Emmy’s Travels


Izamal, Yucatan

shrinemai1 This is Laila’s debut performance on the MADONNAS OF MEXICO website. Laila is Emmy’s younger cousin (they look so much alike they could be twins!) and today—wearing their matching, lime-green sundresses— they’re going to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Izamal.

Clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clippety-clop. This is the first sound you hear as you wander around the cobblestoned streets of Izamal. Laila was the first one to spy the calesas— the horse-drawn carriages which serve as taxis for the townspeople and the tourists. The next thing you notice—and can’t help but notice—is the town’s yellowness. “All the buildings are painted yellow,” says Emmy, “yellow churches, yellow stores, yellow banks, yellow—.” “Yellow everything!” chimes in Laila. “Even the calesa drivers are wearing yellow baseball caps!” “This is why Izamal is called THE YELLOW CITY in nearly all the tourist books,” explains Emmy.

Emmy, her parents and her cousin Laila have come to Izamal to celebrate the feastday of St. Anthony on June 13, and to visit the much-loved figure of Our Lady of Izamal at the Franciscan Convent of St. Anthony. “The convento is almost five hundred years old,” says Emmy, “and it is humungous! The atrium (or courtyard) is one of the largest in the world, second only to St. Peter’s in Rome. No matter where you go in the town you can see the convento of St. Anthony’s.”

Emmy also told Laila that the Franciscans were the first to bring Christianity to the Yucatan Peninsula, an area which is made up of the three states of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. “That’s where all the beaches are!” said Laila, “in Quintana Roo.”

“The Yucatan is home to the Mayan people,” recounted Laila, “and before the Fransiscans came they worshipped many gods, like the god of the sun and the god of the rain. That’s because they didn’t yet know about Jesus. You can see the ruins of some of their ancient pyramids right here in the town.”



“The first thing I noticed about Izamal is the heat!” said Laila whose face was turning as red as a cherry-flavoured popsicle. All four quickly darted out of the tropical sun into the church of Our Lady of Izamal—a haven of white-painted coolness. “Heavenly!” murmured Laila. “There’s Our Lady of Izamal,” exclaimed Emmy, pointing to the life-sized statue above the main altar. “She’s really famous! She’s the Patroness of the whole Yucatan Peninsula and was crowned by Pope John Paul ll in 1993 when he came to meet with all the native peoples of Latin America. On special Marian feastdays thousands of people come from all over the Peninsula to visit here.”

“Where did the statue come from?” asked Laila. “She was made in Guatemala in 1588,” answered Emmy. “Why Guatemala?” wondered Laila. “Because Guatemala was the centre for the most beautiful religious statues at that time,” said Emmy. ”
izamal2And wait til you hear what happened to the statue as it travelled through the rainforests of Guatemala to Izamal. You’ll never believe it!” Laila, all ears, couldn’t wait to hear the story.

“Well, first, the statue-carriers realized something very odd. Very peculiar indeed: even though it was raining furiously for most of the trip—it was the rainy season there—the statue and the statue-carriers remained bone-dry. For the entire trip. Everyone else around them, though, got completely drenched! You can even read about this in the history books. And this happened every time it rained!” Laila, whose eyes were as wide as lollipops by this point couldn’t wait to hear more.

“Then a second astonishing thing happened on this trip,” said Emmy. “When they reached the Spani
izamal3sh city of Valladolid, the Spanish soldiers fell in love with the wonderful statue!” “WE WANT IT! WE WANT IT!” they hollered. “GIVE IT TO US! GIVE IT TO US!” they demanded. “NEVER!” declared the Mayans. “It is ours, it was made for us, not you!”

“And do you know what happened next?” prompted Emmy. “No!” declared Laila, “Tell me! Tell me!” “Well, next, they had a tug-of-war over the statue! And this is what happened: Whenever the Mayans lifted the statue it felt like a pile of feathers! It seemed to weigh nothing. But when the Spanish soldiers lifted the statue it wouldn’t budge an inch. IT SEEMED LIKE A TON OF CEMENT! Finally, the Spanish soldiers realized that Our Lady of Izamal wanted to be with the Mayan people of Izamal so they let the group continue, unharmed, on its journey to Izamal. And that’s where she has been ever since!” said Emmy.

