SUNLAND PARK, N.M. -- In a show of faith, thousands of people flock to Mount Cristo Rey during Easter weekend.
“A lot and more are still coming,” said Shun Marshall, one of the volunteers on the hiking path packed with people.
Many of those making the pilgrimage carried wooden crosses up to the massive figure of Christ on the mountain overlooking the border near the Texas-New Mexico state line.
“I carry 75 pounds,” said Andre Karam, an El Paso resident carrying a hand carved wooden cross.
Karam made the 4,675-foot climb with members of the Maronite Catholic Church. The group included two families with children and a small dog.
For many families, the hike up the mountain is a tradition
“We have Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterians,” said Cindy Osborne, who had made the annual Good Friday climb with friends and family for the past 11 years.
For others, it’s the first time up to the top of Mount Cristo Rey.
“We want to take this opportunity to experience the whole Easter atmosphere and what it’s really about,” said James Duffy.
Duffy and his wife, Jennifer, were walking with their daughters ages six, three, and two.
People of all ages and physical conditions make the pilgrimage each year.
“That’s the border," said Anastacio Valdivia, 84, as he looked down over the south side of the mountain.
Valdivia said he first arrived in Juarez from the interior of Mexico when he was 20 years old. He was sitting in a folding chair briefly before resuming the hike with his son.
With each step, they got closer to the 42.5 foot limestone Christ figure at top. Earlier versions were made of wood and steel by people living in the nearby smelter town community, according to the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee’s website.
Putting a cross on top of the mountain was the idea of a local parish priest, Father Lourdes Costa.
“On the eve of Lent, February 13, 1934, men carrying material on their shoulders and braving the hazardous climb over dangerous slopes placed the first cross,” according to the Mount Cristo Rey Restoration Committee, a volunteer group that maintains the monument.
On Good Friday, present day pilgrims use hiking trails. At the top there’s an outpouring of faith as people kneel in prayer at the foot of the cross.
James and Jennifer Duffy held hands with their three little girls and prayed together.
Karam with youngsters from his church sang in his native Lebanese and prayed in English.
“I’m praying for the Lord Jesus Christ to give peace all over the world,” said Karam.