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Nov-10-2012 02:43printcomments

The Second Come-on... How Jesus Came To Guanajuato

And even madmen manage to convey
Unwelcome truths in lonely gibberish.
- W. H. Auden

Jesus Came To Guanajuato

(DAYTONA BEACH, FL) - Mexican history is complicated for a gringo, but understandable once you realize that it's more religiously straitjacketed than American history and almost as hilarious as Canadian history. But it's necessary to decipher the past, at least in the State of Guanajuato, since the royal visit last year of Pope Benedict XVI, nee Joseph Ratzinger, who first honed his disciple skills as a mere boy in the Hitler Youth.

All I knew about Mexican history up until now was the bit about stout Cortez staring with eagle eyes at the Pacific, according to Keats. Actually, Keats screwed up, because it was Balboa who nailed the Southwest Passage, and fielded that famous punchline “But where, Senor, is the gold?”

Essentially, historical Mexico as well as present-day Mexico, is made up of four demographic groups: (1) the peasants, who are by definition poor, slightly educated and 83.5% Catholic, (2) the rich landowners, who have no particular religion, except for the Roman Catholic Church, which is prominent in their membership, (3) the drug lords, who might be considered a sub-set of (2) above, except they don't care about the land, except as a the locus for their opulent mansions, and (4) the Government, which is in a more or less constant state of successive revolutions and periods of flux, with the peasants usually the demographic group most often fluxed.

Our primary focus is the history of Guanajuato State, which was prime territory for a papal visit, first because the region has been marinated in the Catholic religion for 500 years, the people are mostly peasants and not too keen on Aids or contraception, and finally, because here the usual priestly after-hours amusement tends to be limited to gardening and stamp collecting, perhaps because in their liturgical logistics, altar boys are rarely available since they are required from an early age to labor, unlike the lilies, in the fields.

The first noteworthy Jesus (pronounced Hey, Zeus!) in Guanajuato State was a pharmacist who participated in the famous Cristero War. (1926-29) The Cristeros (or as we gringos say, “Christers”) rebelled against the nacionales, the government which, following the regime of Huerta, and the accidental death of Emiliano Zapata, (of 126 bullet holes) tended to be occasionally left-leaning, even communistas, and imposed strict rules, such as denying religious freedom to bishops, priests and the 83.5% of the faithful.

“Religious freedom,” there as in contemporary America, (and by osmosis, Canada) is defined as denying any encroachment on the Church's doctrine, such as advocating contraception of any kind. (Rural Quebec, par exemple, enjoys the greatest freedom of religion in the world, averaging 15 children per family.)

The Cristeros began seizing villages with the battle cry “Vive the Virgin of Guadelupe!” who apparently was still alive. The most successful rebel leaders were the aforementioned Jesus Degollado (with a name like that, how could he miss?), a ranch hand or vaquero named Victoriano Raminez, and Father Jose Reyes Vega who, predictably, was a priest in name only, who had entered the seminary under duress because his family wanted him to be a priest. (He went along with it, although he made no pretense of living a virtuous life, especially as it applied to celibacy. Unlike most priests, he was not particular who his victims were, as long as they were female.)

The Mexican catholic establishment never officially supported the rebellion, but the rebels did obtain some scant vindication for their cause as legitimate. The Cristeros quickly began to lose in the face of superior federal forces, and retreated into remote areas, constantly striking and then fleeing from the federales.

In 1929, the Cristeros attacked Guadalajara and failed, although they managed to take Tepatitlan. Father Vega was killed, some say in that battle, some say by a jealous husband. In any event, the military rebellion was met with more than equal force and the Cristeros soon faced division within their own ranks. The church ostensibly ended its support for the rebels following its reconciliation with the government. The Church was always pulling things like that. In fact they still do, through international concordats.

Nothing much of a politico-religious nature happened until 1992, when the Mexican Government amended the constitution by granting all religious groups legal status, conceding them limited property rights, and lifting restrictions on the number of priests in the country.

