Argentina as you may already know is a predominately Catholic country, the current pope is actually from Buenos Aires (love you Papa Francisco!). Like many other Catholic countries Argentina has a patron saint, Our Lady of Lujan. You may have heard of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patron of Mexico. Every year a pilgrimage is made from Buenos Aires to the small city of Lujan in celebration of the fest day of Our Lady of Lujan. The purpose is not to raise money or protest, it's more about spiritual enlightenment and personal sacrifice.
|Our Lady of Lujan|
My host parents are both devout Catholics and do the walk every year, though they've never finished the whole thing. When they asked me to go I thought it would be an interesting experience and also a really cool insight into my own personal Catholic faith. But I had no idea how hard it would be.
Starting at 12PM in the afternoon we began walking from Buenos Aires with thousands of other people. We were organized into groups with our churches and each group carried a statue of St. Lujan. On the cart holding the statues were loud speakers over which they played music, lead prayers, and asked trivia questions during the walk to keep people entertained.
|Just a constant stream of people.|
The first few hours weren't too bad. People were gathered on the street cheering for us, traffic was stopped as thousands of people swarmed the streets, and there was an overall sense of excitement in the air. We had 5 "check points" at which we stopped and were given snacks, water, and had the opportunity to rest our feet for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, these check points were about every 3 hours or so and were about 6-10 miles apart.
By about 7PM it was starting to wear on me, not only physically, but mentally. My left foot was killing me and I could have sworn I had a blister on the bottom of my foot, but nothing was there. I chalked it up all being in my head and decided to keep going. At every check point you have the option of riding the bus to the end point to meet everyone.
By 10PM I was dying. My foot was in so much pain I had to bite my lip to keep from crying. I could see that everyone else around me was also not feeling their best so I just smiled and responded bien! each time they asked how I was doing. I didn't want to be a baby. That last hour was the longest of my entire life it felt like. I just kept thinking, just around this bend we'll get to stop. Just go a little further you can make it.
We finally reached the next check point in La Reja at 11PM and had people there to rub out our sore muscles. I had a lovely little boy named Manuel that knew a few words in English. My brain was just to exhausted to even attempt to process Spanish at that point. I was done. There was no way in hell I was going to keep going for another stretch of 3 or 4 hours. I knew I was at my breaking point and I needed to just stop, even though it was embarrassing to see people much older than me continue on.
Once on the bus, I immediately passed out into a coma and didn't wake till we were in Lujan at 6AM the next morning. Going to mass outside the beautiful Cathedral with hundreds of thousands of other Catholics, limping, and dragging themselves along was amazing. People were just so overwhelmed with the emotions of the moment. That they had made. It was a beautiful thing to see.
|This was packed full of people.|
When I got back home I checked out my feet more closely and realized I had a blister larger than a quarter on the sole of my left foot, no wonder it hurt so bad. Also several of my toes were bleeding from chaffing and I still haven't regained full feeling in my left pinky toe (3 days later). I'm glad I stopped when I did, 20 miles was plenty enough for me.
I get that a lot of people can't understand why this was so important or spiritually enlightening. My friends and classmates definitely didn't. But I think it was the fact that this wasn't a cultural experience for me as much as it was also a religious experience. It was testing yourself and faith along side of 2.5 million other believers. Something I'll probably never get a chance to ever do again.
While there is no way I would ever do this again I'm glad that I can say that I did. So if you're ever in Buenos Aires around the beginning of October consider checking it out.