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‘We want to show our gratitude to God’

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SUNLAND PARK – Thousands climbed Mount Cristo Rey to mark Good Friday in a tradition that is part hike, part pilgrimage to the giant limestone cross at the top.

“They start out early. We had people camping out at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. They start making their way up with flashlights so you see a little trail of flashlights,” said Ruben Escandon Jr., with the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee.

Escandon and others on the committee take pride in maintaining the walking paths with donations from the faithful. Good Friday attracts some of the biggest crowds to Mount Cristo Rey, located in southern New Mexico. He estimated more than 10,000 people made the hike this year.

“The tradition has grown over the years. It’s a family tradition. People come up here to reflect on the Passion of Christ and his crucifixion before the resurrection,” Escandon said.

This year, church members from various denominations, scouting troops and generations of families made the five-mile round-trip hike. Some stopped to pray along the way and take in the stunning view.

The cross on Mount Cristo Rey is a 29-foot limestone sculpture that towers over two countries and three states – New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua.

“We have all walks of life. This is what brings us together,” said Pastor Daniel Cave of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in La Union. Members of his congregation joined those from two other churches, St. Andrew’s in Las Cruces and St. Francis on the Hill in El Paso, for a prayer service on the mountain at the foot of the cross.

“When you get up to the top and you see all the divisions that we have created, divisions of country, divisions of city and when we get up there all that disappears. And we’re all one people, one planet and we all have to learn how to get it together, and the easiest way to do that is to become centered on the cross,” Cave said.

For many, the pilgrimage is personal. Some of the faithful walk barefoot on the gravel paths in a show of devotion. Others carry their own wooden crosses. Joshua Ingo, an Army veteran from El Paso, made his own wooden cross.

“I lost brothers. I lost soldiers. It’s a constant fight for me. I pay tribute for those who can’t walk the Earth,” Ingo said. He also does it in memory of an infant son who died in 2011. He made the pilgrimage with his two children and a brother.

“We want to show our gratitude to God,” said Francisco Gonzalez, a resident of Ciudad Juárez. His family has been climbing Mount Cristo Rey on Good Friday for generations. Gonzalez and his wife, Alejandra, brought their 4-month-old son along in a baby backpack hiking carrier.

For some, it’s their first time at Mount Cristo Rey.

“She can make it for sure. She’s tough,” said Heather Ramirez of her 8-year-old daughter, Allison. Ramirez and her spouse, Krystal, joined other parents and their kids’ scouting troop hiking up the mountain to the cross.

Sarah Byrne and her husband, Patrick, have been bringing their children on the Holy Week hike since the boys were babies.

“I carried him – my oldest one – on a baby pack,” Bryne said. Later, she pushed him and his brother in a double stroller to the top. Now her sons are 7 and 5 years old. Their sister is 3.

“We like to do it as a family tradition, and every Easter we do it,” Byrne said.