The Sanctuary of Atotonilco
Off the road from San Miguel to Delores Hildago, in the village of Atotonilco is an amazing 18th century church plain on the outside, but vividly decorated inside with crudely carved statures of Jesus and saints, the walls painted with poems, and frescoed walls and arched ceilings of the main altar and several side chapels. The church is in poor repair, needing some serious restoration, which may happen as it's listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations. Unlike European and First World religious monuments, this church is humble and rustic. But impressive craftsmanship is evident, even with the flooring in the main entrance and chapel, a sort of hand-crafted parquet floor. I've read that this church was on the route of the insurgent priest Fra. Miguel Hildago of Delores in his 1810 midnight rising for independence. So, in its day it must have been an important regional institution. Alas, no flash photography was permitted the day I visited, despite the fact that I was the only one there. Outside sat several elderly women, begging. Near the entrance was a woman sitting with what looked like a young man with cerebral palsy, or some such disability. To her I gave a some pesos, wondering as I did if I should give all of them the same. I'm told the elderly of Mexico suffer because there is no retirement, social security or equivalent social safety net for those too old or otherwise unable to work. It presents a dilemma. Should I give to beggars because, all things being relative, I have money to give? Or, as a woman I met traveling in Mexico for seven years said, does it just encourage a dependence on foreigner's generosity? She said she never gives money to children just for that reason, but does often give to elderly women. Unlike the beggars along the border areas, it seems the outstretched hands of old women outside churches come from genuine need. The gringo woman told me she thinks the Mexican government needs to address the social needs of its people, including the handicapped and elderly and giving to beggars simply delays that inevitability. I wonder and give: sometimes. The dilemma I experience is no different than that I felt in New York city. Give, because I can afford to? Or not give, for fear of being scammed by a fraudulent player.