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A walk of faith

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Every year devotees come from near and far to converge on El Santuario de Chimayó on Good Friday

Their journey may start a few miles away, or from as far off as Taos, Las Trampas or Albuquerque. They are of every age and physical condition, some jogging along while others ride in strollers or wheelchairs. Some carry crosses; others carry oxygen to assist their breathing.
These are the pilgrims who flood the roads to El Santuario de Chimayó on Good Friday, a tradition in New Mexico for more than 60 years now. The event has become famous worldwide.
Pilgrims are drawn to Chimayó not only during Holy Week, but year round. The Church of the Ascension in Albuquerque and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Taos both sponsor 100-mile pilgrimages to the chapel, usually in early June.
But Good Friday holds a special place for Catholic worshipers as the day that Christ suffered and died on the cross.
“This is an embedded part of our culture, which is mixed with our religion. It’s an expression of our faith,” said Richard Valez, who frequently made the pilgrimage when he was growing up in Santa Fe. Valez has lived in Albuquerque since he was 18 years old, but still makes the effort to do the pilgrimage.
“After the sacrifice our lord made for us, I’m using his example as a way to sacrifice in this minimal way,” said James, who was walking with his cousin Geraldine.
James was walking for the first time this year. This was Geraldine’s 10th year. Many of the pilgrims have walked multiple times.
Although there are solo walkers on the road, many travel in groups or with a companion.
“It also gives us an idea of what it means to lean on each other,” James said.
Their reasons for walking are as varied as the individuals.
“I’m saying prayers for my family, for my friends, for my enemies, for everyone,” James said.
Although some pilgrims pray for loved ones as they walk, many, like James, offer more universal prayers.
“I’ve had lots of ordeals in my life, but I come for everybody in the world,” said Joseph Benavidez, who was on his third day of walking 60 miles from Santo Domingo Pueblo with his niece Christy. Benavidez’s brother was somewhere behind this energetic pair.
“I pray for everything to be OK, for people who are sick to get better, any kind of good outcome. I pray for strangers and for people back home.”
A fourth pilgrim had latched onto the Benavidez family. A small dog they had never seen before followed them from Santo Domingo and refused to be turned back. They finally acquired a collar and leash to keep her safe and named her “Lady.”
Many on the road are praying for healing for themselves or someone dear to them.
The Salazar family, which had stopped to rescue a caterpillar in danger of being trampled, were praying for a friend who was struggling with her second bout with cancer.
Seeing families such as the Salazars is not unusual. Their youngest daughter could not have been more than 6 years old. The parents had been walking this pilgrimage for 13 years.
A woman named Char, walking with her adult daughter, Lisa, was seeking emotional healing. She had lost her husband to West Nile virus two years ago. Her brother and others close to her had also died recently.
Char had done the pilgrimage eight times, but this was the first time walking since her husband’s death.
Others walk to give thanks.
“I asked a favor of God and it was granted,” said a pilgrim named Ana. “I am walking to give thanks.”
Jose Veyna Flores described his miracle.
“My brother was kidnapped in Mexico and beaten so badly the doctors said he was not going to live, or if he did, he would not be able to walk. But now he is walking,” Veyna Flores said. “So I am walking to give thanks for that.”
Veyna Flores was also giving thanks that his elderly mother was doing well.
Like many walkers Veyna Flores adapted his pilgrimage. To make sure his young children could walk with him but not be pushed past their limits, Veyna Flores walked from Santa Fe to Pojoaque last year and was doing the second half of his pilgrimage this year.
A couple named Horacio and Darlene also made adaptations for their young daughters, 6-year-old Makayla and 11-year-old Keeanna Molina.
Darlene has been walking for 20 years. When Horacio began walking with her, they used to do the entire four hour trip together from Nambe, approximately 10 miles.
The nature of their prayers and their execution of the walk changed when Keeanna was born with an illness. Their prayers became centered on her well-being and the couple now takes turns driving a “support vehicle” with the girls while the others walk. The girls — who are both doing well — join their parents on the road for part of the walk.
Twelve-year-old Karim, who was walking with his dad, was praying for the family business to succeed and that everyone in his family stays healthy. He called the pilgrimage “kind of fun.”
Gordon Gelson’s son Luke had asked him why they were walking. He told him, “I’m commemorating the sacrifice that Jesus made with a sacrifice of our own. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on how to become a better person and contribute more to the world.”
Often the walkers are groups of friends, such as Eric Rey, Adam Gurule and Ray Gutierrez, who have been doing the pilgrimage for four years.
“It’s a way to get away from the city. There’s no music or other distractions, and it’s beautiful. I pray for my family,” Gurule said. “I want to try walking from Albuquerque, but I’m going to have to get in better shape before I do that.”
Good Friday draws pilgrims from all over the world.
This was the third year Johanna had made the trip from Arizona.
“I am offering my prayers and struggle as a blessing for my family,” Johanna said.
Mike had traveled from Colorado last year to make the pilgrimage, and returned this year with his two sons, daughter and son-in-law.
“I wanted to bring my family to experience the beauty of it and contemplate a lot of things,” Mike said.
This was the second year 12 members of the Ramos family had traveled from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to make the pilgrimage, which they had learned about in the newspaper.
“We’re walking to thank God for all he has done for us,” Janet Ramos said.
Steve and Sue Coffman, who were walking for their fifth time, were inspired to perform a major pilgrimage by their pilgrimages to Chimayó. The couple walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain to Santiago de Compostela, the tomb of St. James.
“We do it partly for religious reasons and partly a chance to reflect,” Steve said. “It gives a wonderful feeling of well being.”

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