the immediate vicinity. The 'must
see' sites are the two basilicas and the chapel built on top
of the hill where the Virgin Mother appeared to the peasant
pronounced Saint Joao Diago by Pope John Paul II. All the
holy sites are within one square mile of real estate.

The ride by cab from the airport to the Basilica takes under
twenty minutes if you are lucky to get a parking slot. We
were lucky -- not only with the parking, but also with the
seating in the pews! Apart from the high altar, what drew our
attention was the relic of the cloak protected by a photo
frame fixed to one side on the wall behind.

On a Sunday, there is no way to get close to the relic;
however, at a lower level, behind the main altar, one can
step upon a moving platform that takes you past, but well
below the relic.

The spoken language is Spanish, and all the services
and homilies are conducted in this language. Fortunately,
plenty of room is reserved for the language of Love. Everyone
you are likely to meet is conversant with this language.

But hey! Wait a minute: am I trying to sell the pilgrimage by
describing it in every detail? I hope not!

Physically, for me, the most difficult chapter of this
venture was not the three hundred odd steep steps leading to
the summit of the hillock where the loving encounter between
the Virgin Mother and her faithful disciple took place; it
was not the climb, but the descent to terra firma! If it were
not for my son's arm to which I latched on for dear life, I
could not have made it to ground reality!

With hindsight, I can say that there should be at least two
criteria that establish the success of any pilgrimage: The
first of course is to approach the venture with utmost
humility, and the second is to establish a firm sense of
purpose. If one is lacking in either of these criteria, the
outcome, at best, may be lukewarm.

Put another way: it is quite common to approach a pilgrimage
with an attitude of 'been there, done that'! Its like
counting scalps.

With Guadalupe, I was taken by surprise. Fortunately some
good did come out of it. Here's how it worked out for me: Our
flight from Mexico City did finally take off for JFK NY
direct! But the night was dark. And wet. And we were two
hours late. We were greeted at the gate by our very close
friend and cousin. He chaperoned us through a madhouse of
traffic to his car that was idling in the middle of the road.

Our intrepid driver was the Lady of the House -- (as George
would have described her). Her talent at the wheel was
matched only by her language, her accent and her gestures.
Somehow, she got us out of the mess without a scratch and we
were on our way home in neighbouring New Jersey.

          It was past midnight. Time was of the essence: we
          had only a week to relax and tend to minor chores.
          (That included the feeding of a family of squirrels
          on the deck and the blue jays and cardinals that
          came for the left-overs.) It was a minor Assisi,
          what with the deer and the ground hogs and the
          raccoons roaming the backyard in gay abandon.

All too soon, the week was gone. We had two 'must do' visits
still untended: Both were vital, each for it’s own reasons.
One was to visit WTC memorial that was observing the 15th
anniversary of the tragedy. The last time I had visited this
site, the World Trade Centre was standing tall and proud. Now
I wanted to see how the human spirit has handled the awesome
tragedy that had befallen it.

The second 'must do' was to visit with a well-loved niece who
was recovering from a stroke. Its been many years since I
last met her in India. She lives with her family in
Connecticut but is alone during much of the day. The two
'must do' visits are at opposite ends of the compass;
moreover, Connecticut is many miles further from our home in
NJ than the WTC. However, when the call came: "We can only do
one visit; what is your choice: North or South?" My
spontaneous reply was "Connecticut".

For me, it was a Guadalupe moment.

Was I happy that I made the right choice? Or was I!

When I rang the doorbell, we waited a long while before we
sensed any response. I was about to take a second shot at the
doorbell when I caught a glimpse of movement behind the
glass: it was my niece, dragging one foot behind the other!

Was I glad that I came?! I thanked God for this Guadalupe
moment. For Him, everything is in the NOW! It does not matter
whether it is Guadalupe, Garabandal or Timbuctoo! To be there
for another is to be Jesus for that person.

Easy does it. God Bless.

About the author: D'Silva lives at 709 Moira, and is an
octogenarian who is still contributing actively to life and
to Goa. One generation ago, he was an active part of the 'On
The Move' team (along with Fermin D'Souza SJ
<> and others, which sought to bring
out a magazine focussed on making relevant to today's Goa.
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