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1704: Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Tijuana, México
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Tijuana, México
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Tijuana, México.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Tijuana.
The building: This is Tijuana's "old" cathedral, soon to be replaced by a new building some distance away. Land for the new cathedral was obtained in 1978, but construction did not begin until 1996, delayed in part by the assassination of the cardinal archbishop by gunmen who mistook His Eminence's car for that of a certain notorious drug lord. The present church, at the intersection of Calle Segunda and Avenida de los Niños Héroes, dates from 1909 and is in the Spanish Renaissance style, with twin towers flanking the west door. The interior is not at all lavish, but there is still an impressive crystal chandelier, a lantern dome with some lovely stained glass, and a high arched sanctuary. The marble table was removed from the high altar, leaving only the back, over which there is a tall throne for exposing the Blessed Sacrament. A wooden communion table sits in front. Side altars are dedicated to St Joseph (on the right) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus (on the left); the latter is also the altar of reservation for the Sacrament. A side chapel does triple duty in honor of St Jude, St Frances Cabrini, and Our Lady of Loreto. In the back near the doors there is a statue of a young altar boy, Juanito, holding an alms box.
The church: The cathedral is a popular venue for baptisms and weddings. There are twelve masses each Sunday, beginning at 6.00am and continuing through 9.00pm, and five masses each weekday, including one in the evening.
The neighborhood: Tijuana, in the northernmost part of the Mexican state of Baja California, sits just south of the border between the United States and Mexico and is easily reached via light rail from San Diego, California. Upon walking across the border, one is immediately confronted by squalor: beggars sitting (or in some cases lying) in the streets; emaciated, mangy stray dogs raiding trash cans; open-air eateries with more flies than patrons. But if one ignores the strip clubs so popular with sailors and marines, the ramshackle hotels that rent rooms by the hour, and the street hustlers who speak perfect English but who (one suspects) may not exactly be welcome any longer north of the border, one discovers the back streets of Tijuana. Here one can find panaderías featuring fresh Mexican baked goods for a few pesos, and bargain shops where the natives buy their toiletries, clothes, shoes, and handmade leather goods for a fraction of what one would pay elsewhere. Even so, there is not much to write home about, except perhaps a restaurant called Caesar's, allegedly the birthplace in 1924 of the Caesar salad. Tijuana does have its well-to-do sections, where attractions such as casinos, upscale restaurants and clubs, a bullfighting ring and even a greyhound track are nestled amid wide tree-lined avenues framed by manicured gardens, but the tourist on foot seldom gets to see these.
The cast: No names were given, but I am going to assume that the two priests involved were the Revd Juan García Ruvalcaba, pastor, and the Revd José Arcadio Ávila Huitimea, vicar. Two lay sacristans and a nun also had roles to play.
The date & time: Friday, March 20, 2009, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 500 in the pews. There were about 100 people in the cathedral at any given time – people tended to wander in off the streets, pray for awhile, and then leave.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, unless you include the beggars in front of the cathedral asking for money.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly so – bare wooden pews, rather worn, but roomy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The Blessed Sacrament had been exposed in a sunburst-style monstrance as tall as a person; the monstrance rested on the throne above the high altar. As mentioned, turnover in the congregation was constant. Two lay sacristans puttered about the sanctuary setting up for mass which was to be celebrated at noon.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
One of the sacristans said something in Spanish which must have meant "Please stand," as everyone stood.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
None.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Tijuana, México

Did anything distract you?
There was a swarm of about a dozen or so flies circling in the air above the center aisle under the lantern dome. I was wishing I had a can of bug spray with me. Would killing the flies deconsecrate the cathedral? I thought to myself. After all, weren't insects routinely excommunicated during the Middle Ages? Also, someone had let go of a red helium-filled balloon which lodged itself firmly against the ceiling of the lantern dome.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, it was different, that's for sure. People sat or knelt in silence for the most part, but some expressed their devotion in interesting ways. One woman knelt in the side chapel, her right hand gripping the hem of Our Lady of Loreto's gown. A gentleman, sombrero in hand, came up the center aisle on his knees. I had heard of this custom but had never witnessed it. All the while, a priest (I'm going to assume he was Padre Juan, the pastor) vested in alb and purple stole sat in front of the St Joseph altar hearing confessions; a long queue had formed. Suddenly he got up and returned to the sacristy, leaving a long line of unshriven penitents looking rather surprised. After a brief moment, another priest (and I'm going to assume he was Padre José, the vicar) came out similarly vested and stationed himself in one of the confessionals; the queue reformed. At length one of the sacristans emerged from the sanctuary, faced the Blessed Sacrament, and sang some hymns in Spanish – no one seemed to join him, though, and I neither understood the words nor recognized the tunes. When this was done, a nun double-genuflected in front of the Sacrament (and she was the only one to do so), ascended a staircase to the throne where the monstrance was resting, and pulled a rope which closed a white curtain. Finally, the sanctuary bell was rung and the first priest, who had been hearing confessions at the St Joseph altar, entered the sanctuary to begin mass. There was no benediction – in fact, I couldn't imagine how anyone could lift that person-sized monstrance in order to give benediction!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was none.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Despite the oddity of the service, I was impressed by how people, both young and old and from all walks of life (and quite a few of them men), just wandered in off the street to spend some time on their knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The flies! Let them be excommunicated!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. I didn't stay for mass, as I felt I had witnessed enough of a service to be able to report on it. Besides, the acoustics were not good, the PA system distorted what was being said, and I hadn't been understanding the Spanish up to that point anyway. So I deposited my Mystery Worship calling card in the Juanito statue's alms box and left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. After crossing back into the United States, I stopped at McDonald's for lunch before boarding the trolley back to San Diego.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – It's really impossible to say. I don't live in Tijuana, and if I did I doubt I would attend church downtown. It will be interesting to see how the new cathedral turns out when it is finished.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I felt at one with these people who were expressing their faith, each in his or her own individual way.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The gentleman who came up the aisle on his knees.
 
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