Thursday, January 26, 2012

Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine

This morning we skipped out on the morning meeting at Winter Ranch to go on a bus trip over to San Juan.  We visited the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan.  We have visited the Basilica before, however, we've never been on a guided tour.
The Bell Tower
Entry to the Basilica

Our Guide Telling Us Some Of The History of the Bell Tower

When we got off the bus, we were met by a tiny Mexican nun who was our guide.  She talked for quite awhile on the steps of the church and then took us inside.  She was very knowledgeable about the history of the church but somehow she made me feel like she was trying to convert all of us at the same time.  She was so cute and likeable that it really didn't matter.

The Main Altar - The Statue of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle is located in the center of the circle

Stained Glass Beside the Altar Represents the parts of the Rosary.

Stained Glass at the Ceiling Level
The basilica really became a reality because of the tiny statue of Our Lady of San Juan or "La Virgen de San Juan".  In 1623 a acrobat traveling with his wife and children stopped in San Juan de los Lagos to give a performance.  During the act, their youngest daughter fell and was killed.  An Indian woman who took care of the church begged the family to place the image of the Virgin Mary over their daughter's body and to pray for the Virgin's intercession.  A miracle occurred and the child was brought back to life.  The word of this miracle spread throughout Mexico.

In 1949 when Rev. Jose Maria Azpiazu became the pastor of the parish of St, John the Baptist in San Juan, he decided that fostering the devotion of the Virgin Mary would draw the people together.  He received permission from the Bishop to commission an artist in Guadalajara, Mexico to make a reproduction of the statue that was venerated at San Juan de Los Lagos.  The small statue in the main altar is this same statue.  It was saved during the burning of the first church.  The Mexican people so loved the Virgin Mary that they contributed whatever they had to build the Shrine that now exists here in San Juan. 

The basilica was dedicated in 1980  and the shrine was designated as a National Shrine in 1998.  This church was built after the first church was destroyed in a fire in 1970.  What is amazing is that this area should not be able to support this type of facility.  The basilica was paid for by some of the poorest of the poor in the United States.  The congregation here is very active.  The basilica has 2030 seats and Sister told us that all Masses are full.   They have Spanish, Bilingual and English Masses on Saturday and Sunday.  Besides the congregation, the basilica gets around 20,000 visitors each week (that's a million each year).

While we were there several Mexican families and individuals came in to light candles for their loved ones behind the altar.  They use so many candles each week that the basilica has a Candle Room.  On the weekends, all the candles are lit each day and they transfer them into the Candle Room where they allow them to burn down all the way.
A man lighting a candle behind the altar

On Weekends There are so many flowers and 
lit candles that it is just amazing!

There is also a Miracle Room which was very interesting.  There is a woman who keeps the Miracle Room cleaned up.  It sounds like that is quite a job.  People bring in mementos of the miracles in their lives.  There was a wall with a couple of graduation gowns, some baby clothes, and crutches.  There were several bowls and vase full of pieces of papers with requests or thanks for miracles.  There were also a lot of small little trinket looking parts of the body that people put into jars or small envelopes.  I believe the parts are to request help for a leg, arm, head or whatever else a person was requesting a miracle for. 
Our Guide Talking In The Miracle Room

Our Lady of Sorrows

After we saw the Miracle Room, Sister took us outside to get a better look at the mosaic "Christ Presents His Mother" which was dedicated in 1995.  We look at this mosaic each time we drive through San Juan on Highway 83.  Looking at it up close is really amazing.  This enormous mosaic is made up of millions of tiny pieces.  The pieces are all Murano Glass from Italy.   The artists did the work in Italy and then it was brought here in pieces and reassembled. 

Mosaic of "Christ Presents His Mother"

This is what we see from Highway 83

A closeup of the individual pieces of Murano Glass

After the tour, we were free to look around.  The complex is on 60+ acres.  There is a wonderful walkway with the Stations of the Cross that I want to return to one of these days when we have the time to go to them all.  There are 14 stations and they are on a 3/4 mile walk around the basilica.  We stopped at a couple of them just to take some pictures.

