Years ago, I began a custom of dropping by little churches in towns I'd pass through. There were usually people of faith about, and I suppose being around them made me feel more connected to home.
It's like hearing your native language spoken in a foreign country where you feel, well, like a foreigner.
Last week I dropped by La Virgen de Guadalupe Catholic Church in the foothills above Mesquite, Nev.
A great deal of work, affection and — yes — funds have gone into the place. It was built just a couple of years ago, and apparently built to resemble those quaint Catholic missions along the California coast — Capistrano, Carmel, San Luis.
The Mesquite "mission" has the needed wood and plaster, Spanish tiles and vegetation to give it an ancient look. The one clue the church is in a Nevada tourist town are a few touches of neon, including a white cross above the main door.
It beams like a nightlight for those unable to locate the moon.
I went by the church at noon. And inside, I found the usual spiritual suspects.
There was the young woman (perhaps a single mother) who had dropped by on her lunch hour to look for the strength to get through the day.
There was the older couple who had likely built their marriage on the rock of faith.
And there was an old woman — called a beata (bay-AH-ta) in Spanish. She worked her rosary with the practiced hands of a professional seamstress. I suspect women like her worry through a couple of strands of beads a year.
But there they were. All, as I said, people of faith.
Faith is not only the first principle of the LDS Church, but I'm guessing it's the first principle of every Christian church.
And it's the common denominator of them all.
We may disagree about how to baptize and who to baptize; we may have differing descriptions of God or debate whether or not Adam had a naval, but I suspect the feeling of faith in the human heart is pretty much the same for Catholics, Pentecostals, Mormons, Methodists and Mennonites.Comment on this story
And while visiting the Virgin of Guadalupe Church in Mesquite, I remembered the day I'd visited the original Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City during the December day of celebration.
The faith in the plaza that day was like helium. I felt myself being buoyed along by a thousand pilgrims, like a football coach on his team's shoulders.
I suppose that memory is one reason I seek out shrines and churches, basilicas and assembly halls wherever I travel.
I am always in need of a lift.
And feeling the prayers and promises rise from the pews where believers worship is almost always enough to get me up and going and on my way again.