A Priest Dispenses Blessings on Mexico's Cars

A drive on the roads in Mexico is not an experience that's easily forgotten. There are no enforced speed limits; instead, drivers must navigate bumpy roads and corrupt cops. Many drivers are looking for divine intervention. In the town of Chalma, drivers bring hundreds of cars every weekend to be blessed by a priest at a Catholic church.

Chalma is the second-most-visited pilgrimage site after the shrine dedicated to Mexico's patron saint, La Virgen de Guadaloupe in Mexico City. Its roots are pre-Hispanic — it was a holy place to the locals who are believed to have made blood sacrifices at a sacred cave.

The Augustines came in the early 1500s and placed a church in its stead — all across Latin America, catholicism has shown a genius for incorporating local traditions into their faith.

Father Gabriel says that continues today. "This the popular side of the faith," Gabriel said in Spanish. "One has to distinguish between this and official religion. In some manner, they make up their own rites. This is an important rite for them, if we take it away from them, they will see it as taking away their protection."

Many of the people who are here to bless their cars come from Mexico City, about a two-hour drive away. Father Gabriel says it also helps them to define themselves, in a collective act of worship.

"The pilgrims that come from the cities have in a certain way lost their identity," Gabriel said. "Many are people who have immigrated from their villages. When they get to the city they are completely unknown — in their pueblos they are Don Pancho, Don Julio, Dona Maria. In the cities, they are don nobody."

But of course there is a practical reason why people come here. Driving in Mexico can be very frightening — and no place provides more challenges to those behind the wheel than the capital.

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