A Working Church | Mexico | Living in Mexico

A Working Church

Conquistadors had two objectives: Find riches and save souls. Arguably, they succeeded wildly at both. As to the first, like obsessive overeaters they consumed so much gold and silver that they destroyed themselves, their bloated economy inflating until it collapsed, relegating Spain to second-rate status among nations.

For the second, you need only to look at the presence of the Church in Mexico to get the picture. The city of San Miguel de Allende, last time I counted, had 28 Catholic churches. That's for 80,000 people. Talk about your saturated market.

San Antonio Church is one of them; the heart of the eponymous colonia.

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Not the most ornate or historical church in town, it is one of the more active. Besides serving as a focal point for numerous festivals, it attends to the more mundane needs of its parishioners. One source of community services is the Notaria Parroquial, the keeper of church records.

This place is more important than some of us Norteamericanos might think. For example, not long ago, the most important identity document a person could have was a baptismal certificate, issued of course by the Notaria Parroquial.

Sometimes you'll see several people lined up at the office doorway, waiting to transact some sort of Church business.

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In fact, so many people visit the Notaria's office, it became prudent to post informational signs answering basic questions about office hours and the like.

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The sign reflects Mexican cultural norms. Office hours begin at 10 AM. Of course. Nothing starts in Mexico until 10.

Then the office closes from 2-4 PM for comida (lunch), which can be a lengthy affair. It opens again until 8 PM, so there's your full eight-hour day—just later than gringos are used to.

The office sets your appointments for baptisms or readings of banns. These are performed in the church at specific hours on specific days only, perhaps for the sake of efficiency, or maybe so everyone knows when to show up to denounce a proposed marriage.

The office is closed on Mondays. Note that the Notaria didn't think it necessary to mention that it's also closed on Sundays. Of course it is.

Now, you can't get baptized or confirmed or married without meeting a bunch of fussy requirements. The Notaria issues tickets when you've met them all, after which the church will perform the appropriate ceremony. No ticket, no wedding.

For example, to baptize your baby, you need a birth certificate, the godparents' marriage certificate, and religious training for the godparents. Says so there right on the sign:

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Almost as difficult as getting a Mexican driver's license. No wonder the Seventh Day Adventists are doing so well in San Miguel.

To have your banns read, you need a recent (?) baptismal certificate, a civil marriage certificate (?), and two witnesses, preferably your parents.

To a lapsed Protestant from California, the rules are draconian. That the Church can set such rigid requirements suggests that people accept them. And that the Church needs to maintain office hours to handle the traffic suggests that lots of people accept them.

The other day, I read that a Mexican Bishop spoke out against State restrictions on the Church and lack of religious training in public schools. Just making that speech is against the law. The fact that he would and could do it indicates the still-formidable power of the Church.

(By the way, the signs, like so many here, are hand lettered by skilled signpainters. Theirs is pretty much a lost art up north. I'm always fascinated when I watch them work, the letters flowing effortlessly from their brushes.)

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