San Judas de Tadeo: Mexico's Defender of Lost Causes
By Lydia Carey

The second Judas disciple in the Son of God's entourage has his own devoted following among the downtrodden, especially on his dedicated celebration day in Mexico City.

Mexico City

The crowd is getting anxious. A man about ten feet away from me is yelling obscenities and cracking Virgin Mary jokes. Someone yells out “Move Forward!” I hold my breath.

What people in the back can’t see is the little old woman caught between the railing and crowd, they don’t know about the homeless kid who has passed out up front after sniffing too much paint thinner, they’re oblivious to the three-year-old that is being held on to for dear life by her father.

“Don’t push,” people scream at whoever’s behind them. But it’s too late for calm and tranquility, everybody’s pushing.

I’ve had similar moments in the Mexico City subway, when riders titter nervously, embarrassed by having to elbow senior citizens and children just to get home on time. But no one in this crowd is laughing. This is serious business. It’s San Judas day. 

Waiting for Miracles

Jesus statue

The celebration actually started last night. With hours of amateur fireworks and a singing of Las Mañanitas, Mexico’s Happy Birthday song, to the venerated saint at midnight. There’s plenty of drinking involved and lots and lots of music. Those that can hack it stay till morning.

As the sun begins to turn the sky magenta, the masses start. Every hour the priest’s voice crackles over the crowd from a loudspeaker. People respond with “Hallelujahs” and “Also with yous,” and when the hymns began to ripple through the crowd, you can feel a communal hum run through your body.

At mid-day I stand, back aching, in the middle of one of those masses. It feels like what I imagine about worshipping Vishnu or Shiva in the streets of India. It feels like the kind of thing you watch on a documentary about religious zealots. It feels like I’ve been transported to some exotic land, but this is where I live. This is Mexico City, and these are Catholics, those supposedly dour and orderly Christians. These folks are anything but dour.

The guys next to me light up a joint. The couple in front of me tries desperately to calm their tiny baby. The lips of the old woman behind me move frantically to words of the rosary over and over. People clutch their statues like life preservers in an urban ocean. San Judas Tadeo figures of every shape and size are lifted towards heaven like offerings when the priest inside the calls for them to be raised for the blessing. Kids dressed as mini San Judases—white robe, green sash—are lifted onto shoulders to keep them from the press of the crowd.

The priest reads:

“… Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them … Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

He takes a special pause at the name of Judas son of James, before the other Judas, the traitor.

“He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.”

Suddenly the bible verses have been breathed into life. But this crowd, the one that fills the streets in front of the Templo de Hipolito in Colonia Guerrero, aren’t from Jerusalem or Tyre or Sidon. Instead they came from Iztapalapa and Azcapotzalco and Tepito. Oh, and a single outlier from the Chicago suburbs. We are all there for miracles, praying to San Judas for our lost causes, and waiting for a blessing.

The Man and His Masses

The priest and people lovingly call him San Juditas, the diminutive form of his name that makes him seem familiar, approachable. San Judas has your back, San Judas is your cuate.

As the saint of lost causes he’s been adopted by the marginalized, the poor, the downtrodden of the country’s capital. Juvenile and not-so-juvenile delinquents look to San Judas as their personal protector.

Judas statue

Each 28th of the month pilgrims bring their images and statues of San Judas to be blessed by the priests at the Templo de San Hipolito, a church dedicated to a different saint altogether but that has been adopted by this band of followers. October 28th is the biggest celebration of the year, the date where if you didn’t make it the other months, you can make up for it.

The Hidalgo metro station overflows with followers and their San Judas figurines. They are tiny enough to fit in your pocket, and large enough that it takes two people to carry them through the crowd. Carved from wood, molded from plastic, created in porcelain, each statue has a story and is deeply connected to its holder.

San Judas is depicted with an image of Jesus on his chest, which although generally attributed to the miracle Image of Edessa, looks like a giant golden coin. Many of his followers believe he can help them with their money troubles.

He’s also depicted holding an axe or a club, a symbol of his martyred death, but in the eyes of his public it has made him the defender of defenseless, including of those “defenseless” thieves and criminals of Mexico City’s underbelly.

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Read this article online at: San Judas de Tadeo: Mexico's Defender of Lost Causes

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2017. All rights reserved.

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