By Marlena Hartz
They set forth where the town begins and inch along U.S. 84, past vast fields of farmland, through the center of town, across the railroad tracks and into the heart of their church.
Their pace is set at the head of the line, where pilgrims share the burden of three oak crucifixes. Every 10 minutes, the band of men, women and children pauses, as the crosses change hands and are slung behind a new back.
For this Muleshoe parish, the pilgrimage is a way to honor their savior.
Members of the Immaculate Conception Parish say the three-mile trek, embarked upon on Good Friday, is a reenactment of Jesus’ walk to Calvary, the hill in Jerusalem where he is said to have been slain.
“It is like what Jesus did for us,” said Immaculate Conception member Victor Arzola, his forehead dotted with sweat as an oppressive cloak of heat bore down, bouncing off the black highway. “This is done in his memory. We are trying to feel some of the pain he felt.”
About 150 members of the largely Hispanic parish made the pilgrimage on Friday.
Where the long crosses were visible, faces were cast to the ground, as members sang hymns.
“Every person is here for a different reason,” said Dora Triana, a veteran member of the church.
“Some do it for the memory of what Jesus went through; some do it for a sick relative; some want peace. As they walk, they pray and petition God, while also making their own sacrifice,” she said.
The cross-bearing tradition spans 34 years, church members said. It began with the family of Muleshoe resident and parish member Clara Flores.
“We did it for a lot of reasons,” said Flores. “For the sick, for the poor, for world peace, for our soldiers,” she said. “Always on Good Friday.”
Flores and her daughter made the trek alone in 1972. Word of their walk spread through the parish, and the next year, Flores said, three other families from the church joined them, carrying pocket-sized crosses or rosaries.
“(The procession) kept growing and growing. It is something that is very beautiful,” Flores said.
Three crosses were fashioned by a Lariat, Texas, carpenter at Flores’ request in the pilgramage’s third year.
“Jesus carried one cross. But he was crucified next to two thieves, and he turned to them and welcomed them into his kingdom of heaven. That is why we carry three crosses,” Flores said.
Each person who carries a cross describes the burden differently, Flores said.
“A lot feel tired. Some say the crosses become light,” she said.
When Flores carries a cross, she said she prays for strength.
“You do it with a lot of love and faith. You pray you can walk with it,” Flores said.
“I felt,” she said, “like I was doing a little bit for my Christ. It was a lot heavier for him.”