In late February, I took a one-week vacation in the Mexican Riviera Maya. It was great to escape from the winter cold and enjoy some 30 degree heat.
Contrary to my usual approach, I left for Mexico without having yet identified exactly where I would go for Sunday mass. I figured that Mexico was so Catholic that there would be churches everywhere. A preliminary Internet search had suggested that there were many options near my resort, so I didn’t worry about it until I got there.
When I got to Mexico and started looking into the specifics, it turned out that many of the churches reported on the web no longer existed. Some were apparently destroyed in Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and were never rebuilt. The mass that used to take place at the hotel was also cancelled. I eventually found a spot, but it was a $66 taxi ride round-trip, about 40 Km away.
On the other hand, Protestant churches have apparently been on the rise, especially the Mormons. I fear that the Catholic Church in Mexico has not been connecting with the faithful, leading to a growing exodus. Need I remind you how Fr. Luis Arriaga, of D&P infamy, was only outed by the Cardinal of Mexico City after three years of scandal and only after having been contacted by Archbishop Prendergast. I fear that vigilance has been lacking.
This was a sad disillusionment for me. We tend to look up to Latin America as if the Church down there didn’t have challenges and it was Heaven on Earth. But they’re feeling the pressures of materialism and secularism too.
I did I eventually make it to mass. It was a small church called Our Lady of Carmen. The place was packed. Even the balconies were full. The music was a bit of a cultural shock for me because it was much like Mariachi. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you realize how this would appeal to the local culture and the Latino temperament and joie-de-vivre, but it took some adjusting on my part. It was actually very tame and restrained music. At no point did you get the feeling that this was a beach party. The choir had a reserved and pious demeanour, dressed in elegant uniforms of traditional Mexican attire. The congregation would sing, but there was no hand clapping. Overall, the mass was very reverent and by the book. The faith of the people was palpable.
Communion time was interesting because it was only given on the tongue. :-p The all-male altar servers were standing next to the priest with Communion plates, which were diligently placed under each person’s chin as they received. Good grief, I can’t remember the last time I saw Communion plates being used in Canada. The only thing missing was a Communion rail so that everybody could receive kneeling.
Overall, it was an enriching experience that again reminded me of the universality of the Catholic Church and of Christ’s call to all peoples.
Although the Faith may be fading on Mexico, they’re far from being in terminal condition as in Canada. They’re definitely in better shape than us. Their boat can be turned around. They need not follow in our spiritual footsteps.
Canada can be salvaged too, of course, but it’ll take a lot more time, sweat and blood. Better to get started now.