My people have made this long journey numerous times, spanning many generations. This year, the invigorated group consists of approximately forty to fifty teenagers, ranging in ages thirteen to sixteen. The pilgrimage is led by Abuela Edna, a sixty-five year old stout woman who is as strong as she looks. She’s not everyone’s grandmother, but that’s how she’s known back in the small village that was the start line of this quest.
The distance covered in the last few days would exhaust even the toughest of warriors, but this band marches forward, clad in the armor of faith, instilled in hearts and souls. The packs are heavy and the terrain rough. It is a steep climb to the small cave perched on the side of a mountain so majestic to stand in its shadow is an honor. The cave has been the final destination of this trek since its inception. The days are long and the nights seem longer, but knowledge of the gift that awaits injects each young crusader with an energy as strong as the sun on their skin.
Stories have been shared of those who walked before, arriving at the cave, drinking in the magic emanating from walls that trickle water over golden glints. The gifts bestowed upon them have varied, depending on its recipient, but all have attested to having witnessed the greatest of all miracles in that enclosed space, as though this alchemy could only exist within this primitive cavity.
Abuela Edna gathers the group at the cave’s entrance and recites once more the spiritual awakening the village elders have recounted time and time again. Santa Rosa doesn’t appear to everyone and never to more than two people at once. The narrow dwelling wouldn’t accommodate more than that anyway. It is said that someone’s uncle entered the cave with much doubt, but departed a believer, having seen a vision of Santa Rosa that brought him to his knees in humility. Village tales have it that he was given the gift of confidence, both spiritual and physical. Without it, he had been stagnant, paralyzed with fear and doubt in many aspects of his life, especially his faith. For years after that awakening, he shared his message with anyone who would listen. Lack of confidence creates doubt which is a weakness that doesn’t allow one to move in the direction they are being called. He has been the village preacher for the last twenty-five years.
Part of the ritual is holding an amulet that was discovered on the very first trek up this mountain, and placing it on the ground upon entering the cave. Some kneel immediately. Others pause. All end up on their knees.
Abuela Edna takes the amulet from a tall, lanky boy with curly hair and places it in my hand. She closes her hand over it. Like the rest, this boy has lived his whole life waiting for this moment that will provide him with a sense of purpose, and calling, and years of sharing his soul arousing event.
“You know what to do. Embrace the moment. It can be life changing if you open yourself up to it.”
Entering the cave is a spiritual experience all its own. It’s as though a threshold is crossed into another dimension. The air feels different. The heart beat changes rhythm. Knees on the dirt, pebbles digging into skin, the waiting is unbearable. Just breathe. Time seems to stand still until a voice pulls you out of your reverie.
It’s Abuela Edna.
“How was it?”
You want to answer, but you can’t speak through the sobs.