by Victoria Fausto.
The following is excerpted from a letter one of our staff to her niece and nephew, Liam (age 10) and Olivia (age 8) about her trip to Mexico for the Eucharistic Congress.
Dear Liam and Olivia,
Happy belated birthday to both of you! Your Aunt Victoria is now back in Vancouver after being a pilgrim in Mexico for nineteen days. Even though I wasn’t able to send you a card or to make a phone call, you were both in my prayers.
Now you might be wondering what your Auntie Vic was doing in Mexico. Since I became a member of Madonna House, I have had in my heart a desire to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico to thank God for the gift of Mama Mary. God has his ways of knowing our dreams and making them come true.
And now that I’ve been there, I feel that I can always close my eyes and return to Mexico in my heart and remember all that I have received and shared. I want to share this Mexican pilgrimage with you.
When I heard that the International Eucharistic Congress was going to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico in October 2004, with the possibility of Pope John Paul II coming to proclaim the Year of he Eucharist, I began to pray to see if God wanted me to go. It would be the perfect time, I thought, to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Then I found out that there was an unusual delegation going from Vancouver. The group was connected with Project Brotherhood, a team of Catholic volunteers who raise funds and help the people of Chimalhuacan with building projects.
This pilgrimage would cost approximately the same as other groups going but instead of staying in good hotels throughout our time in Mexico, they were to stay in people’s homes. The money saved would be given to the work of Project Brotherhood.
I joined this group which had 40 pilgrims including four priests, and we left Vancouver on October 4th, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
We landed in Mexico City that evening and were transported by bus to Chimalhuacan where my host family was waiting. Abraham and Gloria have eleven children, but several of them are grown up and have their own families.
I was immediately struck by the warmth of their hospitality, and only later discovered that Abraham had been out of work for quite some time and is helping at the parish as a permanent deacon.
The following day we departed for the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and had a day of retreat.
Then for the next few days we visited several shrines. I got a little tense when our bus had to climb Cerro del Cubilete in order to get to the Cristo Rey shrine at the top. It started to rain and so the narrow dirt road was pretty slippery. But it was worth it because at the very top was a statue of Christ the King, and there is a group of Benedictine Sisters who adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament at the hilltop all the time.
We also visited the shrine of Santo Nino de Atocha. I had seen a statue of this Infant when I was in Winslow, Arizona, but had not understood the devotion.
But now that I’ve seen hundreds of testimonies of miracles of children being healed and the toys and other belongings they left there, and the love that the people have for the Infant, I carry a prayer card to him in my prayer book for the times I need to turn to him in trust.
When we arrived in Guadalajara on Saturday evening, the parishioners were there waiting for us. I was deeply touched during the Mass, where we were warmly welcomed by the pastor.
The Montes Family
My host family, Enrique and Francesca Montes and their three teenagers, were there to bring my pilgrimage partner, Barbara, and me back to their home. The parents took a week off work in order to be able to offer hospitality like driving us back and forth during the week of the congress. It took no time at all for me to receive the warmth of their faith and love and to feel right at home.
What was the Eucharistic Congress all about? Well, when you have a party you get to invite your friends and celebrate by singing songs, playing games, and eating good food just because you want to remember how you are loved and how much fun it is to be together.
That is what happened at the Eucharistic Congress, only there were lots and lots of people, from 87 different countries.
When you made your First Communion, you knew that you were receiving the greatest gift of God, the gift of his Son Jesus present in the Eucharist. From time to time we need to stop and remember what a great gift this is; that God loves us so much that he gave us his Son as our food.
When I stood waiting for the Eucharistic procession on the street in Guadalajara along with almost two million people I said to myself that I would try never to forget the gift of Jesus giving his very body and blood to us.
I hope you remember how much Jesus loves you all the time, even if you don’t have two million people beside you believing the same thing!
The people near me were singing songs and chanting, “Se ve, se siente, Jesus esta presente!” meaning that we’ve seen and we’ve felt that Jesus is really present here.
I was so moved by the faith and love of the Mexican people. It brought back the familiar sense of being Church, a familiar sense that I picked up somewhere when I was little—or maybe even before I was born.
There were so many wonderful speakers at the congress from so many parts of the world sharing their love for the Eucharist. And in the midst of the thousands of people, I ran into the four other members of MH who also came—Margarita Guerrero, Bernadette Gonzales, and our associates Bishop Noel Delaquis and Fr. Pierre André Fournier.
The highlight for me was when I was asked to proclaim the Second Reading (1 Timothy 2:1-8) during the Mass at Expo Guadalajara on October 16th. The main celebrant was Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is in charge of preparing Canada for the next Eucharistic Congress in 2008.
While I was in Guadalajara, I visited lots of places. Our group went to Temaxtian to visit the place where some of the Mexican martyrs are venerated. Can you imagine four million people walking and praying for five kilometers from the Cathedral of Guada-lajara to the Basilica of Zapopan? I prayed for you and hope that your faith will always be your source of strength.
One important visit we made was to an orphanage for children suffering from AIDS. I did not feel comfortable just walking in on them, and then leaving like a tourist. But I was drawn to play with Esmeralda, talk to Aldo, and hug little Emma, who started following me. I had to shut off my mind, because there is no right way of being with the innocent ones who suffer. It was only by being simple and little that I could be with them.
The Closing Mass
For the closing of the congress, which included the closing Mass, we went to Estadio Jalisco, a huge stadium that seats about 80,000 people. Because we were delegates from the next host country, we Canadians were seated near the altar.
I thought that the ceremonies couldn’t get any more awesome when we had fireworks after the Eucharistic procession. But it did, and it was nature itself that provided the show.
The sun came out of the clouds when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and then again when the Holy Father appeared on the screen via satellite from Rome so that he could be visibly united with the pilgrims in Guadalajara.
The parishioners gave us a surprise fiesta the night before the closing Mass. They served us all kinds of great food and a mariachi band was there not just to entertain us but also to get us up on our feet. Then a rondalla band came with more music while we ate. I couldn’t help but feel that I was somewhere in heaven.
On our very last evening with the Montes family and some others that they invited, we bought some cake and ice cream for them. There were tears shed that night, but we kept on playing the guitar and singing wonderful Mexican hymns.
At another shrine we visited after the congress, I had a profound experience with a mother who saw me in the congregation and brought her sick baby to me for me to pray over and bless. What struck me was how she picked me out from the crowd—perhaps she saw my Madonna House cross. I will treasure this mysterious encounter for a long time.
Before we left Mexico, we made one last visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I spent my last pesos on candles, offerings for Masses and some souvenirs. A song kept playing itself in my mind: “Nadie te ama como yo′” and a line from St. Teresa of Avila kept repeating itself, “Amor con amor se paga.” Love calls for love in return. These words and song seemed to be added to my already full bag of souvenirs.
I have a lot of stories—profound ones, amazing ones, and many funny ones. But I won’t be able to write them in this letter. It wouldn’t come out right without the music and color, the voices and pictures, the enchiladas con chile, and some dancing, because Mexico was like that for me. It gave sound and sights and movement to what my heart feels towards the God who is near.
With much love,
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