Monday, March 13, 2006

Portuguese pilgrims carry on Lenten tradition.

Yesterday’s New Bedford Standard-Times has a couple articles reporting on the Romaria, a Lenten pilgrimage undertaken annually since the 16th century by men on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. One article reports on a group of romeiros (pilgrims) making the pilgrimage this year and relates some of the history of the Romaria, a tradition that is also carried out in an adapted form in some Portuguese communities in the United States (see this 1999 Standard-Times article for more information). As they work to keep the tradition of the Romaria alive in the United States, some Portuguese-Americans also return to São Miguel to experience the real thing. Making the week-long Romaria on São Miguel is much more bit more demanding than completing the one-day American version, as the Standard-Times reports:

In Massachusetts, the pilgrims stop to eat in churches; on the island, they can rest at parks on cliffs overlooking the Azorean beaches, where dark volcanic sand stretches to the ocean. The men stop in every village to pray. Before the pilgrimage begins, they make arrangements to stay in homes along the route. At night, they go into a church to pray, and villagers meet them and invite them into their homes.

All the pilgrims, men and boys as young as 9, wear symbolic items. The shawl represents Jesus' cloak, the scarf his crown of thorns, and the backpack his cross. The backpack also holds enough underwear and socks for the week. When the pilgrims stop to rest, they sometimes take off their shawls to cool off, but they keep the scarves on to show their membership in the group. They call themselves brothers, and when people ask how many are walking they always add three - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who they say are with them on the journey. . .

As a descendant of immigrants from São Miguel, someday I would like to become a romeiro myself. Learning to speak Portuguese will be a necessary first step. God willing, I'd also like to make the Romaria as a priest so I could offer Mass for other pilgrims along the route. Assuming I'm able to do both these things - learn Portuguese and be ordained - it'll be a while before I become a romeiro. All the more reason to look forward to the experience. AMDG.


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