EL PASO — Lucille Maya remembers when her father carried her infant brother up Mt. Cristo Rey to ask for a miracle. Her brother was born with a birth defect and doctors told her family that he would never be able to walk, but soon after her father’s pilgrimage her little brother walked for the first time.
“I do this for my faith.” said Maya, 73, who has been coming to Mt. Cristo Rey all her life. “I really believe it can help with miracles and it’s a beautiful walk.” On Good Friday, thousands of people lined the narrow dirt paths of the mountain where two countries and three states meet, to visit a statue of Christ that watches over their borderland.
Overlooking Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, the 29 ft. limestone statue stands atop “Sierra Cristo Rey,” an 820 ft. mountain that serves as a shrine to many faithful in the Paso del Norte region.
As many as 40,000 people of all ages make the five mile hike, some to fulfill family traditions, others as a testament of their faith. Some, like Maya, make this trek through the treacherous Chihuahuan Desert every year.
This pilgrimage takes place twice a year, on Good Friday and on the last Sunday of October to celebrate the Christian feast of Christ the King and the anniversary of the monument.
There are people who carry wooden crosses over their shoulders and others who walk up the jagged paths barefooted.
Erin Contreras, 11, walked up and down the rocky mountain barefooted along with his 16- and 17-year-old brothers. “This was so I can have a good life,” he said. “If Jesus could do it why can’t we?” added the young boy.
There are blue iron crosses and different altars along the entire path, where people stop to say their rosaries or light a votive candle as an offering to a patron saint.
A few hundred yards from the summit, people place fresh roses and colorful plastic flowers around the image of the “Vírgen de Guadalupe.” This altar, constructed out of rocks from the same mountain, stands more than 800 feet in the air with nothing but the baby-blue sky as a backdrop. Here Father Samuel Garcia, 73, from Las Cruces, N.M., prayed for his family and for all of mankind.
“There is so much necessity and loss of faith, this is the reason that gives me strength to make it up,” said Garcia, who retired in 1992, after serving in Sunland Park, N.M., for many years.
Garcia aided by Jose Hernandez, another believer he met along the way, carried a small keyboard up the mountain. Once they reached the foot of the giant Christ statue, Garcia sets up for an impromptu procession.
A small crowd gathers around the priest chanting and praying along with him, their eyes distant, overlooking the vast desert horizon.