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI met with President Felipe Calderon in Guanajuato City and later told about 4,000 children massed in the colonial-era city's Peace Plaza that they were each a "gift of God to Mexico and the world." It was a bizarre way of greeting children in light of the current world news concerning child abuse. He called on the young to be messengers of peace in a country traumatized by the deaths of more than 47,000 people in the drug war. His Holiness is on the record as opposing both war and contraception, since both negatively impact potential Catholic membership, and ergo the cash flow of the Vatican Bank. Since child abuse doesn't affect either, it is sanctioned not as crime, but downgraded to sin, which can be easily forgiven either through indulgences or moving the priest to another parish.

The following day, tens of thousands of people gathered for an open-air Mass close to the Christ the King monument in Guanajuato State, to be celebrated by the Pope himself, who arrived, reminiscent of George Bush's “Mission Accomplished” gig, (Doubleya also had something to celebrate, however prematurely) flying over the 72-foot monument in a Mexican military Superpuma helicopter, dubbed by the irreverent press on this occasion as Vatican One.

With all roads in the area sealed off by tight security, pilgrims, newshounds and a legion of street vendors walked for miles to the Mass with plastic lawn chairs, water and backpacks. Old women walked with canes. Some Mass-goers wrapped themselves in blankets or Vatican flags, trekking past vendors selling sun hats, plastic crucifixes made in Japan, potato chips and “We Like Benny” tee shirts.

Hundreds of young priests in white and black cassocks, waiting to pass through the metal detectors, shouted "Christ Lives!" and "Long Live Christ the King!" -- the battle cry of the Cristeros. They may have been right. Possibly. Among the throng, a slight figure clad in a burnoose and a white robe rode quietly on a small donkey scarcely larger than a burro. He looked slightly like a tanning studio'd Charlton Heston with a beard. Stopped by security at the metal detector location, he was ordered to dismount and check his donkey. The actual instruction was: "Senor, get off your ass."

"Verily,” said the Man, “I will tether my donkey and walk to that graven image of Me.”

“Si, senor,” said one of the guards, “leave him in the ditch there. Then you'll be able to tell your ass from that hole in the ground.”

The Man in the robe was confronted thrice before the Mass crowd broke up later that day. (The three temptations, get it?) First, three men wearing black suits and sunglasses surrounded him and said: “have you got the stuff?”

“Why dost thou accost me thus,” said the Man. “Wist thee not that I should be about my Father's business?”

“Si, gringo, ” said one of the suits. “You mean “Father” Brown in Brownsville, right? He said to expect you disguised like Lawrence of Arabia.”

His next encounter was even more strange. Stopping among the street vendors along the way, he pulled two loaves and three fishes from under his robe and began to feed the multitude as they passed.

“Hey, Gringo,” said a young man with a clipboard and an I.D. Card that read: 'Franchise Co-ordinator,' “If you haven't got a licence, move along.”

The third altercation involved three or four young padres, still chanting about the Cristero War. They surrounded him as he stood watching the Pope celebrating the Mass. The Man was threatening to cast all the gold fixtures out of the temple, that is to say the temporary stage that had been erected, saying: “Behold; in my Father's House are many mansions, but this isn't one of them.”

Forcibly ejected, he returned to rest by the road with his donkey and watch the crowd disburse. Presently, a blind man came along, tapping the shoulder of the road with his white cane. The Man immediately rose and placed his hands on the blind man's temples. “He who hath eyes,” he pronounced, “let him see.” Almost immediately, the erstwhile blind man tore the shades from his eyes and shouted: “I can see!”

The crowd continued to shuffle by without noticing. But within a half an hour, a Humvee pulled up and two federales jumped out, training their AK-47's on the Man. “You are under arrest, senor,” said one. “For practising medicine without a licence.”

In Guanajuato State, the peasants continue to be 83.5% Catholic, and they still believe the legend that some day Emiliano Zapata will return, coming down from the hills on his white horse to liberate them. But this wasn't it. And yet to this day, devout peasants refer to the singular papal visit as “The Mass of the Ass.”


Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.

You can write to Bill Annett at this address:

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Ralph E. Stone November 10, 2012 7:38 am (Pacific time)

My wife and I visited the cities of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and Querétaro in 2008..  Each city had an individual who sparked the independence struggle -- Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Ignacio Allende, and Doña Josefa Ortiz -- that eventually resulted in Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821. 

See my article "Mexico's 2010 Bicentennial Independence Celebration" (

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