The All Souls Day Procession in Hornitos has been one of those things my wife and I have wanted to do ever since her friend Judy took her to this historic ghost town upon our arrival in Merced about seven years ago.
We’ve been to the town several times especially when we had friends or relatives visiting us. But every November 2, we’d hear about the nighttime procession to the churchyard cemetery in the small Mariposa County community and say to ourselves, “One of these years, we’re going to go there.”
We finally made the trip on a cool autumn night at dusk. This year, we were joined by over seven-hundred participants including Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop Armando X. Ochoa. Bishop Ochoa attended in honor of the faith community of St. Joseph Church yearlong celebration of their one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary. St. Catherine of Sienna Mission Church in Hornitos is part of the St. Joseph faith community. St. Catherine of Sienna Mission Church is only open a couple of times each year.
Bishop Ochoa and Father Stephen Bulfer welcomed the crowd from the front of the town’s community center. We were told that the Procession should be thought of as a moving meditation.
We were asked to process in silence, and to not use our flash cameras. Candles were lit among the crowd and provided the only light other than scarce street lights and a trail of luminaire along the hillside roadway in the processions final stretch.
Because of this request, you will not see photographs in this column of the actual procession.
Walking two by two, the crowd made their way to the cemetery behind the Church. It was fascinating to listen to only the sounds of foot traffic along the paved road to the cemetery.
It was stunning to look back while walking to see only candles moving slowly toward the cemetery. The walk took about fifteen minutes.
My wife and I ducked out of the procession as we approached the church in hopes that we might secure two seats for the Mass following the blessing of the graves.
A special remembrance was done at the grave of Dofia Camdelaria De Sapien. She was a local woman credited with restoring the tradition of the All Souls Day Procession in Hornitos.
Followers were asked to place their candles at the grave markers throughout the small cemetery.
The Mass that followed was inside the very small St. Catherine of Sienna Church. A sign outside says the church was built in the 1860s. There was seating for seventy. We were not surprised that the seats were not very comfortable. Nothing has changed in the past one-hundred-fifty years.
On this night, a gas generator powered the makeshift lighting fixtures that were clamped onto the candle holders along the inside walls and on the altar of the church. One guitarist served as song leader. Other members of the St. Joseph’s faith community served as Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers.
Upon leaving the Mass, we waited our turn to shake hands with Bishop Ochoa and Father Bulfer. We then used our flashlight to help guide us down the hill from the church and cemetery back to the community center. Inside the community center, the Hornitos Patrons Club and the St. Joseph’s Ladies Guild served a later evening snack of hot dogs, chili, beans, and desert.
We then navigated our way back home to Merced along the winding road from Hornitos to Cathys Valley. I couldn’t help but note to my wife how there was no law enforcement presence at the event, or if there was a presence, it must have been subtle. The evening was carried about with respect for the departed, appreciation of the community that comes together year after year, and respect for the visit to this area by the Bishop.
It was a memorable evening.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced