Light blues seeped into the desert sky as we trudged up the steep side of Tomé Hill.
The trail was still isolated, save for a few people. As we rushed to the top, anxious to see the sunrise, I noticed a woman stepping very slowly. Once I was closer I noticed that her feet were bare upon the jagged rocks. She carried her shoes as tears streamed down her face.
That was when it sunk in; the full magnitude of what this pilgrimage means to so many. Once at the top, we found ourselves among a group of about 20 people, surrounded by three huge crosses permanently fixed into the hill.
At the foot of one of the crosses, people knelt at an altar. Some were crying, some spoke quietly and others just closed their eyes and were silent.
One man carried a white cross over his back up the steep side of the hill. When he reached the top I realized the cross was made of thick steel. The man, surrounded by family, placed it on the ground and knelt beside it.
A kaleidoscope of people came and went within the next couple hours, some to pray and others to observe and share in the moment. A man with an oxygen machine stood at the summit, holding his walking stick.
We stayed until the sun was well into the sky, watching the line of people coming up the hill grow into a constant stream. As we descended the steep side, a man, helped by his mother and a pair of crutches, struggled up the hill, obviously suffering from some ailment that didn’t allow him full use of his legs.
It was truly beautiful to watch this man push, up the steeper climb, to reach the top. His determination in the face of adversity made me reflect on the woman we saw at the beginning.
As we drove back to Albuquerque, people were walking toward Tomé from 20 miles out, some with large crosses over their back. It was something I will never forget.
The images are what stick with you. The bare, bloodied feet. The crutches, trying to find stable ground among the jagged rocks. Tears rolling down the faces those knelt on the ground. A line of people stretching far into the desert scape. And the crosses shooting up, straight and sturdy, into the open sky.