Editor's note: This blog entry ran in error Sept. 19. Perhaps you already read it, but we are presenting it again so it appears in the correct order.
Magdalena, Sonora, is about sixty miles south of Nogales, on Highway 15. Just now that stretch of road should be occupied by hundreds of pedestrians, all walking south on the annual pilgrimage to Magdalena.
There will be Mexicans, O’odham, some Yaquis, and even a few Anglos, all performing an act of sacrifice in their devotion to San Francisco. The weather has maybe cooled off, but it’s still pretty warm, and the trip usually takes two nights and two days to complete, with rests by the side of the road.
The good news it that the road is also occupied by people whose purpose is to offer free food, drink, first aid, and a shady spot to the pilgrims. This support becomes particularly noticeable after Ímuris, when most walkers leave the highway for back roads. Everyone will wave to you, folks will call out “ya mero” (loosely “you’re almost there”), in sympathy with what you’re trying to accomplish, and local kids may walk along with you for a while, trying out their English. It isn’t too much to say that this sixty - mile stretch of road becomes, for a few days in September and October, sacred space.
It is important to realize that this is a popular pilgrimage, rather than a formal, church-sponsored one. People walk alone, with friends, or in family groups. Sometimes a group will have a support car to supply food and drink (and a ride back home when it’s all over). The pilgrims I have talked with say they are asking for a favor or giving thanks for some miracle, or sometimes that they felt it simply was time they made the walk.
You can identify the walkers as they hobble into Magdalena, exhausted and foot-sore. The first stop is usually to buy candles in one of the stands in the plaza, and then directly into the chapel, where they will line up to re-establish their relationship with San Francisco, pray for a while, and then go out to enjoy the rest of the fiesta.
And there is a lot to do and enjoy. There are food vendors with all sorts of special foods, and people selling medicines and religious and secular trinkets. There are rides for the kids; high-powered blanket salesmen screaming their pitches through sound systems; and brass bands, mariachis, norteño bands all hoping to be paid for a song or two. On the day itself there will probably be Yaqui dancers in front of the church. And through it all, a slow, steady stream of pilgrims waits to visit their saint.
Because October 4 falls on a Saturday this year, the action will doubtless continue through the weekend.