Later that night in the hotel room Laila was sitting in bed, surrounded by her “necessities”—her ever-present clipboard, her coloured pencils, felt pens, scissors, sparkles, glue sticks, scraps of gold ribbon, and bits of felt. This was Laila’s “art kit” and she never went anywhere without it. “Because she’s an artist,” said Emmy.

Snip, snip, snip.


“What are you making, Laila?” questioned Emmy. “It’s a surprise! I can’t tell you. Especially not you !” quipped Laila. “But I’m your tour guide,” said Emmy. “Tourists tell their tour guides everything!” ” Not this tourist!” retorted Laila. To be honest, Emmy’s feelings were a little hurt. “You’ll find out in the morning!” answered Laila, with a strange, mysterious grin on her face.

At the breakfast table the next morning Emmy’s father rose and solemnly declared: “Attention everybody! We have an announcement to make: May we present Laila!” Laila stood up—and, with great pomp and ceremony— presented Emmy with a special medal that was all decked out with gold ribbons and sparkles and a dozen charms. And this is what it said:




After the celebration of Mass, Laila and Emmy were happy to run into their friend, Franciscan priest, Father Eduardo. Emmy had a question for him.

EMMY: Hi, Father! My friend who is not Catholic wondered why we pray to the saints. She said that we should pray directly to God!

FR. EDUARDO: We DO pray directly to God. I do it all the time and so should you! But tell me something. Do you ever ask your friends to pray for you?

EMMY: Oh, yes! Last year my granny, mi abuela, was very, very sick. I asked everybody to pray for her. I even had the whole school praying for her!

LAILA: Even me. She asked me too. I was praying for Emmy’s granny too!

FR. EDUARDO: Well, you see, it’s exactly like that with the saints. We’re all one big family—the saints are in Heaven and we’re on earth and then there are the souls in Purgatory who are on the way to Heaven. And this family has a special name—it’s called THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. And we’re all praying for each other—except, of course, those in Heaven don’t need our prayers! But they pray for us!

LAILA: So, to be a saint, they have to be in Heaven, is that right?

FR. EDUARDO: Oh yes! Otherwise we couldn’t call them saints! We can think of them as the best friends of God. They are very close to Him in Heaven. They can go directly to God for us. They have CLOUT! Just think how powerful their prayer requests would be! Also, the saints are like role models for us—they show us the way to get to Heaven.

EMMY: So who decides who can become a saint, then?

FR. EDUARDO: The Church decides. In Rome. Through a process called canonization. A long word but not all that hard to pronounce! A group of experts study the life of the person and his or her writings very, very carefully—sometimes this can take years! They even interview people who knew the saints while they were alive. Then, and only then, does the Church decide whether this person is worthy of being declared a saint.

EMMY: My parents told me about the day that St. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002. Pope John Paul ll came and millions of people lined the streets of Mexico City to greet him.

FR. EDUARDO: Oh yes! I remember it. I was one of those millions and I could never forget that day!

LAILA: Does the Church make any new saints or are they all from long, long ago?

SaintFR. EDUARDO: The Church does make new saints! In fact, this coming October the Vatican will canonize two new saints from this continent—two American saints, Blessed Marianne Cope who worked with lepers in Hawaii, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who will become the first native American saint. Blessed Marianne is known as a modern saint because she died not all that long ago— in 1918, to be exact.

EMMY: Thanks a lot, Father Eduardo. Now I can tell my friend Nina what you told us .

FR. EDUARDO: And one more thing, Emmy; be sure to tell your friend that we Catholics don’t worship saints. We would never do that! We worship only God. But we honour the saints and venerate them. That’s a big difference!

FR. EDUARDO: (smiling) I sure will, Laila! You see, that’s just exactly what we have been talking about!LAILA: Could I ask you a favour, Father Eduardo? Tomorrow, my big brother is having a major exam. He says it’s a matter of “life or death!” Could you please pray for him?

THE WOW FACTOR: The saints are always with us! We can pray to them anytime we want and they will hear us!



Emmy goes to see Pope Benedict