Saturday morning. I decide to walk through the streets of Colonia Manuel Vallarta one more time before my flight leaves the Guadalajara airport at 5:30 p.m.
It is early and the streets are almost deserted. I arrive at Templo San Nicolás de Bari, only to find that the gates to the grounds are still locked.
Just then the groundskeeper comes with his key, and throws open the gates, so that worshipers can enter the church, or the weary can sit on a bench in the garden.
Without stopping, I continue on. The walk is my worship this morning.
At a nearby house, someone has piled used red bricks against a green wall. If Van Gogh were with me, he would love the interaction of light and color, and probably paint a masterpiece.
Near someone else’s front door, a morning newspaper lies unread. The inhabitants are sleeping in, no doubt.
At one intersection, a pink bougainvillea arches over the sidewalk. Two cats, startled by my approach, turn tail and run.
At the abandoned café a homeless man sleeps, nestled in a pile of rags, while two old men sweep debris from the street in front of their houses, chatting to each other as they swish their brooms.
My apartment is almost in sight. There, just around the corner.
I turn the key in the gate lock, probably for the last time until the taxi comes, climb the stairs, and begin packing my suitcase.
Little brown sparrow,
are three crumbs at dawn enough
for a daylong song?
Promptly at 5 p.m., the bells at Templo San Nicolás de Bari start to ring wildly, signaling the beginning of the procession that will bring Our Lady of Zapopan (Nuestra Señora de Zapopan) to the church for her annual visit.
Drummers and trumpeters lead the joyful procession, and residents line the streets, longing to catch a glimpse of “the little cornhusk doll.” Penitents murmur prayers and cross themselves as Our Lady passes by.
When the procession arrives at the church about thirty minutes after it starts, and Our Lady is gently lifted from the “carriage” (actually, a pickup truck) in which she has been riding, a great shout goes up from the crowd: “Viva! Viva! Viva!”
As Our Lady is carried into the church, with the drummers drumming and the trumpets blaring, the shouts continue: “Viva! Viva! Viva!”
At last “the little cornhusk doll,” decked out in all her royal finery, is given a place of honor in front of the altar. The crowd oohs and ahs.
The church is packed, so I cannot enter, and as I stand at one of the entrances, a young man turns to me and says something in Spanish, but the crowd is still so noisy that I’m not sure what he says.
“No hablo español,” I say with a smile and a shrug.
¿Habla usted Inglés? he says.
“Yes,” I reply.
He introduces himself as Brandon, formerly of Colorado. He says that this is his church, and that he has lived in this neighborhood for two years.
“Why?” I ask.
He points to his Mexican wife and child and says, “That’s the reason.”
He claps me on the shoulder, and points to the food booths that line the street in front of the church.
“If you want some really good tortas,” he says, “try the stand on the corner. They are delicious. Enjoy your stay here.”
And then he dashes off to join his wife and child.
Little brown sparrow,
the boy in the bright red shoes
wants to sing with you.
She’s a tiny thing, and not much to look at, even though she is clad in regal garments and wears a crown. Some people might refer to her dismissively as “a little cornhusk doll.”
But according to the story, Our Lady of Zapopan (Nuestra Señora de Zapopan) started working miracles in the sixteenth century, and she’s been working them ever since.
Fray Antonio de Segovia fashioned a little cornhusk doll in honor of the Virgin. For ten years, he wore it around his neck. In 1541, in an attempt to make peace between warring Indian tribes, he went among them and preached. It is said that those who heard his message saw rays of light emanating from the image he wore around his neck, and they laid down their weapons.
That was the beginning of centuries of reverence for Fray Antonio’s “little cornhusk doll,” representing Our Lady of Zapopan.
In 1721, a plague swept through Guadalajara. Sacred history says that when the image was carried from barrio to barrio, the plague ceased.
At about the same time, Our Lady of Zapopan was declared to be the official protector from the fierce thunderstorms and lightning that characterize the rainy season. Thus, the little image is carried from its place in the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan during the rainy season, which begins in June, to visit every church in every barrio of Guadalajara.
Tomorrow “the little cornhusk doll,” will be carried in a joyful procession through the streets of Colonia Manuel Vallarta. At the end of the procession, there will be a Mass at Templo San Nicolás de Bari, a five-minute walk from my apartment.
To participate in a local celebration is one of the benefits of being more than a casual tourist in a foreign country, and I look forward to catching a glimpse of “the little cornhusk doll,” and to hearing the sounds of rejoicing in the streets.
Little brown sparrow,
after the storm has ended,
will you sing again?