Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Meeting at the Sacred Mountain

Etched into the headstone of Urbici Jose Francisco Soler Y Manonelles is the outline of a mountain. A mountain which is within driving distance from his grave in El Paso, Texas - Mount Cristo Rey.

It's fitting that the image of can be found on his tombstone. Here's why:
[In the 1920s/30s] A parish priest dreamed of a white cross on the top of a mountain and from this dream grew the monument of Cristo Rey, the largest of its kind in North America. Father Lourdes F. Costa, pastor of the San Jose de Cristo Rey church in Smeltertown, northwest of El Paso, arose with the sun each morning and turned in the direction of the conical peak outside of his window. He always thought that was a perfect setting for a monument to Christ the King, the Prince of Peace.

The Pope called parishes throughout the world for spiritual or material monuments for the 19th Centennial of the Redemption, and Father Costa saw Cristo Rey as a “divine inspiration.” With a few hundred of his parishioners, he began the main action of carving out a trail up the steep mountain to the highest point. They put in position a small wooden cross and prayed that a bigger monument might some day be made there.


Although the mountain geographically is in New Mexico, the base also lies in Texas and Old Mexico. The cross of Cristo Rey is 33.5 feet high resting on a nine foot base with an overall height of 42.5 feet. The statue of Cristo Rey was chiseled out of Austin limestone, a product of the Texas Quarries. The sculptor was Urbici Soler, of international fame, who also helped construct the Christ of the Andes.

linkage (emphasis mine)
Back in July, the border community of Sunland Park, New Mexico, made headlines by rejecting the popular calls for militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. They refused to issue permits allowing the National Guard to patrol their sacred space - their sacred mountain.
And, on July 18, the City Council distinguished Sunland Park from other border communities by voting 4-2 to keep the National Guard away, by denying a right-of-entry permit to the mountain.

Demonstrating that border communities can have a say in how their borders are secured, Border Patrol officials decided to heed the decision.

"For us, it's a sanctuary, a place of worship," Sunland Park Mayor Jesus Ruben Segura says. "Having troops on the mountain is not appropriate."

Sunland Park is a community of about 16,000, but each fall on the last Sunday of October, a pilgrimage up Mount Cristo Rey attracts 25,000 to 35,000 people, Segura says. The mountaintop, which offers views of New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico, is 1,000 feet above the surrounding valleys and deserts and nearly 4,600 feet above sea level. Pilgrims go up the mountain singing hymns and reciting the rosary. Fourteen stations along the trail represent the way of the cross.

When the Spanish conquistadors made their way through this area centuries ago, they brought with them the Catholicism that would ultimately dominate the spirituality of the indigenous people; but the forces of synergy have produced something in the modern era that endures.

It is in our blood to be connected to the land - la tierra sancta. It is a deep respect and knowledge of our commonality with the life that surrounds us in all forms.

In the context of pilgrimage and prayer, it goes beyond a simple gathering as a group in a special place - it is about familia, nuestra fe y la paz - family, our faith and peace. Mount Cristo Rey, which I didn't know much about until elRanchero mentioned the permit denial in July, is a symbol of the bi-culturalism that is deeply rooted in the borderlands.
Each year since the first pilgrimage in 1934, faithful worshippers have climbed the path, which begins at the end of McNutt Road at the base of the mountain. Some worshippers carry wooden crosses, rosaries and flowers in the tradition they learned from parents or grandparents. Still others walk barefoot over the rough path; some climb on their knees, fulfilling a promise made during the year. The winding dirt trail is 5,650 feet up the mountain. Young or old, an individual in good condition can walk up to the summit in about two hours.

The anniversary mass each October is observed at noon on the mount's summit. It is said in both English and Spanish so everyone can understand the ceremony. The celebration ends with the proclamation, "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King!"). Celebrants respond with, "Viva!" which resounds softly over the valley below.

linkage to El Paso Community College Borderlands Project
I'm glad that the people who join the pilgimage each year will be able to do so again this year without armed National Guard troops standing on the sidelines. This past Saturday marked the beginning of the 13th Annual Celebration of Our Mountains - it's a reminder that while politicians play games with respect to immigration reform and border rhetoric - this land is still our home and no one can change that.

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