Higher, and higher … towards Christ who waits in the highest
"Mary’s Crusade of the Andes", from the Shrine in Mendoza, Argentina to the Shrine in Bellavista, Chile
ARGENTINA/ CHILE/ PARAGUAY, Javier Cabral. In January 2004 the Boys' Youth launched the third Mary’s Crusade which basically consists on walking across the Andes mountains from the Shrine of Mendoza in Argentina to the Shrine of Bellavista in Chile. It is a great effort, a challenge! But the young people are made for great things! Young men from Chile, Argentina and Paraguay participated.
Shrine of La Puntilla Mendoza – Thursday January 14th, 2004: At around 7:30 PM the 25 young men from Cordoba, Argentina, were singing loud while Father Francisco Rojas patiently waited. The Chileans were spread in different groups, and so were the Paraguayans: 5 from Ciudad del Este and 23 from Asuncion.
We talked with the Seminarians Beltran Gomez, Andres Rodriguez, Pastor Achaval, from Argentina; Lorenzo Lutjens from Spain. Facundo Bernabei from Cordoba would join the group later in the road.
Several Schoenstatt members from the Family in Mendoza were also present. Far away the first city lights could be seen.
The crusade ends in heaven
At that moment Father Claudio Martinez called everybody through a megaphone to start the ceremony, and gave special instructions to the young people sitting in a circle in front of the Shrine, "The crusade starts today and it ends in heaven..." "It is not easy... to meet Jesus in the highest implies sacrifice..."
He explained that from the historical point of view they would follow the Way of Uspallata, that was the one General Las Heras took during the campaign for independence of Chile and Peru in 1817. "But we make the crossing looking for man’s interior freedom." Father Claudio said.
The Holy Mass was celebrated by the fathers Felipe Besanilla, Claudio Martinez, Francisco Rojas and Martin Gomez who would be taking part in the pilgrimage.
It was getting dark in the evening when during the mass we heard a different sound. One of the young men of the Paraguayan group accompanied the songs in his violin. There a moment of magic; we looked and listened while the sun went down behind the Shrine of Puntilla.
The pilgrimage starts: Friday, January 15th
Four o’clock in the morning; time to get up, the groups in charge of the breakfast and other activities are in action. There is enthusiasm, today they will walk 27 kilometers (17 miles) ascending from 2460 feet above sea level in Mendoza to about 3048 ft.
Looking at the highway we can see the magnificent "cordillera" of the Andes with its snow covered peaks, its cold winds, loneliness, absence of vegetation and the rough roads, waiting for the pilgrims to test them.
They all go with the MTA, is true, but they will have to fight against many difficulties during the 16 day long walk, during which their routines will suffer a change. No TV, zapping, computer games, chat or Internet.
It will be like 'retreat walking", with daily Eucharist celebration in a setting of marvelous geography.
It could well be the most memorable spiritual and human experience in their lives.
My wife and I the day after the beginning of the crusade set out for a tour of the mountains, we hired a car and moved on. And then we saw them. A crowd of over hundred young men - among them our boys -, walking in small groups with large distances in between, according to the speed they would move. Youth carrying the banners of Christ and Mary, youth praying and giving a testimony without words… A moment of touching the springtime of the church…
In the evening we were coming back from the excursion and met them again, in Portrerillos, where they se up their camp for the night. When we saw the tents we stopped to greet them. The young people were on their way to the mass in the Santa Teresa de los Andes Chapel, in Potrerillos.
The first blisters showed in their feet, some had knee protectors and their steps were slower. They told us that the first five days are hard for those not used to walking in high altitude. The oxygen is rare, they feel heavy and some ask themselves: " What am I doing?, Why did I come?", but they are in the middle of nowhere and must continue.
But the good spirits are there. A young man said smiling: "We are like in a hotel, not a five star but a thousands star."
The following stages. Higher... always higher
On the fourth day they cross the Uspallata valley. During the trip they will also sleep in shelters, schools, army stations.
The fifth day, January 20th they had to sleep outdoors in Picheuta, a place were the Liberating Army had stopped in the past and where there is a beautiful historical stone bridge.
Exposure, fatigue, pain, loneliness, stones and more stones, is an environment to think of a date marked by personal sacrifice.
On the seventh day they arrive in Puente del Inca, 8860 feet above sea level. In that place there was, many years ago, a hotel with thermal baths and a chapel. On August 15th 1965, an avalanche destroyed the hotel and... the chapel remained in place.
In such an altitude you feel the effect of the rarefied air. It is difficult to run, or talk, because you get tired. It is also when some people suffer dizziness. It is the so called "apunamiento."
The Tupungato volcano and the Seven Color mountain were left behind. In the following days the highest place of America, the Aconcagua will see them pass from 31 miles away.
The "Cristo Redentor"
Saturday January 24, the ninth day, they climb from Las Cuevas, 10,000 feet above sea level, to "Christ the Redeemer", 13,800 feet above sea level. This is the hardest part, to climb 3,800 ft in 5 miles. The pebbled road is steep, narrow and with precipices. Looking down, the road looks like tiny zigzags.
Each section means sacrifice, more rest stops are needed. Even with sunshine the cold wind hurts your face and hands. Any weight you carry seems heavier but you keep walking in the search for Christ who waits in the highest, next to the MTA brass marker.
Simply: a feat.
When to Chile I go... crossing the "cordillera"...
These are the words of a traditional Chilean song. A few steps from the Christ the Redeemer is the border between Chile and Argentina and the descent starts. The boys are tired but happy, they keep going forward, always forward, in only a few days they will see the MTA in the Shrine of Bellavista.
After 250 miles and 16 days walking.
In Argentina, the "Diario de los Andes" of Mendoza and the national newspaper La Nacion made an extended account of the walk.
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Translation: Carmen Barruel, Belgium
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