When I photographed the fiesta that marks the death of San Gregorio, the patron saint of San Gregorio Atlapulco, I worried about the consequences of thousands of people crowding together while there was a pandemic underway. That was back in March. During the ten-day event, vendors lined the streets in the pueblo’s center, and crowds turned out for daily concerts and the last night’s fireworks. It turns out I was right to be worried. Out of 1,812 colonias, pueblos, and neighborhoods of Mexico City, San Gregorio Atlapulco would soon have the highest number of cases of COVID-19.
In March, Ábel Cortina, who owns a small store near the pueblo’s center, brushed off the threat posed by the virus. “Nothing is going to happen,” he told me. “It is more like a rumor, from what I can see.” Since then he’s changed his mind. “Yes, it is a problem,” he now admits. “It is not a rumor and it is affecting people. We did not see the danger. We had our fiestas, we did not keep distance, we carried our saints in processions.” He now wears a mask and keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter. “I was wrong in March,” he said. “We were wrong.”
Like virtually all pueblos in Mexico, San Gregorio Atlapulco is overwhelmingly Catholic. The people here are very devoted to the pueblo’s patron saint. As I reported in May, the local parish priest told parishioners in March that San Gregorio had stopped a plague in 590 and would do the same with this virus. People believed him. Octavio Flores was one of them and for several months he saw no need to wear a mask. “San Gregorio will protect us,” he declared. His grandmother, Olga Peralta Muñoz, agreed: “I am one hundred percent certain he can,” she told me then. They no longer feel that way. “The hope that San Gregorio would protect us from the pandemic has failed,” Flores said. “I see the problem is much larger. Now we have to protect ourselves.” His whole family now wears masks. The parish priest has stopped promising miracles.