I spent a week in Santa Fe earlier this month and had the privilege of participating in an impressive procession organized by the Catholic faithful in this city, a place that is so filled with religious symbols its name even means "Holy Faith."
Catholic processions are not seen as much in various parts of the country anymore. However, here in the Southwest, especially among Latino Catholics, processions are still very much a part of the Catholic tradition.
The procession that my wife and I participated in was that of La Conquistadora -- the Virgin Mary replica that accompanied the Spaniards in their conquest of New Mexico. Native New Mexican Hispanos since then have a special veneration for La Conquistadora, literally the conquering Virgin, but now also referred to as Our Lady of Peace in the effort by the Church to reconcile La Conquistadora with the Native American experience.
The history of all this is complicated and even contradictory, but what is important is the deep devotion that Hispano Catholics in the Santa Fe area have for La Conquistadora. She is permanently housed in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in downtown Santa Fe. On this occasion, however, she is transferred to Rosario Chapel at Rosario Cemetery just a mile from the cathedral. There, the faithful participate in a nine-day novena. On the next to final day, she is then returned to her place in the cathedral in procession accompanied by the people and clergy including the archbishop.
My wife and participated in this procession. It was a memorable experience as we joined several hundred others -- mostly Hispanos -- through the city streets and through the plaza area until we reached the cathedral where the archbishop celebrated Mass. It was a hot July day and I felt for the several gentlemen -- members of the Confraternity of La Conquistadora -- having to hoist onto their shoulders the heavy platform that carried the statue.
Religious manifestations such as processions are still very much alive among Latino Catholics and reflect the continued growth of this sector of the American Catholic population that is changing the nature of Catholicism in the United States.