Church Bells in Tochimilco, Mexico: An Old Feud Revisited
by Christoph Rosenmüller
©Javier del Rio/Flickr
I spent a few weeks last summer in the Mexican town Tochimilco, a municipalidad in the state of Puebla. Set to a breathtaking scene with the majestic Popocatepetl Volcano in the backdrop, this charming town boasts a former Franciscan monastery built in the sixteenth century.
In this quaint town, which is about a four-hour bus ride from the bustling megalopolis Mexico City, the church bells ring every quarter of an hour. Every full hour the large loudspeakers mounted on Tochimilco’s town hall broadcast secular tunes such as the canción mixteca, a song on the emigrants’ plight. The chiming and broadcasting go on through the night. I found myself waking up at three in the morning to the sound of “Mexicans, at the Cry of War,” the stirring national anthem.
The government makes an audible point that it has the right to keep its citizens apprised of important civic events and the time, and does not yield this to the Church. In some ways this is part of the long-standing rivalry between the secular and religious power dating back to at least the colonial times of New Spain, as Mexico was then known (1521–1821).
In 1508, the kings of Castile obtained the patronato, the right to appoint bishops and other important clerics in the Americas, thus expanding the royal influence over the Church there. In the mid-eighteenth century, the crown began evicting the friars from the indigenous parishes (Tochimilco in 1767), and in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the crown seized much of the Church wealth that was given as credit to debtors. In the nineteenth century, the Liberals issued the Reform Laws, establishing religious freedom, and wresting from the Church the civil registry as well as much of the remaining Church land. Finally, the Constitution of 1917, born out of the violent upheaval of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), decreed the nationalization of even the church buildings. In practice, however, the laws have been loosely applied in the past decades, so that the priests retain much control over the buildings.
In 2010 the PRI, the party of the Mexican Revolution, was voted out in the municipal elections of Tochimilco and replaced by the more Catholic-leaning PAN party. Local relations between the municipality and the Church became more amicable. The government turned down the volume of nightly broadcasts. Still, Tochimilco (in the native tongue Nahuatl: the place where the rabbits abound in the corn field) remains by all measures a Catholic town. A bordello was recently shut down, and the Protestants play only a minor role, if any, here, although they flourish in other towns of the area.
In the neighboring town Magdalena Yancuitlalpan (in Nahuatl: place of the new land), one of the few remaining Nahuatl-speaking communities in the area, several people insisted that their town was even more devout. A large sign over the church entrance implored the Virgin Mary to protect the town’s offspring living in New Jersey.
All Church services, including weddings and burials, are broadcast via loudspeakers. At noon Schubert’s Ave Maria rings out, soon followed by announcements that fresh meat is sold at the stand next to the church. The temple uses the loudspeakers along with the auxiliary town hall (junta auxiliar). The community largely agrees to this arrangement, it seems, given its scarcer resources and the more traditional outlook. Even visitors from Mexico City find it remarkable that in times of electronic communication, which some inhabitants of the two towns use avidly, the loudspeakers still play such a commanding role.
In any case, the PRI on the national level emphasized the pre-Hispanic origins of Mexico and invested much in restoring the pyramids. In 2000, however, the PRI lost the presidency of the country to the PAN. The change fostered a greater political appreciation for the colonial arts and architecture that contributed much to the Hispanic and Catholic heritage of the country. The National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH) is busily restoring the colonial ex-cloisters. About a year ago, INAH finished its work on Tochimilco’s Asunción de Nuestra Señora church. This imposing temple is a part of a chain of stunning monasteries in the foothills of Popocatepetl, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. This shines a bright light on Mexico, especially considering all the bad news coming from the border. Now if they could just turn down the speakers a little bit at night…
Christoph Rosenmüller is associate professor in the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of Patrons, Partisans, and Palace Intrigues: The Court Society of Colonial Mexico, 1702–1710.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Well, I think faith is just an interesting topic, and it’s something that I quite honestly struggle with. But I always find, however much I believe about the Catholic Church — and I have some major problems with it — I always find that going to church is a very peaceful and a really nice time for me. Sitting through Mass, and sitting in Mass. You know, the thought of forgiveness, redemption — those are things that hold an awful lot of beauty for me, and really relate to our lives, no matter who we are. So those are the kind of parts that I focus on. And obviously there are things that are really scary and awful that I try to forget about.
