You never know who you are going to meet on your daily walk. Today I met a group of beautiful pilgrims trekking from San Juan Bautista to Carmel to honor Our Lady of Bethlehem. I didn't know anything about this particular version of the Virgin Mother before today. Now I do.
This is what her statue, which resides at the mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, looks like. What she stands for is either beautiful or terrifying, depending on your world view.
The folks I met were really nice, mostly Boy Scouts, almost all from Sacramento. They were true believers, on their 7th annual pilgrimage. I didn't really engage in anything substantive with them, sensing that we were not much alike, but I treated them with respect like I would do with anybody else who was friendly to me.
Their leader allowed me to take a quick photo of most of their joyful group. I was honestly happy to meet them.
The statue itself has a long history which to me is very spooky if not totally crazy, but to the true believers, it is sacred and worthy of reverence. They believe that Our Lady of Bethlehem was sent with Father Junipero Serra back in the 16th century to prevent Russia from taking over Alta California from the Spaniards. You know, the Spaniards who just showed up, "discovered" it, and said it was theirs in keeping with papal edict - that whole "build the missions and convert the indigenous people to make it look like the place is settled so the Russians will stay out" thing.
The statue earned the name of La Conquistadora for her psychological role in conquering Alta California, repelling the Russians, and supposedly mystifying the "uncivilized" inhabitants.
If you are sufficiently interested, open the link below and read the very one-sided old school Catholic version of the story. Their point of view is violently us-versus-them and as such, it defies my understanding of the teachings of Jesus.
While I admire the dedication of the amiable pilgrims I met today, their singular lack of awareness and continued blindness to the enslavement and murder of the original Californians in the name of their Lord puzzles and offends me. Our Lady of Bethlehem.
If you are interested in what I think is a pretty convincing counterpoint, read: The doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism.
I am not against faith and/or religion as long as it does not involve hate and war and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, history has shown that it very often does exactly that.
Peace, Love, and Superstition,