Associate Spotlight – Michelle Montez
By Associate Vicki Welsh
As an Associate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, it’s been my privilege to journey with the Sisters and rely on their prayer and love, as I serve the Church. I am a professional lay ecclesial minister of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, knee deep in promoting the Gospel and instructing the Faith. Over the last 26 years, as a Confirmation catechist/youth minister for my parish, as the evangelization and pastoral planning director for the Archdiocese, and most recently, as the executive director of pastoral ministries, I have had a number of opportunities to see the work of God first hand … how he touches, loves and heals. One of the most memorable events is when our youth are taken on our annual pilgrimage to the Santuario of Chimayo. The youth, along with their parents and/or sponsors, are given a firsthand experience of a bodily and spiritual journey to this well-known Shrine, inviting them to enter deeper into the mystery of God. I want to share that day with you.
8 a.m.: The Leadership Team arrives blurry-eyed, but excited. They are experienced, and get right to work loading the bus with all necessary supplies; water, snacks, and most importantly, a 6-foot cross with our prayer petitions attached.
8:30 a.m.: Pilgrims and adults arrive, even more blurry-eyed. Spirits are high, though the teens are a little nervous. Gathering in a circle, we remind them that they are about to experience an ancient practice of the Church called “Manda” (a promise made and fulfilled after God’s great favor). It is practiced by pilgrims even today all over the world. Fr. Peter blesses the shells and all participants before we begin our journey.
8:45 a.m.: Once loaded on the school buses, the teens begin to whine about the length and discomfort of the trip … we remind them it’s a journey of one day and they will survive! As we near Santa Fe, one of the team members leads us in praying the rosary; everyone joins their hearts and voices.
10:15 a.m.: Our first stop is close to the Nambe reservation, 11 miles from Chimayo. At this point, three youth and two adults leave the bus to complete the final 11 miles on foot. They don safety vests and take our prayer cross with them. We bless them on down the dusty road.
10:30 a.m.: The bus continues another eight miles and pulls over. Here, all that are able get off the bus to walk the final three miles. Laden with our safety vests, water, and snacks, we head down the road. The wind and dust is blowing, the clouds are scuttling across the sky, and small purple flowers dot the berm of the highway … it is springtime in New Mexico!
12 p.m.: Both groups of pilgrims arrive safely in Chimayo, happy for the journey. Mass will begin at 1 p.m. Until then some teens will begin to study their St. Francis workbooks, eat lunch, and others will visit the “Capilla” dedicated to the Santo Nino de Atocha, the Christ Child as pilgrim.
1 p.m.: Mass in the Santuario. Our youth serve as choir, ushers and lectors. One reading is in Spanish, since many in our group are native to the Spanish language. This building is centuries old, with beautiful statues and Spanish artwork that reminds those who enter that the Catholic faith has been dwelling here long before we arrived. Our youth are quiet now, growing peaceful, away from the noise of their world and the pull of technology. They have slowed down enough to just be in the moment.
2:15 p.m.: Everyone is back on the bus for the nonstop return trip to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary—home! Teens are quiet and napping. Just before our arrival, we all join in the singing of “Happy Birthday” to our bus driver. It’s probably not his birthday, but it is our small gesture toward showing him our gratitude.
4 p.m.: Arrival. Before the teens leave they help clean the bus thoroughly and carry any leftover supplies back to the church. We are happy, tired, and grateful. God is good!
El Santuario de Chimayo has been called the “Lourdes of America.” The Shrine was built between 1814-1816. El Santuario was a privately owned chapel until 1929. At that time several people from Santa Fe bought it and turned it over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. To learn more about the Shrine and the stories passed down by the people of El Potrero, Google“Chimayo.”