Walking fifteen miles in one day may for a pilgrimage is no small feat, but compared to nearly two years of life in a pandemic, Victoria Begay found the journey invigorating.
“It was something I needed to do to get out and just do the walk, do a lot of praying, meditating…there’s just so much going on, it seems overwhelming. This is a way to clear my mind and put things into perspective.”
Begay was one of about 30 people who completed the first annual St. Kateri Pilgrimage on December 11, 2021. After attending early morning benediction at St. Anthony Parish in Zuni, NM, the pilgrims alternated walking along the road with rides in the new St. Kateri Bus, finishing around 4 p.m. at the St. Kateri Rosary Walk just south of Gallup.
“When we had the benediction – it was awesome…everything in the altar was Native American,” Begay said. “It’s just totally different than what I normally see in my parish. It just hit me – ‘oh gosh, I miss coming to Mass with everybody that I used to go to Mass with.’”
According to Deacon Ed Schaub, director of the St. Kateri Shrine, the pilgrimage was the brainchild of Bill McCarthy, executive director of the Southwest Indian Foundation. McCarthy wanted to hold a special event on the weekend nearest to three feast days important to the Church and Indigenous people – Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego, and the Immaculate Conception.
Deacon Schaub himself took turns driving one of the support vehicles and walking the distance with his wife, Anne.
“I’m glad Annie did the second half – I was pretty well smoked!” he said.
Deacon Schaub was awed by the response to the pilgrimage, both from the participants and from strangers and passers-by.
“One guy on the other side of the road in Zuni Pueblo, he takes his hat off and makes the sign of the cross,” he recalled. “People would stop and they would give us three bucks – the spirit of it!”
Pilgrims – many of them elders – would share with him and with each other various reasons for making the journey. One woman walked for her mother who is experiencing dementia, expressing the hope that “Maybe God will send a little Grace her way.”
Another, Sr. Elizabeth Racko, DC, traveled up from El Paso, Texas, where she works with migrants. As she walked, she thought of the long distances many of them travel, often by foot, to come to America.
“We were saying the chaplet of Divine Mercy at one particular place,” she said. “And I was so overwhelmed to think – so many countries in the whole world are in such violence, that people who seek peace in their own little town…that they feel they need to leave for their own safety.”
She also offered prayers “for all of Gallup, for all of the [Rosary Walk], for Thanksgiving to the Blessed Mother, for all the Native Americans and what St. Kateri stands for – love of Jesus in our life.”
As the end of the pilgrimage drew near, the group faced one long last climb up a hill to the entrance of the Shrine, and never faltered. At the top, they cheered and hugged one another.
“I’m a romantic, I know, but it almost brings me to tears to remember those people walking,” Deacon Schaub said. “It was powerful to see the spirit of a pilgrim.”