The Sacred Pause In Northern New Mexico
Every spring, people in small northern New Mexico communities enter into a time of sacred peace known as Lent. The lenten season starts with Ash Wednesday when people flock to mass to get the mark of an ash cross on their forehead. A priest will recite, as he blesses the people, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Over the next 40 days, people choose to give up something for Lent to show their commitment to their relationship with God. Some people have questions and doubts about how Catholics practice Lent. The best way to explain why we sacrifice things we love and why we don’t eat meat on Fridays for 40 days is because we are taught that love means sacrifice. If you’re willing to sacrifice things you love, you are growing in your relationship with God.
Entering this sacred season as a community creates strong bonds to one another, knowing we’re sacrificing together. While this community connection is meaningful, there is something deeper, something that unites us not only to one another, but to our ancestors, our grandmas and grandpas, tias and tios who used to sit in the same pews, attend the same services, and practice the same discipline en el nombre de la fe. It’s more than just entering the religious season of Lent, but it’s experiencing the cultural connection to the one thing they instilled in us, and that was our Catholic faith.
On Good Friday at the end of our forty-day Lenten season, Costillans and Questeños join together for a 20-mile pilgrimage from Costilla to Questa. People meet at the Sangrado Corazon Catholic Chapel in Costilla in the very early hours when it’s still dark. The caminantes are led by the guia (cross) and each member of the pilgrimage carries the guia for a duration of the walk.
The pilgrimage starts with morning prayer, then caminantes walk silently in prayer and reflection. After some time, group prayer begins, then traditional New Mexican church songs are sung in unison. The guia never touches the ground and similarly, caminantes are never allowed to walk ahead of the cross. Throughout the walk, a peace surrounds the walkers which surpasses all understanding as bonds with the comunidad en Cristo are strengthened.
Caminantes stop at Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church in Cerro to recite the stations of the cross, then make one final stop at the morada to pray. The caminantes arrive at St. Anthony’s Parish in Questa around noon on Good Friday and the community is there to extend an encuentro for the caminantes, whom they have prayed for the past 10 hours as they made their journey. The joy and the peace and connection felt to family, both living and those who have passed, our community, as well as the connection to God and the Holy Spirit is unparalleled to any peace ever experienced.
Mikayla Ortega and Gabrielle Rael