Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe church in Chimayo, N.M., in search of spiritual or physical healing. Pilgrims believe the church was built on sacred grounds that possess curative powers.
Because so many people fill the 1.5-mile pilgrimage route from a nearby highway to the chapel, there is an inevitable chance for litter which church and state officials hoped to curb.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., joined with New Mexico Clean & Beautiful, a program of the New Mexico Tourism Department, to encourage pilgrims to refrain from littering the state’s highways and byways on their walk to Chimayo.
“I encourage parishioners to walk on pilgrimage, but to be mindful that we are called to be good citizens,” said Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan.
Santa Fe County officials said county crews planned to place trash receptacles and portable toilets on county roads including the 1.5-mile-long road that is the last stretch to the pilgrimage site. The New Mexico Transportation Department also planned to provide trash receptacles on a major route.
According to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the first “official” pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo was in 1945. Many New Mexican National Guard members were sent to the Philippines prior to World War II. When Japan attacked the islands, many were taken prisoner and forced to walk 60 miles in what today is called the Bataan Death March. Many prisoners did not survive the forced walk. Some of those who did made a promise that if they lived and returned home, they would make a pilgrimage to El Santuario.
In 1945, there was an organized pilgrimage by many of the survivors. Some walked from as far as Albuquerque, which is 80 miles away. They were welcomed by Archbishop Edwin Byrne who blessed them and celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving.