theYCW Spring Break Pilgrimage

By Carolyn Shields

This is it! theYoungCatholicWoman is offering another trip in 2017. From March 4-12th, join us in New Mexico to hike 75 miles on one of America's most well known pilgrimage routes: the Chimayo. Over 300,000 pilgrims journey every year to this sacred place, and it has been called the Lourdes of America, but obviously us being us we want to take it a step further and hike over twelve miles a day in Carson National Forest, climb to Wheeler Peak (the highest point in NM), and descend back to the deserts.

Do you have it in you to seek our Holy in the wild?

The Miracle of Chimayo

There's a small shrine located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Chimayo, and for generations, American Indians, Hispanics, and other people of faith have traveled to the site of El Santuario to ask for healing for themselves and others, and to offer prayers of petition and of thanksgiving for favors received.

Pueblo Indians have inhabited the Chimayo area since the 12th century, long before the initial Spanish conquest of New Mexico. When they arrived, the Spanish committed to converting the natives to Christianity, which became a major point of friction between the Catholic Church and the American Indians for the Pueblo Indians believed that they shared their land with supernatural beings and that the healing spirits were to be found in the form of hot springs, which ultimately dried up leaving the healing earth.

In 1693, led by Diego de Vargas, the Spanish returned to reconquer New Mexico. Christianity began to spread from generation to generation in the Chimayo area. According to the most popular tradition/legend, on the Holy Week night of Good Friday in 1810, Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of the Penitentes, saw a light beaming out of one of the hills near the Santa Cruz River in Chimayo. He went to the spot and saw that the light was coming out of the ground. Digging with his bare hands, he found a Crucifix, which he immediately associated with Our Lord of Esquipulas. He left it there and a group of men went to notify the priest, Fray Sebastián Alvarez.

The priest set out for Chimayo and carried the Crucifix back to his church in Santa Cruz, placing it in the niche of the main altar. The next morning, the Crucifix was gone and found in its original location in Chimayo. This same process was repeated two more times, and the Crucifix always ended up back in its original location thus making it apparent that Our Lord of Esquipulas wanted to reside in Chimayo. Another legend claims that Don Bernardo Abeyta had a vision while plowing his fields that directed him to dig beneath his plow where he would find earth with great healing powers.

In 1813, on behalf of the residents of El Potrero, Abeyta petitioned the priest for permission to build a chapel dedicated to Our Lord of Esquipulas on what the people believed to be the site of the miraculous Crucifix or earth with healing powers. The miraculous healings grew so numerous it required replacing the chapel with the larger, current shrine in 1816. The healings started as a result of the miraculous earth or sand found under the shrine. It is said that the earth at Chimayo can be mixed with water to make mud and eaten or applied to the skin in order to heal a person of an ailment. Some people take vials of the sand with them as a remembrance of their pilgrimage to Chimayo.

So Why A Pilgrimage?

Pope Benedict often talked about a culture of encounter; Pope Francis seems to be all the rage about dialogue, but both are crucial mechanics for conversion of the heart. But where does this often begin? With an experience.

With who? With what? Holy. A personal encounter with Christ who reveals Himself either directly in the Sacraments, scripture, divine revelation, etc (which often the world disputes); either through another person (which the world often disputes what constitutes a healthy relationship, in fact disputes the very definition of a human being); within oneself (which the world is also quick to note we live in an age of heightened anxiety where mental illness is an epidemic); or with creation….the sole relationship that the world seems to agree that we must protect.

So okay, where does a pilgrimage fit in all of this? Well, let’s have our experience right there, with creation, and these other elements of seeking Christ, of coming together as a group of women, and having those moments of solitude with yourself as you hike 75 miles through Carson National Forest, all becoming the compounded elements to a path of (re)conversion. Furthermore, millennials (particularly those in college) “have revealed that they don’t really read, reality is apprehended through symbolic and visual language and discursive reasoning is less important.” Ricardo Simmonds, founder of Creatio, responds to this, stating, “The Church must therefore present an alternative practice of Christian life, one that is beautiful, joyful, visible, incarnate, explained and taught by personal example and filled with symbols, signs and gestures.” In short, through popular piety. Pope Francis is all about this too! Remember how he took it so far as to say that in the Year of Mercy, Catholics were all encouraged to take a pilgrimage?

But North America lacks popular piety. It doesn’t have a Camino de Santiago like Spain. We don’t have vibrant processions through our streets like South America. We don’t have Madonna statues on peaks of our mountains like the Alps. I mean, I guess we have Ash Wednesday? (And this makes some sense, right? #ashtag) But the region of Northern New Mexico from Albuquerque to the San Luis Valley in Colorado does have popular piety in one of the most beautiful areas of America where the snowcapped peaks of the Taos mountains meet the cracked, hot springs and deserts. It’s where popular piety meets creation, a common ground for many. Simmonds wrote, “[In this region], their identity lies in being Catholic. This is reflected in the celebration of saint feasts, processions, pilgrimages and many other traditions. Popular piety runs through the veins of this American Catholic people.”

A pilgrimage is simultaneously a journey toward something and away from something. That’s where you bring in your own personal why. Why come? What are you walking away from? What do you hope to find? In scripture, Jesus asks “Who are you looking for?” more frequently than any other question in the Bible, and it’s a question worth answering again and again.

Interested in learning more? Or ready to sign up? Check out this page to journey on!