Good Friday for a hike: Thousands hike to summit of Mount Cristo Rey for Good Friday
The Franklin Mountains dominate the landscape of El Paso, but on the west side there is another landscape feature that rivals the Franklins. Close to the intersection of three states – Texas and New Mexico in the United States and Chihuahua in Mexico – with its summit in New Mexico, Mount Cristo Rey provides another visual touchstone to the Sun City.
The mountain is prominent because of the 29-foot statue of Jesus Christ at its summit, to which thousands of people make pilgrimages twice a year. Good Friday, the Friday preceding Easter Sunday that celebrates the crucifixion of Christ, happened Friday and is one of the two semi-annual occasions that religiously minded people and hikers make the trip en masse.
The statue was the work of sculptor Urbici Soler. Since its erection in 1939, Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee has maintained the trail, the statue and the various devotional stations along the way to the statue. Despite the good job they do, the mountain is not the most inviting of places to visit in the El Paso area.
“Any other time during the year it’s not advised to go up on your own,” said Ruben Escandon, the head of the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee.
The southern part of the mountain extends into Mexico, and bandits, even now, sometimes waylay adventurers who decide to hike the mountain on their own.
“Unsuspecting visitors would climb up the mountain to pay their respects and to go see this monument of Christ the king, and they would get assaulted. They would get held up with knives; some carried guns up there,” said Escandon, referring to past incidents.
Border Patrol now keeps an eye on the area, which has helped curtail violent incidents.
“Ever since the Border Patrol has been patrolling the area, the incidents have diminished,” said Escandon. “These guys know the Border Patrol is handy and can get there pretty quick, so the incidents are few and far between now, although they do occur.”
The Border Patrol were placed prominently at the event. According to Escandon, the Good Friday hike used to provide an opportunity for illegal immigrants to commingle with American worshippers to access the country.
“A lot of times it was more people coming down than going up from this side,” said Escandon. “Ever since 9/11, the Border Patrol, whenever we have major events, will station their guys on the back side of the mountain, and that’s added security for us.”
Though the trail is still a path of rock and dirt, it is wide, relatively smooth and incredibly clean, largely thanks to the restoration committee. This is especially important considering the mode of locomotion that some of the statue’s devotees take.
Amy Garcia of Las Cruces, N.M., made the trip up the mountain barefoot, and she was not the only one.
“I had promised if I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth that I would come up here barefoot,” said Garcia. “It was easier with shoes; it is not as easy barefoot. It was hard coming up, but as I started moving up and up the mountain it gets easier.”
Many of the travelers carry crucifixes up the mountain. One traveler even crawled on his hands and knees up the mountain. Often when someone shows this amount of devotion on their way to the top, they do it for a promise they made to God that had been fulfilled.
“People are sacrificing themselves to give thanks for a promise granted or a favor that was granted,” said Escandon. “This is a time to pay back those favors. They make a promise to heal a sick family member or to find a job. He says, ‘OK, I find a job, and I’m going to promise to go up barefoot to Mount Cristo Rey.’ And the guy finds a job, so he’s got to pay his debt, and he makes his trek up there.”
Spc. Rory Smith of 3rd Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, hiked up the mountain in his Army combat uniform and a 40-pound pack. Smith had made the trip up the mountain before, but not with his gear on.
“I wanted to make it a little more challenging,” said Smith.
Several thousand pilgrims made the hike to the top over the course of Friday. Mount Cristo Rey’s next big pilgrimage date is Oct. 28. To learn more, visit the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee website at mtcristorey.com.
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