a Good Friday pilgrimage and the SSJ mission

SSJ Associate Stephanie Hall, who many know is also our Director of Public Relations and Communications, embarked on a spiritual journey during Holy Week. Stephanie, who has been making personal retreats in the desert of New Mexico for a few years, recently learned about a Holy Week pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo in the town of Chimayo, NM, about 30 miles north of Santa Fe. Upon learning about this pilgrimage, Stephanie knew immediately that she would someday do it. Then she was struck with the realization that someday may never come, so why not now? She reached out to a friend in South Carolina and the two decided to make it happen.

Life is a journey and you choose to live as a pilgrim or as a tourist.

I never heard of Chimayo or the Santuario and was interested in learning more.  El Santuario de Chimayo is a small church located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is known for the story of its founding and as a pilgrimage site since the early 1800s. The chapel is built on the site where a wooden crucifix was discovered by Don Bernardo Abeyta in 1810. The crucifix now hangs on an altar in the chapel. The sanctuary became designated as a national historic landmark in 1970.  The pilgrimage to Chimayo attracts hundreds of thousands each year, most during Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday. For the pilgrims, it is a time to reflect on blessings received, to seek forgiveness and healing for themselves and others, and to remember the sacrifices Jesus made for us.  Many pilgrims are attracted to the shrine by testimonies about the miraculous effects of the dirt found within the chapel of the Christ of Esquilpulas. Within the sanctuary is a pit which contains the “holy dirt” and marks the place where the crucifix was found. The pilgrimage is said to be the largest Catholic pilgrimage in the United States. Some call it the “Lourdes of North America.”

Stephanie was moved by the depth of the pilgrims’ faith and devotion. She found the encounters with other pilgrims and many spiritual blessings she received to be very special. It was a profound experience, she says, and she is still “processing” everything.

I was fascinated by what I learned as well as by the stories Stephanie shared.  She talked about the people and her conversations and experiences with them along the way. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that Stephanie took along several of our BE KIND magnets and shared them with pilgrims who extended kindness to her along the way. One man from a church group who prayed with Stephanie and her friend was especially delighted to receive a magnet. He is known to friends as “Kind John.”  It occurred to me that even way out in the desert of New Mexico, Stephanie, as an SSJ associate, was extending our mission and reaching out to the dear neighbor. This makes the SSJ Mission Possible.