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The Walk

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December 19, 2011 by Steven Worden

What was there not to like? A crowd of marchers estimated at around 2,000, accompanied by dancers decked-out in dazzlingly blue, green and gold costumes, festooned with ostrich feathers; three elaborately decorated floats, a bright crisp autumn day, and nine miles of pavement. The annual Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage had begun. Following a winding route, our merry band left St. Raphael Church in Springdale, headed down 71, cut over to Veterans’ Park for sandwiches, tamales, and water and traditional Aztec dancing. Then we wound our way over to Joyce, down Old Missouri Road, over to Old Wire and on to Gulley Park for another break. In the dusk, the procession eventually made its way down Township, across highway 45 and finished up in the dark at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville.

It’s a more than a little difficult not to feel at least somewhat odd walking down busy streets, occupying one lane of traffic, but most of the marchers seemed used to it. As one joked, “People are asking, ‘What are those Mexicans up to now? Somebody call Immigration!’” But, actually, bystanders were quite pleasant. Some stood out by the street, waving and smiling. One apparently Anglo lady stood in the driveway of Butterfield Village, applauding enthusiastically and calling, “Thank you! Thank you!” to the passing pilgrims. How neat is that?

I looked around the crowd and noticed that although kids, teenagers, and young couples pushing baby strollers or carrying small children were the dominant demographic in the crowd, there was a healthy representation of middle-aged and even older marchers. About the time I noticed my legs getting a little sore after about six miles, I looked over at a tiny older nun, all clad in ​white with a white veil covering her head, soldiering uncomplainingly on down the street. I felt just a little embarrassed for my own soreness.

In fact, as I looked around me in the crowd, I saw much to inspire an observer: groups of people singing hymns, another group praying the Rosary, others singing out, “Viva Christo Rey!” (long live Christ the King!) One large man with a cord dangling from his hands, absorbed in the task of knotting a Rosary as he walked, stocky older women hiking up a steep stretch of street without a pause, one older man in a cowboy hat, tenderly carrying a heavy statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It occurred to me that these people were not whining and complaining about their tiredness because their everyday lives were hard. These were the people that did the menial work in our society. They were the ones that cleaned hotel rooms, did landscaping, prepared food in restaurant kitchens, did the tedious, dirty jobs for the rest of us. They also have a strong faith, raise large and loving families, and are unashamed of their traditions.

As we turned down Starr Drive and gratefully saw St. Joseph Church lit up in the darkness, I realized that a pilgrimage usually involves a change: a change of location and maybe a change in a person. Over the course of the seven hour hike from Springdale, I guess I came to see in clearer focus the basic decency, humility, and strength of the people that marched with me on a pilgrimage to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Americas. Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

Steven Worden

PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas

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