By Edna Alcantara
MEXICO CITY – Some six million pilgrims from all corners of Mexico and other countries in Central America on Sunday celebrated the traditional “mañanitas” (birthday) of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an event considered to be the largest Catholic celebration of its kind in the Americas.
People of all ages, including pregnant women and the disabled, jammed the main avenues of the Mexican capital and the area around the Basilica de Guadalupe to give thanks to or ask the Virgin Mary for a miracle.
“We came as a group of the devout, just like every year, to celebrate our patron saint and thank her for one more year of health and life,” Jose Garcia, from the municipality of San Martin Texmelucan in the central state of Puebla, told Efe.
He was accompanied by 60 people from his community who made the two-day pilgrimage to the cathedral.
The faithful say that on Dec. 12, 1531, on Mexico City’s Tepeyac Hill where the Basilica stands today, an Indian peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Ever since, the country has experienced an ongoing religious fervor for the Virgin Mary and it is popularly said that, even if a Mexican is not religious, he or she is always a “guadalupano.”
Another pilgrim at the Basilica on Sunday was Emiliano Sabas, who each year comes to ask the Virgin to protect his children, who live in the United States, and to take care of all immigrants.
The traditional pilgrimage to the shrine began in 1996 and each year hundreds of thousands of the faithful gather to honor the country’s patron saint.
At midnight on Saturday, the traditional festival began with a huge serenade or concert before the image of the Virgin, with about 20 mariachi groups, as well as dancers and artists, participating and the singing and music going on until Sunday afternoon.
Moving forward on foot or on their knees, little by little the millions of devotees approached the temple with flowers, candles and images of all sizes to pay homage to the cult of the Virgin that attracts the greatest number of faithful in the Americas.
According to local authorities, more than six million people gathered on Sunday in the area, many of them sleeping the previous night in nearby parks or grassy areas in the city.
Inside the grounds of the cathedral, the largest in Mexico, were 80,000 people at any given time, while outside hundreds of thousands more waited for their turn to enter.
Starting last Friday, a huge security operation was mounted throughout the nearby area with more than 1,000 police officers deployed to guarantee public safety.
In Mexico, it is a tradition to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica throughout the year, and each day groups from all over the country arrive here to attend Mass or to prostrate themselves at the site of the Virgin’s supposed appearance.
Cathedral officials told Efe that on Sunday afternoon they were still expecting the arrival of another million people who are coming to attend the midday Mass on Monday, the event that will conclude the pilgrimage.
In Mexico, “La Morenita” – as the Virgin of Guadalupe is affectionately called – is seen everywhere, on the outer walls of houses, in workplaces, museums, on clothing, on automobiles, in chapels, in graffiti, in churches and even in tattoos.
This year, tourists from assorted countries like Taiwan, Russia and the Netherlands visited the Basilica de Guadalupe, which is the second-most-visited Catholic church in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome. EFE