Pilgrimage: Journey of faith

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Every year on or before Good Friday, people across New Mexico begin to walk. Some of them in Socorro County walk from Socorro to Polvedera or Magdalena to San Antonio or to numerous other destinations within the area, says Father Andy Pavlak, pastor to the San Miguel Mission. Others from Socorro County and many parts of New Mexico make their pilgrimage north to the small community of Chimayo.

Rebecca Apodoca/El Defensor Chieftain: San Miguel Mission in Socorro provides a starting point for some and an ending point for others on Holy Week pilgrimages.

“A pilgrimage is a faith journey,” Pavlak said. “It’s for atonement — begging God’s forgiveness for their sins. People have done pilgrimages to lots of places.”

For Catherine Anaya, who comes down from Albuquerque every year to walk between the San Miguel and San Lorenzo missions of Socorro County, Easter has always been her favorite time of year.

“(The pilgrimage) is preparing for the new year for Jesus coming,” Anaya said. “It’s a time for me to reflect. Mostly I walk alone. It is a time when I am most at peace. It is a time to think about what’s going on in my life.”

Anaya said she has an uncle who does the walk every year. His daughter was sick when she was small and he made a promise to God that he would do the pilgrimage every year. His daughter is grown now — and healthy — and Anaya’s uncle still walks the miles in reflection and gratefulness.

“It is kind of like making a spiritual promise of healing, not just for myself but for those around me,” Anaya said. “It is very cleansing — just gives me time to really think about things I’ve overcome and the people around me. I am kind of overwhelmed with the emotion when it’s done. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Antonio Sanchez of Magdalena walks from his Socorro County town to the Santuario de Chimayo in his pilgrimage every year. It takes him about three weeks to do so and he times it so he arrives on Good Friday — this year March 29. This year, due to medical issues, Sanchez will be doing his pilgrimage later than usual.

“My great-great-grandfather was a Penitente,” Sanchez said. “They would crucify someone (with ropes) every year and whip themselves and it was a penance, atonement for your sins. I do mine out of respect for my grandfather.”

As he walks, Sanchez uses the time in reflection toward God and to pray and meditate, he said. He goes to Chimayo because he feels it is the only sacred ground the church has in North America — the only place a miracle has happened.

“There are no miracles in the United States, this is the only thing,” he said. “People take the sand and eat it and it cures them. It’s because of their own faith that they are cured. It (the journey) gives me that time so I can be closer to God.”

People have been going on pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo for 200 years, since a certain crucifix was discovered there in 1810.

“Some of us think they have been coming even before the chapel was built 200 years ago, but there is no documentation of that theory,” said Father Jim Suntum, an associate pastor and one of the chaplains at the shrine. “First pilgrims came from the local area and then, as generations moved out into other areas, people have been coming from (across the United States).”

Suntum said one of the reasons Chimayo has been a pilgrimage site is that the area the crucifix was found seems to be a source of healing or for various answers to prayer.

“It is a tool for God to use for people,” Suntum said.

Throughout Holy Week people continue to arrive at the santuario, he said. On Good Friday there will be about 20,000 people making their way on the roads around it. The chapel stays open 24 hours a day from 9 a.m. Thursday to about 9 p.m. Holy Saturday night for arriving pilgrims to pay their respects, he said.

Father Julio Gonzalez, the pastor for el Santuario de Chimayo offers the following advice about pilgrimages in a letter posted on the Santuario web page.

“FIRST: Start your pilgrimage with a prayer. In your prayer call God, your Father. Actually He is waiting for you. Then, acknowledge your weaknesses and flaws. Entrust your deeper longings to Him. Entrust your niece to Him. Ask the Lord to reveal His will during this pilgrimage. If you cannot understand Him, how can you be faithful to Him? But, remember, you will only understand God with your heart and this heart must be emptied before God sends His grace upon you. The pilgrimage will help you to empty your heart of anything that is not of God.

“SECOND: During the pilgrimage, offer God your tiredness, hunger, suffering, pain. In the same way that Jesus, His Son, suffered for us, tell God that the purpose of your sacrifice is your niece’s healing. You should fast from anything that is not water and bread (eat and drink only bread and water). Fasting pleases God because you become sharper, stronger, unafraid … The purpose of fasting is not to weaken your body, but to strengthen your will and, thus, your body.

“THIRD: But you don’t want to tempt your God. Don’t act like Satan when Jesus went to the desert: if you are the Son of God then do this, do that … Your prayer should be Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane: ‘Not my will, but Yours …’”