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.
Mexico is the land of church bells. In a memorable phrase from one of his two books (I forget which one) about his adventures living in Mexico Tony Cohan writes, “Church bells stun the air.”
There’s hardly a time during daylight hours—and often far into the night—that you don’t hear church bells ringing somewhere in the city.
Sometimes they ring to mark the hours. Sometimes they ring to call the faithful to worship. And sometimes they ring in joyful celebration at the end of a midnight Mass, as on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve).
Whenever they ring, they are a welcome diversion from horns blaring, brakes squealing, and jackhammers pulverizing old pavement to make way for new.
Church bells. The sound of serenity. The sound of Mexico.
first week of winter—
clutching my grandson’s left hand
for our long walk home