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El Santuario de Chimayo

U.S. destinations offer diverse faith options

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postedSeptember 1, 2019

The United States is home to a number of diverse faith-based attractions and destinations. As groups traverse the country, they can visit religious sites and connect with faith communities that help them learn more about local people and cultures. Here is a look at three such destinations—northern New Mexico; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Harlem, New York.

Healing in New Mexico

New Mexico is home to one of the most visited pilgrimage spots in the United States, El Santuario de Chimayo, a small church near Santa Fe. Built in 1816 by Bernardo Abeyta in the typical Spanish Colonial style, it features thick adobe walls, two modest bell towers topped by simple metal crosses and earth-tone colors that blend into the arid landscape that surrounds it.

Donated to the Roman Catholic Church in 1929, El Santuario is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the U.S. and is a National Historic Landmark as well. More than 300,000 people travel to Chimayo each year, but not just to admire the simple church. Instead, many embark on a pilgrimage—walking from Santa Fe or even from Albuquerque—in search of healing or a miracle because of the many such healings attributed to the “holy dirt” found in a room in the church with a small well, el pocito. Pilgrims bring their own vessels, from sandwich bags to glass vials to pill bottles, to hold the special dirt.

Interestingly, church workers refill el pocito daily with dirt from the nearby Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, as visitors carry away 25 to 30 tons of holy dirt every year.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which is a member of the Faith Travel Association, provides other options for faith travelers visiting  the area. The company offers many scenic routes through the untouched wilderness of New Mexico and Colorado, where guests can experience the beauty of God’s creation. Says Cumbres & Toltec’s Corrine Williams, “We are happy to work with any faith group to create a customized experience to meet your specific needs.”


Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Amish Country and more

A visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a step back in time because this Pennsylvania Dutch Country is inhabited by the “Plain People”—the Amish, the Mennonites and the Brethren—whose beliefs require a simple farming life without modern conveniences like electricity, cars or telephones.

With a focus on faith, family and farming, these people have thrived and prospered, as their population in the area has tripled since 1960. More than 25 different Amish, Mennonite and Brethren church congregations exist in Lancaster County, each with a slightly different interpretation of how they should worship and carry out their faith. However, they all agree that they should live separate from the world to ensure a simple life.

For groups interested in learning more about the Amish, various tours are offered that allow visitors to experience the Amish culture through visits to farms, one-room school houses and homesteads.

"Jesus" is performed at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pa. (Photo by:
"Jesus" is performed at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pa. (Photo by

Faith Travel Association members in the area offer additional tour options as well. Sight and Sound Theatres in nearby Strasburg brings the Bible to life with spectacular live musical productions that entertain the whole family. The current production of “Jesus” is an action-packed musical about Jesus’ time on Earth and the lives that he changed while here.

In addition, a quick trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, is sure to be a big hit with the family. Heading to Chocolatetown USA means a free Hershey’s Chocolate Tour to see how this famous American treat is made, and groups get a free sample, too!

Beyond chocolate, there is so much more—from outdoor activities and museums to vineyards, breweries and shopping—for visitors to discover around Hershey and Harrisburg.

Looking for religion in Harlem

The iconic sites that most people visit in New York City include the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center, among others. If travelers are ready to explore something new and different, Harlem in upper Manhattan provides a great alternative, especially for faith-based groups. Owner and founder Carolyn Johnson explains that her company, Faith Travel Association member Welcome to Harlem, organizes an array of tours that showcase all that Harlem has to offer.

She says one of the best aspects of Harlem is the spiritual richness of the neighborhood. There are a number of historical churches in the area, including Abyssinian Baptist Church, which was founded in 1808 by an African-American minister from Boston and a group of Ethiopian immigrants who sought a location where they could worship free of racial segregation.

Abyssinian Baptist Church dancers (Photo by
Abyssinian Baptist Church dancers (Photo by

Over the years the congregation grew to 14,000 members as it carried out its mission of social justice, community empowerment and caring for the less fortunate. The church ministered to the needy during the Depression, has developed international outreach programs over the years and continues to support efforts in Ethiopia to combat poverty in the east African nation. “Abyssinia” is the ancient name for Ethiopia, and the church adopted it to pay homage to the Ethiopian immigrants who formed the original congregation.

Welcome to Harlem offers a Gospel and Brunch Tour on Sundays that allows you to experience a gospel service followed by a delicious brunch of ethnic food. No matter what your religious background is, you will appreciate and enjoy the upbeat choir music and sermon you will hear at one of the following famous Harlem churches: Covenant Avenue Baptist Church, United House of Prayer, Abyssinian Baptist Church or the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection.

Top photo: El Santuario de Chimayo
Photo by CC Wikimedia Commons/BrettLewis88: