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Of Pirates and Pilgrims
By Christine Stoddard
Once, I started my morning with a carnival by the sea—or at least that makes for a sweet little picture, something to be captured by a Polaroid and pinned onto a bulletin board with Hello Kitty stickers. The day had actually begun with a 57-kilometer pilgrimage whose first step was taken at 8 p.m. the previous night. Twelve and half hours later, the other American missionaries and I found ourselves in Paita, Peru, a seaport in northwestern Peru.
After a night of sand, prayer, and pain, we emerged from the desert. During the night, our stumbling legs had somehow transformed into hemming and hawing throats and mouths—gritty, thirsty, and irritated. Years ago, Our Lady of Mercy had been ambushed and robbed by pirates who slit her throat. Yet she forgave them. And we walked because we forgave and yearned to be forgiven for the times we, too, had been the villains of a tale.
Since the other missionaries and I had literally done a marathon without any training, we suffered more than we had imagined we could. Suddenly I was aware of every muscle from my hips to my toes. Even so, it was a beautiful day in Paita, full of smiling faces and celebration. Here are several of the snapshots I took as a bow-legged pilgrim at la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes: