Why 100 Women Are Walking 100 Miles To Meet Pope Francis

Photo: Courtesy of We Belong Together.
Participants in the 100 Women 100 Miles Pilgrimage march through the streets.
Update: Follow along as the women march the final miles to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday here.

One hundred women are marching 100 miles from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., to greet Pope Francis and call attention to the plight and treatment of immigrants in the United States.

Andrea Cristina Mercado, an organizer and participant in the 100 Women 100 Miles Pilgrimage, said the journey is "an act of sacrifice and an act of love for our families and for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.”

“We hope that with our walk, we will touch the hearts of Americans across the nation and that the pope’s prayers will also touch the hearts and inspire us as a country to have policies of compassion and not cruelty for migrants,” Mercado, co-chair of We Belong Together, the group behind the pilgrimage, told Refinery29 as she walked through Laurel, MD, on Monday.

The women, who departed from an immigration detention center in York County, PA, on September 15, are set to arrive in Washington on Tuesday, the same day the pope lands for his first visit to the United States. Refinery29 will be there, marching with the women on the final leg of their journey and sharing their stories.
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Photo: Courtesy of We Belong Together.
Women march through Pennsylvania as part of a 100-mile pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.
Last year, Pope Francis implored world leaders and communities to take a compassionate view of migrants and refugees.

"It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries," the pontiff wrote.

He spoke out again this month amid an influx of migrants and refugees crossing into European nations, urging “every” parish there to take in at least one refugee family. Mercado, who is Catholic and the daughter of immigrants from South America, said she hopes to hear the pope address the issue again during his trip to the United States.

We have lots of blisters and our bodies are sore, but our spirits are high.

Andrea Cristina Mercado, We Belong Together
“The pope has been carrying a message of dignity toward migrants, and certainly we’ve seen it in Europe, [where] he called on churches to open their doors to immigrants and refugees," Mercado said.

"We’re hoping he’ll do the same here in the U.S.: recognize the suffering of the 11 million undocumented in our nation, and call on us as a people to open our hearts and our homes and hear our stories."

Seven days and roughly 75 miles into the march, Mercado said the group's members are certainly feeling tired. They rise at 6 a.m., she said, walking 12 or more miles each day.
Photo: Courtesy of We Belong Together.
A woman massages another participant's foot during a break from walking.
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But the marchers, who Mercado said come from all corners of the globe and range from a 4-year-old girl riding in a stroller to "grandmothers," remain committed to the cause and the opportunity to spread their message. Acts of kindness, such as cheers from passing cyclists or gifts of flowers and food, have helped push them along.

“We have lots of blisters and our bodies are sore, but our spirits are high," she said.

Refinery29 will bring you more stories from the 100 Women 100 Miles Pilgrimage on Tuesday. You can follow along as the women march the final miles here. See why the women are marching and hear their stories in their own words in these videos published by We Belong Together:

Video: Courtesy of We Belong Together.
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