SMA: Faith Is Culture
By Joseph Toone
My family (grandfather, parents, and siblings) has long worked for the railroads. They were conductors, brakemen, office workers, and ticket sellers. My childhood affiliation with trains was limited to an extensive HO scale train and village featuring mountains, running waterfalls, and seasonal snow (read baby powder) that occupied the better part of my parents’ basement. That was until I started as a volunteer to teach dance in Empalme Escobedo.
Empalme Escobedo (Escobedo for short) is a town named for a general and the ability to switch and reconnect railroad cars, which occurs endlessly. The nonstop movement of 1950s-era trains occurs directly in the town’s jardín and frequently brings traffic (far more bikes than cars) to indefinite standstills.
Located between Comonfort and Celaya, Escobedo is not a must-see tourist destination. Lacking hotels, restaurants, or local handicrafts, the economy of Escobedo begins and ends with the ever-moving trains.
However, Escobedo’s cultural claim to glory is Mary Help of Christians (Virgen de Auxiliadora). Her name is Help because she helps Christ regarding humanity and, in this city, during times of past plagues.
Originally, the image was featured in a painting by Italian master Thomas Lorenzone, in which the Virgin appears with Jesus, the Apostles, other saints, and angels, personifying a concept of Mary popular since the fourth century.
The church dedicated to this image is like much else in this more than 200-year-old town, on the outside dirty with train soot but once inside, magnificent. The architecture is the clean Federal style found in national monuments in Washington, DC, yet featuring Tiffany-style windows and folk art statues. The church is a calming array of many styles.
On the May 24 feast day, the town comes to life, closing off centro with food, games, and fun as the statue of Mary proceeds around town. Rock concerts play in the evening while my students perform to danzón, cumbia, and other Latin rhythms. It’s well worth the hour-long foray into the hinterland to visit, between Comonfort’s garden supplies and Celaya’s box stores!
For the record, if you are blocked by the trains that bisect the middle of town, simply park and use the pedestrian bridge to access the other side—and consider that Mary’s help! Choo-choo!