“I Am Nobody to Break a Vow Made to God”

22 04 2009


By Bob McPhail

Three young men in their early teens are walking toward a bus stop in downtown Tijuana. Despite the mid-afternoon sun, each of them is dressed in a monk’s habit fashioned from heavy, brown cloth. But they are too young to be monks, and their demeanor is that of school kids on their way home.

“Oh,” says a priest when asked about what these boys might be up to, “they are probably doing a manda.” Las Mandas are a tradition of Mexican piety dating back to the Spanish Conquest, according to Father Jorge Echegoyen, a diocesan priest in Tijuana. “Mandas are a traditional belief in Mexico that are a mixture between faith and superstition. People in Mexico, especially in the south, have rituals and rites that are both pagan and Christian. Among these are mandas. They come from a view of the world that we are always sinners and we need to sacrifice. We need to be reminded how far away we are from the holy.”

Father Echegoyen gives the following example of a typical manda: “I am driving a car and I have an accident, and my father hurts his head and needs surgery. So I pray to God, or to Mary, our Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, ‘If you give health to my father, I will give you 1000 pesos, I will give it to the Church.’ My father recovers in a month, so to complete my manda I give 1000 pesos to the church.”

The giving of money in exchange for a favor granted by God, the Blessed Virgin, or a saint is one of the easiest mandas to perform, says Father Echegoyen. Other typical mandas include the placing of food on the altar, supplying flowers for your parish church, agreeing to fast one day a week, wearing a religious habit for a specified period of time, or entering a church on your knees.

“A young girl might agree to perform a manda like this: ‘If you give me a boyfriend, I will pray the Rosary daily for one month,'” explains Father Echegoyen. He says the Church in Mexico has had to step in on some occasions when mandas have become excessive, as in the case of extreme self-mortification. “Many mandas are accompanied by blood, and these are not good in the sight of God. For example, people who use tree branches to hit themselves on the back, or who cause their knees to bleed from some object while they are crawling on their knees. The bishops of Mexico and pastors are against such physically damaging mandas because they violate human dignity.”

Father Danilo Zanini says the practice of doing mandas is quite prevalent in his parish of San Jose in the poor neighborhood of Cañon Verde. “Even children do them,” says Father Zanini. “I had a sick child whose manda was to dress up as St. Martin de Porres. After his recovery, he wore the white habit of the Dominicans for quite a while.

“I had one woman who had regularly been giving the church 20 dollars a week,” says Father Zanini. “At first, I did not know it was a manda, but one day she came to me, handed me 20 dollars and said, ‘That’s it father. I’ve finished my manda.'”

“I had another woman who agreed to wear the Carmelite habit for one year,” says Father Zanini. “Her request was granted by Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She would even sleep in it, as well.”

All mandas, both priests agree, involve a specific act that will be performed for a specific period of time in return for a specific favor from God.

“A manda is like a vow, a promise,” Father Zanini says. “A very typical manda involves Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexicans are very Guadalupe-centered. Usually, they promise to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. I had one couple in which the wife was pregnant. They agreed that, if a boy was born, they would complete their manda by making such a pilgrimage. And they will do it some day. They are saving a little money every week. They feel obligated now that they have a baby boy. They will do it.”

Father Zanini says he has also seen members of his parish kneel down upon entering the church and crawl to the altar on their knees in completion of a manda.

“Alcohol is a big problem among Mexicans,” says Father Zanini, “and a manda to give up drinking is very common. It works better, I think, than Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Father Zanini says, when a parishioner approaches him about a manda to abstain from alcohol, he provides them with a holy card bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on one side, and, on the other side, their name, the date of the vow, the length of time they will not drink, and their signature.

“They often want to make the length of time a very long time, but I always tell them to make it shorter,” he says. “That”s because they also will come back many times and say, ‘Father, can I break my vow and drink? I have a family fiesta.’ I tell them, ‘I am nobody to break a vow made to God. That’s up to you and your conscience. But I can’t break it.'”

Mexican Church tolerates mandas but does not necessarily encourage them. “Mandas are categorized as acts of public piety that are part of the culture and that do not violate any canon law,” says Father Zanini.

Father Echegoyen agrees. “Mandas are more or less from the people and not from the Church as a Christian doctrine or part of Christian theology,” he says. “They are a cultural expression of a religious tradition.”

Original source


My thoughts: Just that I find the priests’ “post-Vatican II-ese” in this article (“human dignity”, “pagan rites”, etc.) rather quaint and somewhat ignorant. But what can you expect at this point?



One response

7 07 2009

I guess I am doing my manda, and I had no idea what mandas were. I had a problem with a tooth, and the dentist wanted to extract it or to do a root canal. I promised St. Apollonia that if she were to heal it, I would fast one day a week for a year. I’ve had no problem with the tooth since February and I have been keeping my promise since.

I see it as expressing genuine gratitude.

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