21. Sunday Mass: Ecatepec

Walking with a shoulder incapacitated changes your balance. I was going up and down the slopes of the Sierra de Guadalupe with its staircases, dirt paths and roads of gravel heading southwards toward the city center. The shoulder in itself was painful, but soon I felt another pain in my left leg, as if somebody was sticking a pin in it. I started to limp. Then my back started hurting, again a sharp pin-like prick in the small of my back. I was already starting to imagine a priestess of the Santa Muerte with a voodoo doll on a table, jabbing it with pins.

The situation also left me unable to defend myself. Taking pictures was difficult too. In general I now felt very exposed and vulnerable as I limped onwards. I hoped these injuries would heal quickly and that I soon would be able to continue normally. This was not to be the case.

I man in a shop warned me that a neighborhood further along the edge of the city on called La Presa would be especially dangerous. As night fell in this dangerous part of town I asked some people waiting for a microbús how to get to the nearest hotel. They said I should also take a microbús, walking down through these neighborhoods was too dangerous. I told them I had too walk, I was now growing tired of explaining this project, and they just shook their heads.

A stairway at least four blocks long descended from the heights of the hill down to bottom where the freeway Mexico-Pachuca lay. I started down the dark stairway, once again alert and fearful, unable to run or move my right arm, it felt like an act of faith. Dogs barked next to my ears as the stairway descended next to roofs on the steep slope. Every block the stairs were crossed by a street and people would be waiting by the corners, under yellow street lights. It seemed like a thousand steps.

At the very bottom a man sat playing an electric guitar with two neighbors. He looked at me angrily. But when I asked the way to the nearest hotel they told me to take a right, cross the highway and continue. On the other side of the highway were some old factories and I passed through the deserted streets between their walls.

Finally in a the hollow of a quarry set against the Cerro Gordo I made it into the Cerro Gordo Plaza Hotel and collapsed into bed, having decided that I would be staying here a couple of days so my leg and back could recover.

The next morning I woke up and decided to walk along the Vía Morelos into Ecatepec, a quiet rest day with a McDonalds breakfast special for starters. I quickly learned to go with the hotcakes. As I walked along the Vía Morelos I passed the Jumex factory and made a mental note to visit its famous museum later on.

I walked along the avenue with the big franchise outlets lining. My leg still hurt. I decided to buy new shoes. I went into a big branch store and bought some impressive looking walking shoes. Leaving the store I put them on. Realizing that it was futile to carry my old shoes around I stuffed them into a garbage can with the box of my new brand-name shoes. The news ones were all cushions and comfort but I quickly discovered they were even worse for walking.

I crossed the highway into San Cristóbal Ecatepec. It was Sunday and people were crowding into the large modernistic cathedral for mass. I decided that I probably should go, not so much to participate but to catch the dynamic. Ecatepec also is the seat of an archdioceses meaning that the purple-clad figure in the distance presiding the mass was archbishop Onésimo Cepeda. After the service I walked along a corridor into what was apparently a vestibule. Asking for an interview I was directed to Monseñor Blas, a deacon, apparently the archbishop’s second in command.

I tried to be tactful. It was clear that the edge of the city was full on non-Catholic denominations, cults and other religions, such as the Santa Muerte whom I was by now certain was pursuing me for taking an unauthorized photo. In Los Reyes I had seen a sign outside a shack, the temple of the Trinitarios Marianos, the believers in the cult of the Mexican messiah Roque Rojas with their 22 commandments. In Ciudad Azteca – in Ecatepec – and in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl I had seen rites by santeros, adherents to the Afro-cuban voodoo religion Santería. There were Mormons with their white shirts and little black badges all over the edge of the city and so were their orderly white chapels. Not to mention Protestant churches such as the 7th Day Adventists, the Jehovahs Witnesses, Luz del Mundo and Pare de Sufrir.

Mexico City seemed in the middle of a religious upheaval and all these new religions were growing due to people leaving Catholicism. I asked the deacon whether the church was worried about losing adherents the situation being what it was. In his early sixties, standing in the between spaces behind the altar wearing his ceremonial robes from the mass, the deacon paused.

Then he replied that the Church was currently focusing on re-evangelizing already nominally Catholic communities because they had strayed so far from orthodoxy that they were no longer really Catholic, if they ever even were. He specifically mentioned a village in Ecatepec called Santa Clara by the Cerro Gordo. At one time the Church had tried to re-baptize the church of Santa Clara after the newly sainted Juan Diego who beheld the vision of the Virgin de Guadalupe. The church had been forced to relinquish the plan after violent opposition from the villagers. The strategic goal of the Church now was regaining doctrinal authority within Catholic communities in Mexico.

I thought of the all the little churches and temples, fields and party salons being used for religious services all along the long dusty edge of the city. I remembered people painting and cleaning out their altars to the Virgin in the days before the 12th of December. The church seemed so omnipresent and powerful, yet from within they could not even maintain orthodoxy in Catholic communities, let alone worry about members of their flock converting to other religions.

I then started back towards the trucks and traffic of Avenida Morelos. Passing out of the village the urban landscape became higher and darker, with hotels and warehouses. Reaching the box stores of the avenue I walked in my new shoes back towards the Cerro Gordo, called the Fat Hill because it looks like a fat man lying on his back.

I passed a multiplex next to a mall and walked over to the entrance. A movie was starting. It was called Eclipse. I asked a teenager with an oversize baseball cap waiting for a ticket whether the movie was any good. He said it was great. I went in to watch the vampires and werewolves.