In front of a house west of Muleshoe, about two dozen people gathered in a circle around three hand-made wooden crosses. As the wind from passing 18-wheelers and cars whipped their hair and hats from their heads, their voices raised in prayer.
The home was the starting point of a Good Friday tradition in which Immaculate Conception Catholic Church members carry the wooden crosses on a four-mile trek though the town to the church in commemoration of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha, where he was crucified.
As the walk wore on, the ranks swelled to 80 as church members transferred the wooden crosses from one pair of shoulders to another while followers recited the rosary and sang hymns.
A longtime church member, Isabel Gonzalez, 65, has carried the cross for 20 years. She said she had seen the precession creep through Muleshoe, but when she joined the walk, it was enlightening.
“When I did it, I felt like I was doing something for the Lord,” Gonzalez said. “If there comes a year that I don’t do it, I’ll feel like something is missing.”
Gonzalez said the church has held the walk for almost 40 years.
Another longtime church member and walker, Juan Chavez, said he believes that those who carry the cross take something significant from it.
“It heartens your belief,” Chavez said. “And brings your spirit up. I believe the people that are here, feel like they have fallen. And Christ fell on his walk. Maybe that’s why carrying the cross like him strengthens them.”
For Luis Godinez, 12, imitating Jesus is what it’s all about.
“It makes me feel what he did for me,” said Godinez, who has carried the cross for three years now. “And if I know, than I am really thankful.”
Several children walked hand-in-hand with their parents and recited the rosary. Juanita Del Toro, 39, said teaching the children the tradition is important.
“It give them a hands-on experience as far as what Jesus was doing for them,” said Del Toro, as she kept pace with her sister. “It strengthens faith. It gives them more reason to believe in what Easter is all about.”
The cross-bearing tradition began 36 years ago with the family of Muleshoe resident and parish member Clara Flores, according to church members.
“We did it for a lot of reasons,” Flores told Freedom New Mexico in 2006. “For the sick, for the poor, for world peace, for our soldiers,” she said.
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.
Three crosses were fashioned by a Lariat, Texas, carpenter at Flores’ request in the pilgrimage’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 in 2006.