An estimated 11 million Christian pilgrims on Monday jammed into and around México City’s Basílica de Guadalupe to pay homage to the Virgin without any gathering restrictions after coronavirus health measures over the past couple of years limited the celebration of the Day of the Virgin.
Faithful from all over the country, along with many foreigners congregate to worship México’s patron saint every Dec. 12 and to thank the Virgin for her blessings and ask her to intercede for ill relatives.
“She’s the mother of México, of everyone, and we’re coming to ask her (to protect) a granddaughter who’s sick,” said Sofía Ruiz, explaining that she made the three-day pilgrimage to the shrine on foot with her husband, two daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren.
Outside the campaign tents in which they slept last night, Sofía said that the trip, which they made from the town of Amecameca de Juárez, in central México state, is always worth the effort.
“It gives us life to come to her. When you arrive, you feel emotion, you cry, you thank God that he let you come to her in her house,” she said, adding that she’s been making the pilgrimage to the basilica several times per year for the past four decades.
Like her, hundreds of people spent the night in tents or on the grass both in the square on which the basílica stands and on the nearby streets.
Faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, México’s patron saint, dates back to 1531, when legend has it that she appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous man canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, on Tepeyac Hill, at the foot of which the basilica now stands.
Many of the faithful carried images of the Virgin Mary in pictures, statues and on flags to receive her blessing and the brown-skinned figure is colloquially known as the “Morenita del Tepeyac.”
Holding the hands of his twin daughters, Mario Plata arrived at the basilica from the town of La Marquesa, also in México state, and said he was happy about the end of the health restrictions and to be “walking with the kids and enjoying celebrating.”
“(We’ve been coming) since the twin girls were three months old, and now they’re going to be eight. I tell them that after I die don’t lose the tradition and come with my grandsons,” he said.
Although in 2020 the basílica was closed and pilgrimages were not permitted and last year people were prohibited from camping out in the area, facemasks are still obligatory inside the huge church and people may not linger too long within.
The proof that the pandemic will not once again derail this anniversary celebration may be seen in the fact that Miguel Ángel Aguilar at the church entrance has been holding up a sign reading: “I want you to give me a big hug. My name is Miguel.”
“I’ve been coming on the pilgrimage for the past 12 years. I love it when they give me a hug, when they tell me ‘God bless you,’” said Miguel, who added that he came for the embraces and to ask the Virgin to protect his ill father.
As they passed by him, the Plata family and Miguel hugged each other, just as in past years.
The México City government estimates that between Dec. 8 and Monday about 11 million people this year have come to the basílica, making it the second-most-visited church in the world.
People have come from Mexican states like Morelia, Jalisco, Nueva León, Querétaro and Tlaxcala, and groups of pilgrims knocked on the church door to attend the morning Mass, while others were scattered around the plaza to get a little more rest, eat breakfast, pray, dance and sing.
The roughly 200 members of the Cruz Verde (Green Cross) dance group from the western city of Guadalajara entered the plaza to the beat of their drums and performed popular dances near the basilica.
But not everything at the basilica had a strictly Mexican flavor, given that amid the incense smoke one could see a small Polish flag held up by a group of about 20 people from that country.
“We came specifically to celebrate this day,” Arnold Szalyga, one of the Polish religious tourists, said.