From the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to the New Mexico State Police, the message to Good Friday pilgrimages is unified and clear — please stay home.
One of two of the state’s most significant pilgrimages during Holy Week happens in Valencia County, and the archdiocese has asked people to refrain from making the walk up Tomé Hill and to El Santuario de Chimayo this year in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Archbishop John Wester strongly discouraged the faithful from making the annual trek.
“In unity with all Christians, we call on the faithful to make home the holy place for the sake of all families during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is imperative we heed the advice of our global scientists, medical and public health experts,” Wester said. “Stay home. By practicing social distancing, together we can save lives.”
Traditionally, thousands of people come from around the county and the state on Good Friday to walk to the top of the hill.
Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said in light of the current health emergency and orders from the New Mexico Department of Health, the county would not be providing additional services during the pilgrimage.
“There will be no porta-potties, no medical stations, ambulances on standby. We will not be there,” Culp said. “Deputies from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office will be patrolling the area to remind people to physically distance themselves by 6 feet and to make sure people aren’t congregating.”
If people choose to climb the hill, they are doing so at their own risk, the fire chief said.
“Medical will not be on standby. If someone has to call 911, we will respond, absolutely, but we will have to gather resources like on a typical call,” he said.
Tomé Hill belongs to the town of Tome Land Grant, Culp said, and any decision to close it and prevent people from climbing it would be up to the land grant.
In addition to not having medical personnel on standby, Culp said there wouldn’t be traffic control or road closures along the route like there has been in years past.
“There will be regular traffic on N.M. 47 and Tomé Hill Road,” he said. “The biggest message I want to convey is the same message that the archdiocese is putting out there — stay at home; do not make the pilgrimage.
“The streets in Los Lunas were very empty (Tuesday) morning. People need to stay home as much as they can, practice social distancing. People need to hunker down; the better we do that, the sooner we get out of this.”
In late March, Andrea Padilla, president of the board of the town of Tomé Land Grant, said the annual pilgrimage isn’t something that can really be canceled.
“People will go up anyway. If they do, there won’t be medical assistance if the county won’t be doing it,” Padilla said.
As a precaution, Padilla said the land grant will be posting signs at the base of the hill warning Good Friday pilgrims they climb at their own risk.
“If there’s an emergency, they will have to call 911 and wait,” she said. “Some of us might be out there to tell people that on Good Friday.”
New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson also urged people to stay home to keep themselves and law enforcement officers safe.
“While the New Mexico State Police respect the religious liberty of all New Mexico residents, we are urging the public to refrain from participating in these pilgrimages out of concern for their safety, as traditional safety measures, like traffic control, will not be in place this year,” said Johnson.