My name is Jared Leonard, and I am a seminarian going into the 6th year of formation at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska. Each year during the summer the seminarians receive an assignment for some practical formation and work connected with one of our FSSP apostolates. This summer I am happy to be assigned to Casa Cristo Rey in Guadalajara, Mexico.
This apostolate has been a fruitful opportunity to learn Spanish, and to learn from the priests in a bustling parish how to nurture the faith, balance and distribute responsibilities with a larger group of priests, and to sacrifice for the common good of serving the needs of the house and the apostolate for the salvation of souls.
In addition to the work that we are doing in the parish – assisting at the eight Masses on Sundays, traveling to homes on sick calls and Communion calls, and preparing for a Gregorian Chant Camp which I will lead in mid-August – we were blessed to visit a unique feature of Mexico this past week: a holy site containing the remains of two Mexican Martyrs. This holy site is in the small town of Cuquío at the Church dedicated to St. Phillip the Apostle.
Cuquío is about an hour and half drive through the mountains from Guadalajara and the church there features the remains of two Mexican martyrs: St. Justino Orona Madrigal, and St. Atilano Cruz Alvarado. The martyrs’ remains are in large urns under the altar in the center of the Church and their life-size statues flank both sides of the stunningly ornate sanctuary.
Our crew for this trip was large, consisting of Fr. Heenan, one deacon, two seminarians, two candidates from our apostolate in Mexico, one candidate for our seminary in Wigratzbad, and two altar servers from the parish to help serve and sing at the Mass.
When we arrived, the assistant pastor greeted us warmly, asked if we needed anything to prepare to celebrate Mass at his parish, and produced a set of beautiful traditional vestments for us to use. After looking at the time, even offered to let us celebrate the public Mass for the parish at noon. An invitation to say one of the parish’s public masses in the extraordinary form during our first visit and meeting with this priest was a great surprise and a rare blessing for us.
We were happy to accept his offer and prepared everything necessary to offer a Sung Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart. The schola, which consisted of two seminarians and a parishioner from Guadalajara, was able to fill the room with the ancient melodies of Gregorian Chant, thanks to the vaulted ceilings and echoing acoustic of the church. It sounded as if someone in the back of the church was singing along with us in perfect rhythm and tune.
All was going beautifully as the Mass proceeded, but as Fr. Heenan was singing the Gospel we received a very interesting surprise!
First we heard something like a maraca shaking rhythmically in the back of the Church. Then we saw the motion of something coming toward the front of the Church from the back at a slow steady pace. That motion was a man, dressed scantily in Native American garb complete with eagle-feather headdress. He was making a one-man procession down the center aisle towards the altar while shaking his maraca solemnly the whole while, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was interrupting Mass!
He got to the foot of the altar and kept on going, brushed past the photographer that attempted to stop him, and ascended the steps into the sanctuary towards where Fr. Heenan was still singing the Gospel. The MC and an acolyte quickly intervened to help stop him lest he reach the altar, and it seemed for a moment that nothing less than physical force would be necessary to keep him away. After a few words he was finally placated when the MC took the flower he was holding and placed it at the foot of the statue of Our Lady on the epistle side of the altar. Only then did he continue his lonely procession into one of the side chapels.
Later we asked Fr. Heenan what in the world that was and what he thought of the whole matter. He replied that he couldn’t help but think of those Masses which were stopped by police in Europe, and that he expected the worst – either incarceration or martyrdom. The possibility that it might be a scantily dressed native fellow was completely outside of any of his expectations. Fr. Heenan was surprised and couldn’t help but laugh, which he had to suppress as he was still singing the Gospel!
After the fellow had moved on, I kept looking to the side chapel expecting him to make a return, but thankfully he did not. Sometime during the Offertory he went the long way out of the side chapel, back to the center aisle and processed his way out of the Church the same way he had come, shaking his maraca and shuffling rhythmically.
Though this episode was quite unique, even more unique for us was the reception we received from the priest and the parishioners. The parishioners were wonderfully receptive to the traditional liturgy, all received communion kneeling and on the tongue, and none made any complaint about the Mass afterward.
The Mass we celebrated that day was a perfect fit for the Church and for these simple people. I wondered if any of them made the connection that the Mass we said that day was the same as the Mass that the two martyrs had themselves offered during their lives.
After the Mass, the priest at the parish was kind enough to treat us to lunch and show us around the town, where the people reacted very well to seeing four men in cassocks. He showed us the old monastery, another beautiful old church, a traditional bread shop, and a quaint hotel filled with antiques and old pictures. He also told us of a house nearby where the saints had stayed, where we might visit their room. We exchanged mutual invitations to visit again and left joyfully hoping to return soon.
It seems that Mexico is ripe for growth, and we hope one day to be able to build a seminary for Spanish-speaking candidates here. For the time being, we run a house of formation for candidates to the priesthood in Casa Cristo Rey (Home of Christ the King), who study English, work, and pray as they prepare to enter our seminary in Nebraska or into a religious community. I humbly ask your prayers for the success of our apostolate in Mexico, for many vocations, and for the means to be provided to one day open a seminary here.
~Jared Leonard, FSSP