For many of Finn’s fans, you’ll probably enjoy this interview, but the Friday Night Lights die-hards will like it even more. I just wish the interviewer would’ve probed a bit deeper on this religion question rather than using it as a toss-away paragraph that doesn’t draw Finn out on the depths of his experience or at least follow up on his answer. What are his “major problems” with the Catholic Church? Forgiveness and redemption are present in many denominations and various religions; what is it about the Roman Catholic Mass that draws him in despite his misgivings? What does he think about and take back to his work and relationships? When he cites David Foster Wallace’s idea about “reading fiction as a form of meditation,” how does Finn put that into practice in his own life and art and faith?
Photo by dsopfe/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Tuesday Evening Melody: Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”
by Lisa Moore, guest contributor
This song affirms that humans create beauty. When that woman’s voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.
Miserere Mei was written by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri in the late 1630s. As legend has it, this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Sistine Chapel for the Tenebrae (“darkness” or “shadows” in Latin) service. Doing so was punishable by excommunication.
The story goes that, after more than a century, young Mozart heard the work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an Englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius. The ban was lifted, and now it is one of the most common works to be performed by a cappella choirs.
Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course, could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The Church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance and control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.
Other composers also transcribed it, and there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I’m stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings — including the gorgeous version above performed by The Sixteen — both with adult and children’s choirs.
As interesting as all of this is, I’m not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.
Lisa Moore is a medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. She attempts to maintain her identity as more than somebody who studies through yoga, creative cooking, reading, and writing.
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Which Catholic Values and Social Teachings Get Noticed?
by Martin Marty, guest contributor from Sightings
Maureen Dowd wrote an almost innocuous column in The New York Times in which she noted, or argued, that “American bishops have been inconsistent in preaching their values.” Any reader who is up on the teachings of the company of bishops should not be surprised that they are inconsistent or that Ms. Dowd caught them in action. Such a reader who is up on the parties in play can also expect that the columnist is zeroing in on a zone of teachings about sex, which are of a different nature than are the rest of the social teachings. Someone had to notice her generalization.
Someone did. An authoritative if informal response came in the Letters to the Editor column from Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany who wrote on “The Values of the Bishops.” He argued that Ms. Dowd and so many like her were not paying attention, so he cited all kinds and degrees of interest they had shown in focusing on the social teachings. Since we don’t often hear about almost all of them, it pays to note his list.
Bishop Hubbard pointed out that the bishops consistently raised grave moral concerns regarding the decision to invade Iraq back when that stance was unpopular, before the war became unpopular in the mind of the larger public. Who noticed? The bishops have been consistent supporters of efforts to repeal the death penalty, and have held this position for decades. They challenge the capital punishment culture and routinely request clemency for death-row inmates, in low- and high-profile cases alike. Who noticed?
The full body of bishops in 2007, Bishop Hubbard argued, overwhelmingly adopted "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a document which showed them “preaching their values.” Who noticed it? Bishop Hubbard listed some of the specific “values” positions, e.g., against torture, racism, and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war. These were “intrinsically evil.” Facing up to the need to deal with the suffering “from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigrations policy” also escaped public notice among many. “Today, we bishops are exercising our leadership in advocating for the protection of poor people at home and abroad in the continuing budget debates.” Notice, anyone?
Included in the values list were condemnations of “abortion, euthanasia,” and he could have added, “homosexual” activity. Now, check these three as “noticed,” “noticed,” and “noticed” by much of the Catholic public which likes to ignore all the other “values” here, and by non-Catholic publics who never heard of other parts of the “seamless” or consistent ethic about which we heard some years ago. Now we are left to ponder: which zones of values get noticed by Catholics (including “by which Catholics?”) and which not? Who praises the bishops for what they put on the extensive values lists which are as old as 1893 or 1917 or other times of the formulation of social ethics? And is “consistency” among them to be valued? Also, which consistent instances help the Catholic “values” cause, and which are counter-productive? An election year is a good time to ponder some answers to the questions. One hopes that the whole range of issues will get noticed.
A last question: how do these values differ from those of most humanist, mainline Protestant, and Jewish choices? Believers and unbelievers are in much of this together. Do the old lines and definitions still serve? It’s time to notice.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, includingPilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Brazilians Celebrate Its Patron Saint, Nossa Senhora Aparecida
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Approximately 100 miles north of São Paulo in Brazil lies the town of Aparecida, home to the Basílica do Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the second largest basilica in the world. Only Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is larger.
