MEXICO CITY — Jesús Martínez Aguilar walked two days from the state of Puebla to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, arriving at dusk on the eve of the Dec. 12 feast day. He posed for a selfie with his family at the basilica’s gates, then prepared to enter and give thanks to the patroness.
“I felt bad not coming here last year,” said Martínez, 68, a tamale vendor who has made an annual pilgrimage to the basilica for the past 38 years — except in 2020, when Church and civic authorities closed the site due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s special for us,” he said after arriving. “We’ve come to see the Virgin again.”
Millions of pilgrims descended on the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the first 12 days of December, renewing a tradition and act of faith common throughout central Mexico.
Pilgrims celebrated the national patroness: a dark-skinned Virgin, who appeared before Indigenous farmer, St. Juan Diego, at Tepeyac Hill in northern Mexico City in 1531.
Nearly 500 years after the apparition, Our Lady of Guadalupe continues drawing a deep devotion throughout Latin America, the Philippines and in immigrant communities of the United States.
“We’ve come to ask for health, for her to care for us and out of faith,” said Tomás Santiago Coapio, 25, who arrived with a pack of cyclists from outlying Tlaxcala state.
When asked about not visiting in 2020, he responded: “It’s like if you couldn’t visit your mother. How would you feel?”
Roberto Acosta, a 35-year-old lawyer, also cycled to the basilica, riding 12 hours with a pair of friends from the city of Puebla. It was his first visit to the site, he said.
“I’m not very religious,” he said, adding he would “give thanks for favors received.” Those favors, he said, included “work, health, not getting sick with COVID again,” after the illness claimed his wife last year.
Church officials urged pilgrims to keep their visits brief and canceled in-person liturgical celebrations.
City officials channeled pilgrims through the surrounding neighborhoods to a single entrance — spraying visitors with disinfectant at the basilica gates — and prohibiting people from camping on-site. An estimated 3.5 million pilgrims arrived in 2021, less than half the number that visited in 2019.
Pope: Through Mary, Latin America can move toward conversion, renewal
VATICAN CITY — Festive music, dancing and prayers in honor of Mary echoed through St. Peter’s Square as hundreds gathered to commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The sounds of Mexican mariachi brought much needed warmth on a chilly Roman morning Dec. 12 to honor the patroness of the Americas and the Philippines whose apparition to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill in Mexico continues to bring hope in uncertain times.
“This experience must be repeated over and over again,” Pope Francis told pilgrims during his Sunday Angelus address. “In this way, God, who is communion, will move us toward conversion and the renewal of the Church and of society that we need so much in the Americas — the situation in many Latin American countries is very sad — as well as throughout the world.”
Among those present to mark the feast were Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, substitute secretary for general affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
After praying the Rosary in Spanish, Portuguese and Filipino, Cardinal Ouellet led pilgrims in a final prayer for Mary’s maternal intercession so that she would help all Christians “to see the face of Jesus in every person, especially in those most excluded and marginalized.”
Seeing the many flags from Latin America from the window of the Apostolic Palace, the pope addressed the pilgrims in Spanish and welcomed those “who from Alaska to Patagonia are celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe, mother of the true God by whom we live.”
“May the Virgin of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego teach us how to always walk together from the peripheries toward the center in communion with the successor of the apostles, who are the bishops, to bear good news to everyone,” the pope said.
— Junno Arocho Esteves contributed to this story