DURHAM — Fide Hordaz Valencia couldn't talk about the children and family she left behind in Mexico as she stood waiting on Hillsborough Road.
Now isn't the time to get emotional, said Valencia, who came to the U.S. from Mexico eight years ago and works as a housekeeper in High Point.
On Wednesday evening, Valencia was waiting for a runner to hand off the flame escorting the 10th annual Guadalupan Torch Race to make its way down Hillsborough through rush-hour traffic. The pilgrimage started Oct. 3 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. It will end at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on Dec. 11, on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mexican religious holiday.
Beyond Wednesday, Valencia said through an interpreter, she is waiting for a miracle to be united with her children.
Valencia was one of the many runners from High Point, Greensboro and Asheboro who lined up along U.S. 70, Hillsborough Road and Main Street as a blue truck slowly worked its way to the Immaculate Conception Church carrying two images in large golden frames of Our Lady of Guadalupe - the Virgin Mary - and St. Juan Diego. Every mile or so, a runner behind the truck would relay a torch holding a flame that has been constant since the pilgrimage left the Basilica. The artifacts will stay overnight in Durham, then leave by 6 a.m. today as about 85 runners from around the area carry the torch on to Richmond, Va.
The torch has various messages, said Ivan Almonte, who helped organize the Durham link. In Mexico, it represents a call for peace in violent times. In the U.S., it represents appreciation for America, a link for Hispanic families separated by a closed border and a request to restore respect and dignity to the immigrants hiding in the shadows, he said.
The images of the Virgin Mary and St. Juan Diego link the Mexican community to religious, social and political history that transformed their once Aztec nation, he said. In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared before an impoverished Juan Diego in Tepeyac, a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City, according to religious accounts. She requested that a church be built at the site. Juan Diego took the request to the Spanish Bishop, who required a sign to prove the vision's authenticity.
Mary appeared to Juan Diego again and asked him to gather roses during the barren season. Juan Diego found the roses and carried them in a blanketlike shawl to the Bishop. When he showed the bishop the roses, they fell from the shawl and left an imprint of the Virgin Mary on the cloth.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most visited churches in the world, was built, and the religious account inspired many in the Aztec nation to convert to Catholicism.
Almonte likened the Virgin Mary to the mother of Mexico. People turn to her for healing and hope, he said.
"She is the one who cares for us," he said. "She fights for us."
Valencia said the torch links her to the home she misses. "It's like I am getting connected with my Mexico," she said. "And at the same time with our Lady of Guadalupe."
At the church, the pilgrimage was welcomed by feathered dances shaking maracas and offering prayers, a tradition built from the melding of Spanish and Mexican culture. Adults and children crowded around the torch reaching for an opportunity to hold it and pass it to another.
Anabel Hernandez, 20, plans to be among the Durham residents running with the torch today. The moment will mark a connection with her family as her second cousins helped carry the torch across Mexico, she said. She also hopes to relay a personal plea for dignity for immigrants, she said.
"They are saying, 'We are with you,' " she said about her relatives. " 'And everything will be possible, and do not lose faith.' "