Starting today, thousands of members of the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui
tribes will join other Catholic pilgrims on a journey south to honor San
Francisco Xavier on his feast day.
Sonoran tourism officials are setting up special accommodations to expedite
travel requirements for tribal members headed for the Oct. 4 religious
celebration in Magdalena, Sonora.
Throngs of Arizona and Sonora residents attend the annual festivities 120
miles south of Tucson, where a statue of the saint lies inside the town's
ancient church and burial site of founder Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.
The feast day of San Francisco Xavier, or St. Francis Xavier, an early
Jesuit missionary, is a significant observance for the Tohono O'odham and
Yaqui, Pima and Seri Indians. For generations, since their ancestors were
converted to Christianity, tribal members have made the annual trek to
"This was part of the Catholic religion that the O'odham embraced and
incorporated into our own traditions," Tohono O'odham Chairwoman Vivian
Juan-Saunders said. "It's very meaningful to certain members of our
Hundreds of people walk from their villages to the Mexican town to pay
homage to St. Francis Xavier, Juan-Saunders said. Many others drive or ride
along with friends and family. The journey, she said, "is very sacred in
terms of healing."
The chairwoman said the tribe works closely with Mexican officials to ease
the trip for the O'odham.
Said Miguel Robles of Only Sonora, a statewide vehicle-permit program that
eliminates fees and reduces processing times for those traveling within the
border state: "We recognize this is a very important observance for the
tribes, so we try to help ease their trip."
He and the chairwoman said tribal members fluent in Spanish, English and the
O'odham language will be on hand at the Kilometer 21 checkpoint, about 13
miles south of the Arizona-Sonora border.
Robles stressed the importance of carrying documents that prove citizenship
or tribal enrollment and vehicle ownership, such as title or registration,
to avoid hassles.
He anticipates that customs and immigration officials will process anywhere
from 5,000 to 6,000 vehicle permits in the days leading up to the feast day
of St. Francis Xavier, which coincides with that of St. Francis of Assisi,
founder of the Franciscan Order. About half of the expected pilgrims are
believed to be Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui members from the Sells and
Josť Luis Torres, who also works for Only Sonora, said, "this weekend will
be one of the busiest of the year."