Sheltered from the sun, under the protection hastily put together blue and orange tarps, I pushed ever so slightly to get the person in front of me to move forward. Not only was the air thick with the smell of burning incense, it was also filled with a cacophony of sounds: from vendors yelling out their offerings to the conversations of other pilgrims around me. The scene? I was stuck in the middle of a mob, moving very slowly through the market that lays itself out before the shrine.
It was just our luck (or I should say divine providence) to stumble upon the celebration. Each saint and holy persons in the Catholic Church is given a Feast day, a celebration of sorts when the Universal and/or local Church commemorates and celebrates their lives. For example, October 4th is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, many churches offered blessings to pets as their way of celebrating the day.
In certain cases, the local diocese is allowed to move the celebration to the following Sunday depending on what the significant of the Saint to the parish/area is. The feast for St. Michael the Archangel fell on Monday, September 29, a few days before we left for Mexico. This was of the utmost importance in the case of San Miguel del Milagro in Tlaxcala. After all, the tiny church prides itself for the apparition of St. Michael to an Indian man, Diego Lazaro, in 1631. With this in mind, the local diocese moved the celebration to the following weekend, precisely to Sunday, October 4, the day we were scheduled to visit the Shrine.
Normally I’d find this very disdainful – I hate crowds, remember? – that day, though, I found the scene very touching and very humbling. A line of people snaked through the tiny courtyard; I later found out from Francisco that they were waiting to touch the stone of the well where they can pray for a miracle through the intercession of the Archangel.
The church was filled with pilgrims standing shoulder to shoulder, some going through and some sitting, praying it seems like. The centre altar of the church was lavishly decorated with flowers and offerings were made to St. Michael.
The ceiling of the church – such a pretty blue!
Not sure why they left cloths as offerings, but there you have it.
Mass was celebrated outside (because there was no way the tiny church can hold the swelling crowds) under a makeshift tent with booming loud speakers to broadcast what the priest is saying throughout the celebration. Come the time for Our Father, everyone rose and held hands, forming a continuous human chain throughout the entire courtyard.
I haven’t seen this type of camaraderie since World Youth Day in Madrid and it warmed my heart to witness it. In that moment, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world says about the Catholic church, I am a part of the community and I belong here.
We made our way out of the Shrine as the prayer reached its ending, forming a long conga line, so as not to lose any member of the group.
If you think it was hard to make your way through the densely packed marketplace, picture doing it with 26 other people and picture me trying to keep track of them in the crowds.
It was madness, to say the least.
It delighted me to pass through the marketplace once again, though, this time with my camera out and ready to capture anything that peaked my interest. Have I told you I LOVE going to markets?
Incense for sale. Going through this aisle brought tears to my eyes. Quite literally.
Candies and sweets.
One word: CHICARONES. She was also kind enough to give me a piece to munch on!
Peppers, tomatoes, and cherimoyas.
Towards the end of our pilgrimage, while waiting for our boarding time at the airport, I asked all the aunties and uncles to tell me one memorable experience from the past 6 days together. Almost unanimously, everyone mentioned San Miguel del Milagro for one reason or another, but mostly because of their witness to the faith.
It seems like I’m not the only one touched by this experience. Divine providence at its best!
Have you been to any festival? Religious or not, what was your experience like?