Monday, 1 August 2011

La Mano de Dios

Our Lady of Guadalupe
It is one of the most famous, most controversial, and most widely reproduced images in the world. By turns it has baffled, amazed, and captivated men and women on every continent, from scholars and scientists to farmers and factory-workers, janitors and journalists to buskers and bus-drivers. Yet still the questions remain unanswered. How could such an extraordinary thing have happened? Why has there never been anything quite like it, either before or since? And how did both the referee and the linesman fail to notice when 'Blessed' Diego Maradona used his hand to punch the ball over Peter Shilton into England's goal?

There is a very silly film called "Mike Bassett: England Manager", in which, for example, two players from the lower leagues called 'Benson' and 'Hedges' end up in the England team, because Bassett writes his team selection on the back of a cigarette packet. Well, Maradona's goal might have been scrubbed out of the script, for being too stupid. After he scored he was shouting at his team-mates, who knew he'd cheated, to come and hug him, to make it look more authentic. "A little bit the head of Maradona and a little bit the hand of God", as Maradona put it. Last summer i was told about Argentina's last qualifying game for the 2010 World Cup, when Maradona was manager, and they had to beat Peru. I may not get all the details right, but apparently it was pouring with rain, and the scores were level with ten minutes to go. Maradona made a substitution, bringing on a very elderly striker, to huge groans and swearing from the Argentina fans. Then, with about a minute to go - this striker scores the winning goal, giving Argentina qualification. At the final whistle Maradona dived head-long with a huge splash onto the water-logged pitch. Then in the press conference, following an appalling outburst of bad language, he described how he decided to bring the player on, because he could hear the crowd chanting his name!

Since arriving in this wonderful country i've started to form an idea of what made Mexico '86 such a great tournament. It wasn't just the Mexican Waves, or the brilliantly designed 'Aztec' balls. It wasn't just Gary Lineker's goal-hangi...sorry, off-side trap defying goal-mouth incursions, or Maradona's mesmerising run for Argentina's second goal against England, finished off by Terry Butcher (watch the replay). On Sunday morning i got up early to join a procession from the magnificent Cathedral here, to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, two or three miles north. First to arrive was a troupe of young girls, dressed in traditional Mexican costumes, dancing in unison and singing a very beautiful hymn of some kind, possibly in the indigenous Indian language. Then there was a band, of three saxophones, who would echo the melody provided by two trumpets and a trombone, with a great big double bass and a mandolin/banjo type instrument, accompanied by other traditionally-dressed dancers. There were also spectacularly dressed Aztec 'shamans' and other musicians, playing brilliant tunes which i'd never heard before. It was a "special occasion", and i believe this goes to the heart of why Mexico '86 was such a great success. No one does "special occasions" like the people of Mexico.
Musicians and dancers gathering at 'Zocolo' Cathedral, Mexico City, for procession to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
They were marking the IXth anniversary of the canonisation of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary is understood to have appeared in 1531.  Making an account of himself before the local Bishop (who was initially sceptical - non-Catholics might be amazed how sceptical Bishops can be!), on a subsequent visit some roses, which only grew in Spain at that time, miraculously appeared in his 'tilma', a sort of cape woven from the fibres of a cactus. These in turn fell out, to reveal the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, dressed as an indigenous young Mexican woman, with the rays of the sun behind her (Aztecs had worshipped the sun), and her gaze downward, in an attitude of great modesty; conveying the message that she herself is not to be worshipped, but only the One who sent her. Literally hundreds of books have been written about this image, but another important aspect are the sort of 'ribbons' around her wrists; all Aztecs of that time would have known immediately from this that she is expecting a Child, and she is invoked as the Patroness of all unborn children, as well as Patroness of Mexico and Patroness of the Americas.

So on Wednesday the 27th of July, the Memorial of an English martyr called Blessed Robert Nutter, i arrived at last in Mexico, and trekked from the airport to the Basilica, just over six months after setting off from Walsingham, Norfolk. I'd always hoped to do as much as possible on foot. You might say it's something i have in common with former England cricket captain Nasser Hussein. He didn't always 'walk' either.

Here is the message given by Our Lady to St. Juan Diego;

"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son; let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folding of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?"

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