R.E.M once sang about “Losing My Religion”.  I was told that when someone uses this expression, it means that they’re going “loco”.  Oftentimes, religions that are practiced can bring a sense of serenity to an individual that carnal desires cannot.  People sacrifice their bodies, their vices, and even their dreams for a spot in the afterlife.  Or, perhaps to save souls from being condemned to a fate unbeknownst to even the most pessimistic fatalists.   Here in Mexico, I can assure you that nobody is losing his or her religion, figuratively or literally.  The Catholic faith is as strong as it ever was, and people are not afraid to demonstrate their fervor and dedication to their sacred beliefs.
 
December 12 is the one of the most respected days throughout the calendar year in all of Mexico.  It is the day to honor Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe.  From late at night and into the early morning families gather at the local church to ask for blessings or miracles.  Men and boys dress as Juan Diego, while women and girls dress as Mary.  As Juan Diego, the males arm themselves with machetes, wear huge sombreros, and paint long mustaches across their upper lips.  The females wear long, white gowns and braid their hair.  Seeing all the Juan Diego’s and all the Mary's walking around is quite the spectacle!  

 
Sugar-cane. One of the many DELICIOUS foods being sold and spread around.


On a clear yet chilly night in Morelia, Michoacán, I listen to the soft whispers amongst wavering candles praying for the recovery of a family member that is ill, praying for a brighter future, or asking for forgiveness for a bad deed that they committed. It is said that when you ask for a blessing from the Virgin of Guadalupe, you must make a sacrifice.  Some people give up alcohol, a certain type of food, or walk on the knees for MILES to arrive at the church where the Virgin of Guadalupe is displayed.  

Marching towards the Church…Slowly…Very, very slowly.

 
Young and old, droves of people from all around Morelia come to pray and receive their blessing or commit to their sacrifice.  And yet, about four hours west of the city thousands more from all over LATIN AMERICA and the rest of the WORLD come to Mexico City to pray at the legendary Antigua Basilica of Guadalupe.  As in Morelia, there are some who crawl on their knees.  Sometimes family members put down blankets to weaken the blow of the knees crashing on the pavement, sometimes they do not.
 
Crawling with the help of a miniature Virgin of Guadalupe


The devotion of the Mexican people towards their faith left quite the impression on me.  The energy surrounding me sparked a warm intensity that unveiled a face of Mexico I was not expecting to see.  In the eyes of the youth, the genesis of a new generation carrying forward deep-rooted beliefs proves that some things can never be lost despite the constant motion of the world.  In the wrinkled faces of the elderly is a glowing pride that has guided generations of families.  It was an honor to be part of something so spiritually enlightening.
 
  
      

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Ben Brennan Born in Bogotá, Colombia and adopted from an orphanage at a young age, Benjamin considers himself to be very fortunate for the opportunities and blessings that life has presented to him. While pursuing his Masters in Public Administration & Policy, he worked on a research project that analyzed the stark disparities of interest rates amongst different microfinance institutions worldwide. Intrigued by microfinance as a poverty reduction strategy, Benjamin then traveled to the Dominican Republic for three months where he observed microlending and the entrepreneurial trajectories that clients engaged in within their communities. Benjamin interned with the United Nations Development Programme where he worked on the Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative and gained valuable insight into how to integrate gender equality and economic analysis. He also served as a Fellow for SUNY Center for International Development where he conducted research regarding Constituency Development Funds in Latin America and analyzed their methods of implementation and the governmental regulations utilized to enforce accountability. His travels throughout Central and South America have solidified his passion for Latin America and its emerging social entrepreneurship market. He is thus thrilled to be given the opportunity to travel to Mexico to strengthen Kiva’s mission.
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