Friday, February 1, 2013

San Juan and Weslaco, Texas

Our only stop in San Juan Thursday was at the Basilica of our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine.  The history of this shrine goes back to the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.  Spanish missionaries placed a small image of the Immaculate Conception in the church of San Juan de los Largus,Mexico.  A miracle of healing happened later at that shrine in 1623, and devotion to Our Lady grew throughout Mexico.  In 1942 a priest serving in San Juan, Texas was convinced that fostering a devotion to our Lady of San Juan would benefit the people of the town and draw the community together.  The first church/shrine was built in the 1950s, but 16 years later was burned down by a small low-flying airplane.  A new church was built in 1976, and it was later designated Our Lady of San Juan del Valle national shrine.  In 1999 Pope John Paul named it as a minor basilica.  Today the church is one of the most visited shrines in the United States.
While at the shrine we learned that there was going to be a mariachi festival the next day at the basilica.  We returned Friday evening for that event, unfortunately because we were trying to locate the wild parrots of Weslaco ( we were told at the Valley Nature Center that they can be found in various places in the town at sunset, but we had no luck with that venture), we were late to the festival and every one of the 2,030 seats in the basilica were taken.  Ushers were kind enough to find some folding chairs for us, and we were treated to some fantastic mariachi music.  The basilica has its own band, and, after they played a few selections, other mariachi bands from one middle school and several local high schools played.  All of those high school bands have received awards in both state and national competitions.  At the end of the evening all the bands gathered in front of the basilica's altar to play a couple of musical selections together.
 I have gotten a bit side- tracked here.  My original intention in this posting was to write about our trip to the Valley Nature Center,  which we visited on Thursday, after our first trip to the shrine in San Juan.  We got there in the early afternoon, and it was not a good time for seeing birds or any wildlife.  But  I did find something very interesting while walking through that park.  I happened to look down at the ground and see moving blades of grass.  The blades were being carried by leaf cutter ants to their nest.
Look carefully under each leaf and you will find an ant!  Consider a 200 pound man lifting a car weighing 2,000 pounds, that should give you an idea of the burden of the ants.   I did some research on them and learned that there are 47 different species of them.  They can be found in South, Central America, Mexico and southern parts of the United States.  Leaf cutter ants cut off leaves of plants with their strong mandibles and carry them to their nest. There they chew them up, mix that pulp with their feces and fungus spores for their food.  John and I followed a line of those leaf- toting ants for about a 100 feet,  their trail ended at two different holes in the ground.  Watching those ants made our trip to the nature center very worthwhile!

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