What could possibly prompt a person to ride their bike, day after day, for 10 days, from one town to the next? Is there anything important enough in your life that you would run endless miles in order to celebrate its existence?
I know these questions sound strange coming from me since I seem to be in constant search of crazy adventures and goals. But I actually have a reason for asking…
While in Yucatan Mexico I witnessed multiple groups of young people riding their bikes and other groups of young people running on the roadside, all for one reason, to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Each group carried large banners with an image of the saint. Many of the young people fastened framed pictures of the virgin to their bikes.
I’m going to assume many of you are as clueless as me concerning this saint. I’ve seen her picture, I’ve seen her statue and even altars built for her praise. Honestly I never thought anything more than “There is a statue of the Virgin Mary.” The thing is Our Lady of Guadalupe is much more to the Mexican people than just being the Virgin Mary…she is their saint.
Prior to my trip to Mexico I knew next to nothing about this saint. But the young people, enthusiastically celebrating the patron saint of Mexico, peeked my interest and since I’ve been back in the States I have been reading up on Our Lady of Guadalupe.
According to articles I’ve read the Virgin Mary appeared several times to an Aztec farmer named Juan Diego in 1521. When the farmer went to the Bishop and reported the Virgin Mary had appeared and asked for a church to be built on that specific spot the bishop did not believe him and asked for proof.
When he returned to her, The Virgin Mary filled Juan’s cloak with roses. He returned to the bishop and opened his cloak to dump out the roses when an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared where the roses had been.
This is a very condensed version of the story. But there are so many facets of this story that I find fascinating.
The thing is, Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than just the Virgin Mary. She presented herself in a way that allowed the people to feel she was one of them, not an untouchable figure. She presented herself to a farmer, she spoke their language and the image that appeared on Juan’s cloak featured many important symbols of the Aztec people.
This incident allowed the people of Mexico to meld their believes as Aztecs with Christianity resulting in one of the largest periods of conversion in human history.
The pilgrimage of the bike riders and runners begins each year on December 2nd and continues until December 12th, of which is the day Juan showed the bishop proof that the Virgin Mary did indeed appear. Each night of the 10 days the riders pull into a village, sounding sirens and waving to the people that have gathered to greet them. The local church typically feeds them and they are given a place to sleep. It appeared to me that the villages were quite pleased to play host to the young people riding for their saint.
Our hosts while in Mexico were quite gracious. I had become so intrigued by the young people, that had taken on this challenge, that each time we saw a group riding/running down the road I begged to stop and take pictures. I was also fortunate that our friends lived only a block from the main road. This allowed me to run out and witness groups enter town in the evening and exit in the morning.
Since I’ve ridden long distances on my bike I know how difficult it can be. The fact that these young men and women are riding bikes that are not “new”, not properly fitted and not meant to be ridden long distances makes it even more amazing to me.
Why would someone ride mile after mile, and day after day? I’m sure we all could have our reasons…but it appears for these young people…its faith.