And today on October 12th, a national holiday in Brazil, thousands of devotees are traveling to the Brazilian town to pay homage to Our Lady of Aparecida (“Our Lady Who Appeared”), the country’s patron saint.
The Marian shrine is Brazil’s version of Lourdes. In her physical form, Our Lady of Aparecida is a dark-skinned, clay statue of the Virgin Mary measuring less than three feet tall. Some refer to her as the “black Virgin” because of her dark coloration.
According to one account, three fishermen hauled in the statue from the bottom of the Paraiba River in 1717. They weren’t catching any fish that day and so prayed to Virgin Mary. Soon after the statue drifted into their nets, bounties of fish followed in her wake, nearly capsizing the men’s boat. Ever since, the statue has been associated with miracles.
It’s notable that Brazil, whose population includes more than 75 million people of African descent, has a black Madonna as its patron saint. One of the many miracles associated with Nossa Senhora Aparecida, as Brazilians call her, is the liberation of a fugitive slave. Some Afro-Brazilians syncretize the saint with three female Yoruba orishas: Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya — all of whom are associated with water.
And in a modern era of technological miracles, Nossa Senhora Aparecida now has her very own Twitter feed, which you can follow (in Portuguese).
U.S. Senators Discuss Religion and Its Role in Political Life (video exclusive)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"In some ways, our religious traditions give us guidance about the lack of working together, the partisanship, because as different as our faith traditions are, there are some common values. And one of them is something as simple as justice."
—Senator Bob Casey
"Colson would warn that salvation does not lie in what comes out of the United States Congress or the White House in Washington D.C."
—Senator Dan Coats
"If politics is the art of compromise, purity is not compromise; it’s inconsistent with it."
—Senator John Danforth
Civil conversation among our politicians is at a premium these days. So rarely do we get to witness our political leaders respectfully engaging each other in a discussion about matters of the spirit and how they intersect with their civic responsibilities that we might not think it possible. But there are places trying to make this happen, venues that provide a human space for this type of thoughtful dialogue.
The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis are creating such a communal space. The ”Danforth Dialogues” — moderated by, you guessed it, former Senator John C. Danforth — kicked off its inaugural event with Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat and Roman Catholic from Pennsylvania, and Senator Dan Coats, a Republican and Evangelical Christian from Indiana.
For the most part, the first half of this conversation is a warm-up period that covers somewhat well-trodden ground: the culture of Washington, compromise on taxes and entitlements, the budget. But there are moments of resonance too. When I hear the three men regret that there are limited opportunities for social interaction, I think of Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, who posits that regular, seemingly inconsequential bump-ins are a necessary starting point for deeper, more meaningful discussion. Senator Casey puts a point on this idea when he tells a story about introducing his daughter to Senator Coats on an elevator for the first time and says “the fact that it stands out in my memory indicates that those interactions are pretty rare.”
If you’re interested in a more personal discussion about faith and how it influences politics for the two currently serving senators, the discussion gets rolling about 27 minutes in. A couple of moments to highlight come in the form of references: one to a book by a former Nixon aide, the other to a church hymn.
When asked if he thinks religion is more directly involved in politics than ever before, Senator Coats cites Chuck Colson’s Kingdom in Conflict as a philosophy that informs how he navigates his distinct responsibilities as an elected official and a Christian:
"He [Colson] warns in his book that you have to be careful that the kingdom of man, kingdom of government, doesn’t dictate the essential message of the kingdom of God, and vice versa. And so it takes some discernment to not go too far either way."
Near the end, Senator Casey remarks:
"There’s a great hymn in the Church, "We Are Called to Act with Justice." The refrain goes on to say, ‘We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly, to serve one another, and to walk humbly with God.’ If members of Congress focused on those four things, we might be better off."
Q:Could you identify the beautiful chorale music that accompanied the Maathai program?
Oh, you’ve asked a question that warms my heart!
The choral music comes from an album titled Missa Luba, performed by the Muungano National Choir of Kenya. We played two tracks in our show with Wangari Maathai from that recording: the first song is the fourth section an African Mass — sung in Latin — titled “Sanctus” and the second, the African folk song “Kaunga Yachee.” (Did you know that you can listen to a streaming version of all tracks from our show’s playlist?)
The original version by Guido Haazen, a Belgian Franciscan priest, was composed for a Congolese boys choir. The liner notes of the Muungano choir’s album provide this helpful description:
“Missa Luba was written before the Second Vatican Council when Latin was still the official language of the Roman Rite in Africa. This setting combines the ancient Latin text with modified African rhythms and polyphony in a manner that seems to bring out the best in both.
