Here is a letter that was sent to Father Julio Gonzalez, the pastor of el Santuario de Chimayo, along with his reply. It addresses the spirituality of a pilgrimage in an exceptional manner. (Note: the correspondence has been edited to protect the confidentiality of the writer and others).
Dear Rev. Gonzalez:
My niece lives in Las Cruces and she is suffering from advanced cervical cancer. At this point in her treatment there is little hope.
I remember from long years past that many of the faithful would make pilgrimages to El Santuario de Chimayo to pray for miracles. I would like to perform such a pilgrimage for my niece and pray for a miracle. I am asking your guidance in this, for a couple of reasons; I am not Catholic and do not know the proper procedure; also, I wonder of there is a "schedule" of sorts for these acts, as, I am sure, there are thousands of people who wish to perform such a pilgrimage.
I hope to be in NM the week after Easter. I will contact her parents, as I am sure they will wish to join me. I’m not sure my niece can make the journey herself. I want to walk the entire way from Santa Fe to Chimayo, to show the Lord that I am sincere in my plea.
Please tell me what I need to know for such an undertaking.
Thank you and God Bless you.
Here is the reply from Father Gonzalez:
Thank you for your e-mail and for sharing your love for your niece with us. Let me include her in my prayers at the foot of the Christ of Esquipulas, thus, we pray together.
I truly believe that God has a plan for all of us, that we are not here without a specific reason. I don't know God’s plan for your niece, but we should tell the Lord that if He still has something for her to do here, on earth, she and her family don’t reject the work.
All of us are on a pilgrimage. We have no everlasting dwelling home here. We are on a pilgrimage and on a journey of faith. To be a pilgrim means that we let God guide our footsteps; that the pilgrimage of his Son from Nazareth to Jerusalem inspires our own pilgrimage. His teachings enlighten our lives, his suffering gives us courage, his faith gives us hope, his love brings us to life.
For us "time" means a lot, but for God "time" means nothing ("One thousand years are like a second, one second is like a thousand years", Book of Psalms). Still this is a mystery for us, but the pilgrim is closer to this mystery because he tries to see the world with God’s eyes. Then, the world and our lives take on a new light where death has no power over us. Saint Francis called death "sister Death".
My advice is this:
FIRST: Start your pilgrimage with a prayer. In your prayer call God, your Father. Actually He is waiting for you. Then, acknowledge your weaknesses and flaws. Entrust your deeper longings to Him. Entrust your niece to Him. Ask the Lord to reveal His will during this pilgrimage. If you cannot understand Him, how can you be faithful to Him? But, remember, you will only understand God with your heart and this heart must be emptied before God sends His grace upon you. The pilgrimage will help you to empty your heart of anything that is not of God.
SECOND: During the pilgrimage, offer God your tiredness, hunger, suffering, pain. In the same way that Jesus, His Son, suffered for us, tell God that the purpose of your sacrifice is your niece’s healing. You should fast from anything that is not water and bread (eat and drink only bread and water). Fasting pleases God because you become sharper, stronger, unafraid... The purpose of fasting is not to weaken your body, but to strengthen your will and, thus, your body.
THIRD: But you don’t want to tempt your God. Don’t act like Satan when Jesus went to the desert: if you are the Son of God then do this, do that... Your prayer should be Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane: "Not my will, but Yours..."
I hope this will help you.
God bless you,
Rev. Julio Gonzalez, SF.