February 13th, 2016. The central moment of the first day of Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico is the Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe. In the morning, the Holy Father meets with the government authorities and the bishops gathered at the cathedral; however, the people awaits the program scheduled for the afternoon more than anything, when Pope Francis will meet the Virgin Moretina, the Patroness of Mexico and the Americas.
I leave the house early in the morning with Father Gianni. We arrive at the piazza of the Sanctuary by 9, but we are surprised to find ourselves amidst a huge crowd! Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 4:30 in the afternoon, however the crowd of 35,000 faithful gathered at the piazza do not seem to mind the wait: they are singing, eating, taking pictures, praying. Everyone is waiting to see the Pope.
It is a very noisy crowd. Mexicans have a peculiar passion for “shouting”, as Pope John Paul II once said in one of his visits to Mexico: “Mexico knows how to dance, Mexico knows how to sing and to pray, but Mexico definitely knows how to shout!” Pope Francis is also aware this, as the Independence Day in Mexico is known as the “Feast of Shouting”, which gets its name from the great shout of “Long Live Mexico!” that begins the holiday.
Hours of waiting fly by quickly and the crowd is ready to greet the Pope with a cheer prepared during those hours: Francisco, hermano, ¡ya eres mexicano” Francisco, amigo, ¡queremos estar contigo! When the pope-mobile arrives, a great rejoicing greets him and it seems as if the celebration has already reached its climax. Everyone seeks to have a glimpse of the Pope; everyone receives the papal blessing; everyone takes pictures with their phone.
Then the mass begins. During the homily, the Holy Father invites the gathered crowed to face Our Lady and to remain in silence: “I believe it would be good to take this moment to turn our gaze toward Our Lady and to look at Her intensely and yet calmly… to remain there and to contemplate.” At the end of the mass, there follows the most significant moment of the day: the Holy Father remains in silence in front of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and invites everyone to join him in prayer.
The Sanctuary and the square that had been filled with the noise of the crowd have calmed and there remains a silent crowd. The image of the Holy Father praying in front of Our Lady is televised on the mega-screens set at the square. 20 minutes pass by, and while the Holy Father continues to pray in silence, someone begins a Marian chant, and everyone joins him. The melody is sweet and it is sung with delicacy.
The noise and the shouting of the crowd have become a prayer, and the Holy Father has reached his goal: he did not put himself at the center, but invited everyone to turn their gaze toward Our Lady in silence, to contemplate Her maternal gaze.
Caption: Pope Francis celebrating mass at the Square of Our Lady of Guadalupe during his recent visit in Mexico.