By 3:30 a.m. on Good Friday, pilgrims were already assembling in Questa to ride together to the Sagrada Corazón Catholic Chapel in Costilla. The stained glass …
By 3:30 a.m. on Good Friday, pilgrims were already assembling in Questa to ride together to the Sagrada Corazón Catholic Chapel in Costilla. The stained glass of the chapel glowed from within, telling the waiting pilgrims that the church doors in Costilla had been opened by Guadalupanas.
Inside the church the pilgrims and the Guadalupanas - Catholic women devoted to the church and to helping pilgrims - gathered to exchange blessings before the walkers set out for their 20-plus mile walk to the Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Questa via Cerro. Most of the pilgrims were teenagers, with a sprinkling of adults, some of whom were the parents and grandparents of walkers. Together, the pilgrims and the supporters sang and shared prayers.
Shortly after 4:30 a.m., before the arrival of the predawn light, the walkers left the church, single file. An escort truck and, more distantly, a Taos county sheriff's truck led the way, another pair of trucks following along behind.
The walk began in silence, except for the gurgle of the diesel engine of the escort truck and the occasional greeting from a resident dog. As the houses thinned at the outskirts of Costilla, so too did the sounds of animals. For miles, it was the moon, the diesel engine and the chill of morning dark.
The dried grasses at the side of New Mexico Highway 522 melded the light of the full moon and the headlights of the escort truck, glowing gold against the green-black of the sage fields.
The pilgrims kept a brisk pace -- almost four miles an hour. For this particular walk, the pace is part of the point. Those who wish to walk the 100-mile pilgrimage of Vocations to Chimayó in June must first complete one qualifying walk to demonstrate to themselves and the organizers that they can keep up with the group.
In spite of the speed, the landscape changed little in the first hour of walking. Ute Mountain formed a dark swell, a perfect bell curve set apart by the moonglow reflected on the lower lands, and, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the position of the walkers relative to the mountain began to change.
Anticipating the rising sun, songbirds sang in the distant twilight. The pilgrims took turns carrying the gia, the tall wooden carving of the crucifixion.
Periodically, the walkers passed a support station with a table set out with little plastic cups of water or sports drink and bowls of fruit, cookies, sunflower seeds and candies. They took what they needed without stopping, like runners in a marathon, placing their trash in a bag held by a volunteer some yards further down the road.
"When it's your turn to carry the cross, be sure you take a little time to meditate on the five wounds of Christ," offered one of the organizers in a whisper.
As the sun's rays began to touch the high peaks of the Sangre to Christos, the moon sitting amid layers of yellow, pink and blue sky, the pilgrims broke their silence with song and repetitions of the rosary.
The songs selected from the Pilgrim's Guide were demure to start, but grew louder and more boisterous, including an invitation to "Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory."
After three hours of walking, the pilgrims allowed themselves 20 minutes of rest. They applied sunblock, bandaged their feet and ate burritos prepared for them and brought to the side of the highway by the Guadalupanas.
The pilgrims, allowed to talk during the rest, reflected on the bond they felt during the shared walk and during their common experiences with the 100-mile pilgrimage in June.
After breakfast, which was about 10 miles into the pilgrimage, the walking resumed until Cerro. There was again another cycle of silence, then song, then conversation.
Shortly after 10 a.m., at Cerro, the group met the Hermanos of the Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the chapel of the same name.
In the chapel the Hermanos performed an enactment of Saint Veronica offering her veil to Jesus so that he might wipe his forehead with it as he carried the cross to Golgotha. The cloth that was used to wipe the face of the statue of Jesus was returned to the statue of Veronica bearing the image of Christ, just as the Veil of Veronica was said to have been.
After a reading, the Hermanos carried the santo of Jesus bearing his cross from the chapel to the morada, singing prayers as they walked.
Inside the morada, the pilgrims offered a blessing to the Hermanos before returning to the chapel to collect pilgrims who would begin their walk in Cerro and end at Saint Anthony in Questa.
For the third and final time a cycle began of walking in silence, then song, then conversation.
By that point, much of the talk was about the various pains of the walkers. Blisters on toes, soles of feet and heels, pain in knees, ankles and hips predominated. But there was other talk, too, as the pilgrims rounded the final bend toward the church in Questa -- talk of lasting friendships formed during pilgrimage, of family ties solidified and of personal growth.
"I'm nicer than I used to be," one walker said of how her life had changed after going on pilgrimage for each of the past 10 years. "I think more about the feelings of other people."
And that, perhaps, is the aspiration.
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