Two and a half weeks was all it took for my mind to be completely blown. Arriving in Mexico on a short holiday over the end of year festive season, I was unsure of what to expect in my time here. My original reason for visiting was to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to see the famous tilma of Juan Diego on which the image of Our Blessed Mother was miraculously imprinted. Little did I know at that point that I would see and experience so much more of what the country had to offer in terms of the Catholic faith. The faith remains central to the culture even through the seemingly continuous festivities and party atmosphere; all of which revolve around the lives of saints who are patrons of the towns in which they take place.
While Mexico does experience episodes of violence, it is the outward living of the Catholic faith and love of the sacraments which sustains the community and assists in making sense of the world around them. Back home in Australia, many of us Catholics don’t necessarily speak out about our faith out in public or demonstrate it openly. There’s sort of a stigma attached to it in the society we live in. Many a time have I heard a phrase like, “Oh, you REALLY believe that stuff?” sometimes even with a scoff or a smirk. At times when I was younger I shied away from openly speaking about my beliefs and where they stemmed from, wary of what people might think of me.
That’s why seeing such open displays of the Catholic faith everywhere (on streets, in shops, petrol stations and department stores to name a few) left me in awe. Whether walking through the coloured streets of the magnificent city of Guanajuato, through a busy business district in Mexico City, or around a small town like Villa Corona in the middle of Mexico, elements of the faith are scattered all around in public view, especially shrines to Our Blessed Mother. I find that these constant reminders of the Catholic faith help us to refocus during our everyday lives on what really is important, and remind us who we belong to. They are also reminders from a personal point of view, that we should live our lives not for ourselves but for the greater glory of God. It really highlights what we hear frequently back home at the end of masses when priests say “Let us go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives.”
I was sitting in a bus in a beautiful city by the beach on the West Coast of Mexico known as Puerto Vallarta, heading back to my accommodation one evening when I looked out of the window to my right to see the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus placed outside a shop, staring back at me. I later found out that it belonged to a car repair and maintenance company called Albarran, with many outlets spread throughout the whole of Mexico, each one adorned inside and outside with that same image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with this being only one of the many examples of the outward expression of faith in the country.
Not only was seeing the Catholic faith so visibly shown a shock in a way, but also both inspiring and challenging. It made me question my own life and how I could live it out glorifying God everywhere I go and in everything I do. It would be easy to say, “Well, it’s too bad we don’t have that kind of culture back home.” Or, “I wish it was like this in Australia.” The question is, “What am I going to do about it?”
My hope is that through writing this, others (especially young men and women) would be inspired to take up the call which we receive as Catholics at Baptism. That call which tells us to be courageous and “Go make disciples of all nations,” as Pope Francis reiterated at the World Youth Day Closing Mass in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Secondly I pray that by God’s grace I may always have the courage to stand up for my faith charitably and lovingly in public, even through adversity and persecution, and that He be attributed first of all in my every accomplishment, success or rise from struggle, so that the name of the Lord and His everlasting love may be heard wherever I go.
To God be the glory, forever and ever.