Friday, April 29, 2011

On a recent vacation, I happened to stop at and visit, for the first time, the world-famous El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico.

For those not familiar, the unincorporated community, and the Catholic sanctuary, are on the back road connection between Santa Fe and Taos, N.M.

For those unfamiliar with why it can be called world-famous, it is the second-most-popular Catholic pilgrimage site in the United States, and unarguably the top Catholic healing pilgrimage site.

In short, El Santuario de Chimayo is the Lourdes of the United States. Except at Chimayo, it's dirt, not water, that's supposed to have the healing properties.

Like Lourdes, it has an anteroom, to the side of the actual sanctuary but under the same roof, lined with dozens or more crutches. (There is a no-photo policy inside the sanctuary, which I respected.)

The parish priest at Chimayo, with cane.
The details of how this rural Spanish-American Catholic parish came to be a healing pilgrimage site are described at the top link.

That said, at such a place, like Lourdes, wouldn't you find it interesting, at least for the parish priest to be walking with a cane? Well, I did and he was. (Apologies for photo quality.)

I did a little journaling after I got to Taos, putting down some thoughts about how I felt about the priest, the church, and more.

1. Part of me was cynical, not just skeptical, after seeing not just the parish priest, but also an apparent parishioner, accompanied by a daughter or granddaughter, also on a cane. Now, the parishioner could perhaps be "excused" as elderly, but the priest was no older than I am. So, why did he still have the cane?

2. Part of me felt a bit sad for him. I looked at a bulletin, and saw that he did multiple Masses there and at nearby rural Truchas, as well as possibly at Espinola. And, he himself — had he ever tried the holy dirt or not? Was he a bit skeptical himself? Had anybody ever asked him about the cane? Even if not, he has to know that there are people like me. What's his attitude toward people like me in his mind — defensive? Apologetic?

A parishioner at Chimayo, also using a cane.
3. And what about his parishioners, even? Do any of them, even regular ones, wonder? How many of them eschew doctors entirely? How many, like among the world of New Agers and others, decry those who "just don't believe enough" as being the cause of their own lack of healing?

4. Part of me was cynical about the Catholic Church — starting with this parish, and not Benedict XVI in Rome or the soon-to-be beatified future patron saint of child molesters, John Paul II. The entire back page of the Santuario's bulletin was covered with ads for local businesses. To be snarky, I was kind of wondering if the Bingo sheet was missing from the inside of the bulletin. In the anteroom, along with crutches, were a variety of votary objects. I assumed they were all for sale, but didn't check on prices.

5. A skeptical part of me says, how can the dirt be so holy if it constantly has to be replaced? What would happen if we dug a second hole and did a double-blinded set of tests? A skeptical part of me also knows from Catholic history in the new world, Christian history in general, etc., that it's likely the Church appropriated a former Tewa shrine, just as did the particular appearance of Jesus in Guatemala with which the Santuario de Chimayo is connected. Meanwhile, a more cynical part of me notes that the Roman Catholic Church, as with Lourdes, takes no position on the actual occurrence of miracles. Perhaps the College of Cardinals doesn't want to be tested on the depth of its faith, either.

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