UT alumnus discusses spiritual pilgrimages of Mexican Catholics in 19th Century

Estefania Espinosa

A UT alumnus explored spiritual exercises performed by Mexican Catholics in 1874 and the globalization of the Church in a talk hosted by the Institute for Historical Studies on Monday.

Brian Stauffer, who has a Ph.D. in Latin American History from UT, said Mexican Catholics transported themselves mentally to places in Europe, Mexico and the Holy Land. When a liberal party regained power in Mexico in 1867, they continued secularizing reform, which led to anti-clerical legislation that prohibited Catholics from carrying out the pilgrimages in person. Mexican Catholics and other conservatives eventually rebelled against the government.

“I’m a very secular person,” Stauffer said. “But the funny thing about studying religion is that the more you listen to people from the past, the more sympathy you end up having for them.”

Stauffer, who is a postdoctoral fellow at UT, also discussed “Romanization,” a term used by historians to describe the Vatican exerting more control over Latin American churches. However, Stauffer said it fails to capture the complete situation.

“There’s another process going on, which is more of a back-and-forth,” Stauffer said. “It’s a more cultural process.”

Instead, Stauffer said he prefers to use the term globalization when talking about “ultramontane” Catholicism, which refers to national churches accepting the infallibility of the Pope.

“Mexican Catholics in the 19th century weren’t just passively taking a bunch of trends from Europe,” Stauffer said. “They were also making arguments about the value of their own devotions and their own holy places in Mexico.”

Vasken Markarian, a graduate student in Latin American history, said he was raised in Armenian Orthodox Christianity and is interested in the friction between the Church and the state government.

“From my experience, I did see how, in Armenia, religion plays such an important part in shaping national identity,” Markarian said. “I want to study how religion brings together a nation.”

Urban studies senior Robert Davila, a member of the University Catholic Center, said if his religious rights were infringed upon by the government today, a similar rebellion would ensue. He said adoration in the Catholic faith, where people adore Jesus in the exposition of the Eucharist, is similar to the spiritual pilgrimages undertaken by Mexican Catholics in the 19th century.

“It’s kind of like a long moment of silence,” Davila said. “It strengthens your faith by putting aside your everyday problems and focusing on the Eucharist.”