June 4, 2023

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Under a white tent on the street outside the Church of Our Lady of the Angels on a recent Sunday, Rev. Adrian Vazquez led parishioners on pews and plastic chairs as they celebrated 10 a.m. Bell’s Mass, next to piles of rubble from the shelter left by a deadly earthquake nearly five years ago.

On the left stands the still dilapidated church, with deep cracks in the walls and a half-collapsed dome supported by scaffolding and a sloping column. Behind the priest is a wax figure of the Virgin Mary, a replica of the one on the inner wall of the building, barely visible to the faithful.

But Vazquez’s excitement was so great that he couldn’t even be concealed by his pandemic mask as he delivered the good news: just weeks before the anniversary of the September 19, 2017 earthquake, the restoration of a Catholic temple Work has finally resumed on the house, which houses the precious Virgin, believed to have miraculously survived floods and earthquakes.

He advised parishioners to support the church during the restoration process, saying: “Waiting is not passive, the temple will not rebuild on its own or only with the help of the government. How can we help?”

Located in the working-class residential area of ​​Guerrero and bearing one of the titles of Mary, the Virgin of the Angels dates back to the late 16th century.

According to a book about the church written by the priest, in 1580, a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin reached the area floating on the floodwaters and ended up in the mud on the property of the indigenous chief or chief Isayok. José Berruecos about a century ago. This artwork depicts the Catholic belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended into heaven, body and soul.

“Amid the floods, and all the evil they have caused, against a background of darkness and desolation, our Virgin of Angels appears in all light in the form of a rainbow in a storm,” Berruecos wrote.

Izayoque was so drawn to the image on the badly damaged canvas that he built a chapel in honor of the Virgin and reproduced the painting on the adobe walls. Some 200 years later, the current sanctuary was completed, and the Virgin still graces the church.

According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the Church of Our Lady of Angels is the second largest cathedral in Mexico City after the internationally renowned Cathedral of Guadalupe, which has its own icon of the Virgin , attracting millions of people to visit. There are pilgrims every year.

In an interview, parishioner María González recalled getting hoarse when the dome collapsed that Sunday in 2017. When her phone lit up with a text message about the collapse, she and other neighbors rushed to the scene to meet Pastor Cirilo Colín, who was leading the parish at the time.

“It made a huge noise, like an explosion,” Gonzalez said. “We all started crying when we saw the dome. … It’s a miracle no one died.”

Five days ago, the church was damaged in an earthquake that killed about 360 people and collapsed dozens of buildings, with many more damaged and set to be demolished.

INAH, which is funding and executing restoration projects, started work on Our Lady of the Angels in September 2019. The first stage involved stabilizing the structure with steel bracing to prevent further loss, and covering the collapsed dome to keep rain out.

This ended in December 2020, and since then there has been a long wait for the second phase, which started on August 8. At this stage, INAH is focused on restoring a room behind the main altar that houses religious and historical artifacts, with the goal of preserving them and restoring the space that will be used to support the larger restoration of the nave.

The project’s lead architect, Antonio Mondragon, said the second phase is expected to end in December.

Currently, the image of the Virgin is hidden behind scaffolding, wrapped in a protective frame and covered with glass and wood panels that can be opened and closed like a book.

Only a few people can see the Virgin up close, and it happens occasionally: sometimes those who help the priest with services and daily chores put flowers in front of her, or he lets a small group in for a few minutes to look at the images and pray.

The virgin returned their gaze with a calm expression, draped in a blue cloak in front of a gold background, her hands folded on her chest.

Given the fragility of the adobe walls, she cannot be moved, meaning her fate is tied to that of the building.

“If we lose the parish,” Vazquez said, “we lose the Virgin.”

Vazquez was appointed to replace Colin in late 2019 and was tasked with leading what he called the “full recovery” of the parish, both physically and mentally for the community — with many parishioners starting to attend other churches due to the damage to the building.

The 38-year-old priest is constantly urging his flock to invite others to join the congregation, working to improve his social media presence and streaming Mass from his mobile phone. He also used some of his savings to pay for repairs to electrical wiring, repairs to walls and other details.

While an end date for the restoration has not been set, Vazquez said the church is already showing signs of rebirth: On August 2, the feast of Our Lady of the Angels, at least 900 people packed the streets outside for celebrations.

The parishioners are also throwing in.

Rosa María Ordoñez, 76, who went to school with her grandmother for the first time as a child, is selling clothes and other donated items to raise money for the church. Other parishioners were teaching catechism or doing household chores such as cleaning.

María Elena Corona, 85, is also doing her best to help. More recently, she has written signs and illustrated the history of the Virgin for display outside the church.

Corona first stepped into the shelter half a century ago and has moved many times since, but always finds herself drawn to return — including in 1985, when she moved back from the U.S. after a more damaging earthquake , who killed tens of thousands, first put cracks in the walls of the church. She settled in a nearby block and continued to attend Mass for our Lady of the Angels.

Virgo “don’t let me go,” Corona said.

With the recent street mass over, Vazquez asked believers to turn left. This means that they face the habitation of the Virgin in the Broken Temple, even though they cannot see her divine face.

“Let us sing,” the priest implored them, “sing for Our Lady.”


The AP’s religious coverage is supported through the AP’s partnership with American Dialogue, with funding from the Eli Lilly Foundation. The Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.

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