Last week, I traveled to Pachuca, Mexico, with my wife and our Director of Literacy Missions to see about partnering with a church there to teach English as a Foreign Language and train them to use this tool to build bridges into their community for the sake of Christ.
On the way from the airport to the city, which was about 1.5 hours NE of Mexico City, our host Jonathan Baker with CAM Int'l, took us to see The Basilica of Guadalupe, which claimed to be "the most visited Catholic shrine in the world." It is built on the supposed site of the Lady of Guadalupe's apparition to Juan Diego, who convinced the Bishop through the image of the virgin on his cloak to build a temple to her and thus to unite Mexico under her care.
I noticed some interesting things about the places of worship. First, the Virgin is the focus of everything. In the earliest building, the encased image of the virgin is the center-piece of worship. The people in the picture are saying "Hail Marys" facing her while Jesus hangs on the cross in a side room. The walls leading to the altar have paintings describing the apparition of the Lady to Juan Diego.
I was most saddened by the veneration of Mary over Jesus and the ritualistic religion that keeps the people from experiencing the freedom Jesus died and rose to bring them. The whole experience reminded me of "The Grand Inquisitor" in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, when Jesus returned to offer the people freedom again, and the Inquisitor told him to leave because he had rejected what people wanted, "miracle, mystery, and authority." He, on the other hand, had given them those things.
Compare the Basilica to the church building of "El Buen Pastor" in Pachuca. There are only about 5% evangelical Christians in Mexico, and the church facilities and numbers reflect that.
Here I am introducing church leaders to Jesus on Leadership. A bit different than grandiose images of worship, facilities, and religion we saw at the Basilica.
As you know, we in the US are not immune to religious ritual and veneration of saints--yes, even in evangelical world. And, I also know, there are many Roman Catholics who follow Jesus and are brothers and sisters in Christ with us.
My prayer is that we partner with more churches who offer the freedom of Jesus to their communities and who will build bridges through humble service to meet needs in the name of Jesus.
If you want to know more about our English Language Program or the trip, you can go here or email June Zheng.
Oh, Jonah? He refused to go to a city like Mexico City for all the same reasons we may not want to go there. Check out our current series at Legacy Church: Jonah, Not Just a Kid's Story.