The rhythms and polyphony of the African settings are directly accessible to all ages. Students can see how Latin was used in this adaptation of a musical form from Africa. The tempo has been reduced so that the typical African sounds become more like that of Roman chant. The examples of African music which follow can be used to compare and contrast with those of Missa Luba. One can note the difference in using indigenous languages when it comes to indigenous music.
Sadly, earlier this summer, Boniface Mghanga, the founder and leader of the Kenyan choir, died in a car accident at the age of 56.
~answered by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Germany Prepares for Pope Benedict’s Arrival
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s tension-filled visit to Germany from September 22-25, suspended workers drape the glass-faced facade of the Axel Springer Verlag headquarters in Berlin with a massive banner reproducing the front page of the tabloid Bild Zeitung the day after Joseph Ratzinger was appointed pope in 2005.
(photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Dear Friends, I just launched http://t.co/fVHpS9y Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI
Before the Destruction: A Dublin School for Deaf Boys and Its Demise (photos)
by Tristan Hutchinson, guest contributor
Up the main steps of the building and into the hallway, four floors of corridors that lead to numerous rooms. Inside the rooms sit beds with sheets on, jars of hair and face products, old TV sets. Classrooms of books, teaching aids and chairs. When the building falls into dust, with it go the memories.
After the Famine, the Catholic Church, together with the Christian Brothers, established St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, on Dublin’s north side, in 1857. The deaf population of Ireland was of particular concern to the Church as they had received no religious teaching, and emphasis was placed on religious instruction through sign language.
St. Joseph’s played a significant role in the formation of the Irish deaf community. Here, boys were also taught trades such as tailoring and shoemaking, and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. Tuition through sign language continued until 1957 when the controversial oralism method was introduced, prompting a separation of boys based on communication ability.
After a series of media revelations in the 1990’s about child abuse in Irish institutions, the government set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), and, after a lengthy investigation, produced the Ryan Report. This report outlined hundreds of systematic and “endemic” cases of abuse of children in institutions, including St. Joseph’s, and found a culture of abuse that for many years government inspectors failed to stop. St. Joseph’s was the only school featured in the Ryan Report where parents had sent their children voluntarily.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers acknowledged that boys in their care had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of “individuals,” remarking that sexual abuse was seen as a “moral failing on the part of the Brother in question.” Boys reported instances of rape and molestation by staff. Others were engaged in sex talk and were shown adult movies in their rooms. The Commission also revealed that this level of systematic abuse led to a disturbing trend of peer abuse.
The Ryan Report states that children were not believed when instances of abuse were reported, and were more often than not ignored. At best, offenders were removed from the school and sent to another, where abuse continued. Recent studies show that deaf children are more at risk of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, with some studies stating a risk two to three times higher as these children may not be able to communicate their experiences, or understand what has happened.
The CICA report contained allegations of abuse stemming from 1914 to when the commission started, and the intention of the CICA was to publicly name the abusers, but was blocked in doing so by a right-to-privacy lawsuit taken out by the Christian Brothers. As well as this, an indemnity deal between a number of religious orders involved and the government allowed the Orders to avoid paying the full cost, and an eventual settlement of over €400 million was agreed, with the Irish taxpayers picking up the rest of the compensation. The report also opened up and criticized evidence of State and Church collusion during the period of abuse.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers relinquished control of Irish schools, bringing to an end over 200 years of management that formed the backbone of Irish education. This year sees St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys demolished, making way for a new national deaf centre.
For some, the school represented an opportunity to develop and excel in a safe environment. Trades were taught and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. For others, it was a place of shame and brutality. When the oralism method was introduced, those who were profoundly deaf were segregated from others, kept apart in classes and in living quarters. It bred a system of fear into the lives of children who were seen as particularly vulnerable.
I started the project with the intention of documenting what remained of St. Joseph’s before its demolition.
Some spaces were stripped bare.
Dorm rooms empty.
And sinks taped off.
Other rooms contained years of relics, objects, files, and reminders of the past.
On the walls scrawled graffiti; chalkboards still had writing.
There were beds with sheets still on. Bottles of hair products and tonics.
The building echoed my footsteps, yet the past was tangible and loud in the silence.
I wanted to document all this before the building disappeared into the dust.
Tristan Hutchinson is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. He’s currently working on a project in the home of his mother’s birth, Cobh, a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, which has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Tumblr.
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