The 1st Station of the Cross

The 2nd Station of the Cross

Another View of the Basilica

Jesus Being Condemned to Death

Then we wandered over to the Gift Shop where you could spend a lot of time.  I don't know where we've seen so many statues, rosaries and Christian books.

The Gift Shop and Book Store

After that we headed over to the little restaurant that they have which is attached to their hotel.  The hotel is for pilgrims, visitors or tourists who want to visit the basilica.  We had a very nice lunch at the restaurant.  It was Italian Day so there was pizza, spaghetti, another chicken and pasta dish, rolls, vegetable soup and desserts.
This Palm Tree Was Near the Cafe

Is this a type of fruit hanging from it?
We would highly recommend a stop at this National Shrine if you are in the area.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Neuvo Progreso, Mexico

Since we were out of some of my medications, we decided to head over to Progreso today.  We also decided to get our teeth cleaned.  We parked in our usual parking lot right outside Progreso for $5 for the day.  Then we walked across the bridge over the Rio Grande River.

Signs like this are all over the Rio Grande Valley

Lee starting the trek across the bridge

Road into Progreso

The Rio Grande River

The Border Fence

We have arrived at the Border boundary

Heading into Progreso

Entering Progreso

Entry Fountain

Then we headed straight to the dentist's office.  We have been going to Dr. Jorge Muestre to get our teeth cleaned.  He is pretty popular and the exam rooms and clinic are sparkling clean with up-to-date dental equipment.  When we arrived we were told that there was a two hour wait to get our teeth cleaned.  So, we put our name on the list and headed over to the pharmacy.   We normally buy at Jessica's Pharmacy but when we got there, they had moved down the street.  They have a new building and have added a little restaurant and bar.  They have always offered a free drink or tequila while you are waiting for your order.  Since they had to have a runner pick up our meds, we went into the restaurant and had a coke.

Arizona Restaurant and Bar

Main Street

A Vendor Getting Ready to Set Up

Main Street Vendors

More of Main Street

Cars parked along the street

More vendors

By the time we finished the coke, our medications were bagged up and we paid for our medications and headed back to the main street.  Jessica's is one block west of the main street.  Back on main street, we wandered up the street browsing all the small stalls offering everything you can think of and we wandered through some of the shops. 

One of the pharmacists

Restaurant Attached to the Pharmacy

More of the Restaurant

Looking into the Pharmacy
Street leaving Jessica's Pharmacy

More of the vendors

A building with apartments above

I found a purse I liked on the street and we bought that and then later on we found some replacements for the tropical birds that we hang on our shepherd hooks.  Then we headed over to the dentist's office.  We didn't sit long before we were called.  We both had our teeth cleaned and checked for $20 each.  While we were waiting we ran into friends in the waiting room.  Then later on we ran into other friends as we walked over the bridge back into the United States.  We didn't have any trouble getting across the border.

When we got across the border, we stopped at Peter Piper Pizza because we were starving.  Peter Piper's is a popular place for kids and seniors alike.  We love their crust.  In the evenings and weekends, the place is just crammed full of people celebrating birthdays so it is best to go for lunch.  Then it isn't crazy.

Inside of Peter Piper's Pizza, Weslaco, Texas

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Border Patrol Station Tour

Border Patrol Station in Weslaco
Entry Room Floor

We took a Winter Ranch Bus Tour to the Border Patrol Station in Weslaco this afternoon  The Weslaco Border Patrol Station is located in the lower Rio Grande Valley between Harlingen, Texas and McAllen.  The agents are responsible for watching 40 miles of river and doing city patrols in the surrounding cities. 

Public Liaison Officer

Sandy and Chuck Trimpe

When we arrived, we were escorted to the Agent Briefing Room where the Public Liaison Officer showed us a presentation including a couple of videos and spent quite some time answering tons of questions.  The slide show and the videos were very informative.

