Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Mass Tourism – San Cristóbal de las Casas

Posted by universalis on 27 July 2006

Chiapas is the southernmost state of Mexico and the poorest. In the lowlands it is intolerably hot and humid, but at an altitude of 2000m, San Cristóbal de las Casas is cool and refreshing, wrapped (in September) in an almost perpetual mist. Many of the plants in the forest don’t even bother with putting roots into the earth: they simply stick themselves onto a convenient tree and absorb the mist and the dew.

Compared to Oaxaca the city looks poor and run-down. The buildings are lower, the streets narrower, and the beggars are persistent and importunate, lacking the dignity of their Zapotec counterparts. In nearby villages the churches have been taken over by strange syncretisms combining Maya beliefs (apparently without the blood-letting), Christian personalities and elements of African divinities. The ex-churches are full of greenery and the chapels of the Apostles are turned into shrines, with each saint’s statue converted into an idol before which offerings are placed. It demonstrates the indiscriminate self-abasement before the numinous that must have covered the whole of Europe before Christianity arrived to liberate us; and incidentally provides good business to the guides who lead tourists round the villages and devote some of the proceeds to alleviating the squalid conditions of the inhabitants.

At Sunday evening Mass in the cathedral, the floor was strewn with pine fronds. I don’t know whether this was to make people feel more at home if they were used to the green pagan temples of the villages, or simply a practical local substitute for a carpet.

I have commented on the Sign of Peace before. Here is a counter-example to what happened in Paris. Next to me, but crowded as far away from the central aisle as possible, were an Indian family. They were very shy and reserved. I looked at them; they looked diffidently at me. I moved over and gently offered my hand to the nearest one.

All the shyness disappeared and they all wanted to shake hands with me. Every one of them, in that row, and the next row, and the row after that. I had to shake them all, young and old, two rows forward and two rows back. There was such joy in their faces.

2 Responses to “Mass Tourism – San Cristóbal de las Casas”

  1. Julie Ashton said

    I will never forget, as a backpacking grad student, being in a very old Church in Columbia, southern (mountainous) Mexico. A wizened guide showed me and my companions the small statue of Jesus which had been kissed smooth over the centuries.

    We were all smug and righteous Evangelicals. I even bought a wooden beaded rosary as a souvenier.

    Forty years later I was received into the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. In my journey, that rosary and that memory were and are holy to me. Praise be to God.

  2. Dorothy Turnbloom said

    Today it is the Feast of the Annunciation. Your opening meditation was powerful and edifying. Thank you, thank you. All of your work blesses me every day. Thank you so much for cooperating with God’s grace and being so faithful. May God continue to use you as a vessel for his glory. (I am sure that Mary is very proud of you and is smiling right now)

    God’s Grace And Peace,
    Dorothy Turnbloom

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