Saturday, October 15, 2016

Peace Pilgrimage Lay the Groundwork for Other Interfaith Work

Communities of faith have banded together in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on a variety of issues, including climate and environment concerns (New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light), immigration and refugees (New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice), networking and dialogue (Interfaith Dialogue), community issues (Albuquerque Interfaith), worker rights (Interfaith Worker Justice-New Mexico), local social justice issues (Santa Fe Interfaith Leadership Alliance), and hunger and poverty in New Mexico (Interfaith Hunger Coalition).

All of us owe a debt of gratitude to the late John Leahigh, then a deacon at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Albuquerque, who set the stage for us in the 1980s and 1990s. Every year, John and his wife Joan worked with the Interfaith Council of Albuquerque to bring people of faith and conscience for a peace pilgrimage in Chimayó and Los Alamos.

San Juan Pueblo singers at Ashley Pond in Los Alamos
Starting at Santuraio de Chimayó
The event included participants of several Christian and Jewish traditions from Albuquerque, Santa Fe and nearby communities and members of San Juan, San Ildefonso and other Pueblo communities, who came together at the Santuario de Chimayo, a site that is holy for Catholic and Christian pilgrims on Good Friday.

The starting point at Chimayó was significant.  In addition to the annual Christian pilgrimage at the end of Holy Week, this is the site where people from all over the world come to gather samples of dirt for physical and spiritual healing. Spaniards built the shrine in 1813 on a site that the nearby Pueblo communities already considered holy ground.

The morning always featured an interfaith celebration with prayers, songs anda variety of breads  (a symbol of communion among our faith traditions and cultures). There was also a Mass, sometimes presided by then Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup (a member of Pax Christi).

 'A prayer, not a protest' in Los Alamos
After the morning events in Chimayó, participants would then walk, run or ride a bus from Chimayó to Los Alamos, a location that is home to the national labs that manufacture nuclear weapons. Pilgrims would gather together in a prayer circle at Ashley Pond and then and listen to prominent speakers, including Helen Prejean and others. "We will journey more in peace than in protest," Leahigh told The Springer-News Bulletin in 1987. "Runners will carry soil from the Santuario de Chimayó and the flame."
Beginning outdoors with an interfaith celeration
Leahigh also helped us plan an anti-hunger  conference in 1994 co-sponsored by Bread for the World and the Lutheran Office of Govermental Ministry (now the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry). The featured speaker at the event was Bread for the World President David Beckmann.

While Leahigh did a lot of the direct organizing and planning work on the pilgrimage, his wife Joan would handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes tasks. At that time, Joan was the director of the social justice office (now the office of Social Justice and Respect Life) at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  John passed away in 2001 and Joan in 2007. 

Pilgrims in Chimayó
The pilgrimage does not take place any more, as no one stepped up to take on the extensive organizing roles that John and Joan played in putting together this annual event.

On this weekend in 2016, when the New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light and the Interfaith Hunger Coalition have brought together members of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Budhhist, Hindu, Baha'i, Sikh, Native American traditions to commemorate World Food Day, we remember John and Joan Leahigh, who showed us by example and deed that different faith communities can work together on issues that are common and important to all of us.

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