Chart of Marijuana Seizures
We learned that the marijuana and drug seizures are up a lot because the manpower was increased, not because there is more traffic. 

This is what the border fence looks like
 Our Agent talked about the fences.  Most of what they are going to put up in this area is up, however, a lot of the gates have not been installed so there are holes in the system where a person could walk through.  We thought we heard the agent say that this station is responsible for 18 river miles and within that 18 miles, there are 10 miles of fence.  The rest is unprotected.  However, we read online that they are responsible for 40 river miles so that didn't make sense.  Don't know what we heard wrong.  She did say that even though there are gaps, it helps them because the traffic is funneled to the gaps.  They do still have illegals climbing the fence but many of them are found because they are lying dead or injured next to the fence.  The US gets to fix them up before they send them back.


The Illegals are very creative in finding ways to hide and not to be seen.  In #1 above, the first person was hiding in a bag.  There were others hiding in the middle of a stack of plywood on a trailer.  In #2 the guy had most of his body in the center console of a car and the rest of the body was covered by blankets and coats on the floor.  In #3 you can see his legs.  In #3 you can also see how another illegal had himself sewn into the seat cushions so he looked like he wasn't there at all.

Our Agent also talked about the illegals coming into the country.  She explained that it used to be that the people entering illegally were doing so to go to work, but these days most of the people coming in illegally are involved in some sort of illegal activities, mainly smuggling drugs  or guns.  They do still have pregnant women coming over to give birth in the United States.  They try to time it just right.  Even if they have the baby while in detention, the baby is a US citizen. 

One of the videos was very explicit and showed number of dead bodies and people being executed by the Mexican cartels.  Some of the people who were burned to death were young men who had signed up to join one of the cartels but violated some rule and were killed.  The agent said that kids were being recruited as young as 15 and they even reach out to get interest from 10-year-olds.  The Border Patrol does education classes in the schools to try and keep the kids from getting lured by the money and the drugs.  Kids in grade school are taking what they call "cheese" which is a form of cocaine.  They can buy it for $2 a hit and it is inhaled and does not involve using a needle so the young kids are attracted to it a lot easier.  The agent says after one dose, many are addicted.  There were also a lot of horrific scenes with people who had been kidnapped for ransom.  It was really hard to watch.

There were a lot of questions about how safe Nuevo Progresso is because that is where we all go over the border to shop, go to the dentist, eye doctor or just get dinner.  She said that Progresso has had some incidents but that they happened nearly three years ago.  She didn't want to say that it was safe to go there but all of the real tragic things that have happened have been in the larger cities.  She said really what is happening is that Progresso is a territory that is established and none of the other drug cartels are fighting over it at this time.

After we finished with all the questions and answers, she took us on a tour of the detention center and of the area where all the border patrol vehicles are.

The door on the far wall is where the illegals are brought in to be processed.  There is a room with unarmed officers in front of the door and then glass and a room where we were with officers watching the monitors.
This agent is watching the monitors.  There is only one illegal being detained today.  She isn't in uniform as she is pregnant and they don't have maternity uniforms. /
The doors around the room on the other side of the glass are some of the holding cells.  They look small but they are long and narrow.  They men separated from women and children.  Mothers and children are allowed stay together.  They are only detained in this facility for two days at the most.  Most are processed and in court within a day.  They used to just process them and drive them back to the border and let them out.  Now, however, they take them to court so they are in the system and they can tell how many times they have returned illegally.  The more often they have tried, the longer they stay in jail before being returned.

After we saw the detainment area, our agent took us outside to take at a look at the Border Patrol vehicles.  They have 4 X 4 vehicles, bike patrols, boat patrols and horse patrols but we only saw some of the trucks that bring in captured illegals.

A Transport Vehicle

 I believe she said they have 14 sets of 
seat belts in this transport vehicle.

After the presentation was over, we all headed back to the bus.

About Ready to Head Back To The Bus

We thought this map which was on one of the walls in the Border Patrol Station was enlightening.  This is a map of the Rio Grande River and this is the area that this Border Patrol Station guards!