MEXICO CITY – Some 7.3 million people have come together in this capital for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, setting a new record, Mexican authorities said on Tuesday.
The figure far exceeds last year’s turnout of 5.5 million and includes not only Mexicans but people from Central American countries where Guadalupe is also venerated.
Thousands of people camped out overnight around the Guadalupe Basilica, which is located near the spot where the dark-skinned Virgin is believed to have appeared in 1531 to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an indigenous Mexican who was canonized in 2002.
Isabel Santana and her family walked seven hours to be at the basilica at 12:01 am on Dec. 12 for the traditional serenading of the Virgin with “Las Mañanitas” (the Mexican equivalent of “Happy Birthday”).
Afterwards, the Santanas found a spot among the tents that cover the basilica’s esplanade to spend the night.
“Fatigue kept us from feeling the cold,” a bundled-up Isabel told EFE with a laugh.
Every year, some among the pilgrims make their way to the shrine by crawling on their knees.
Once inside the basilica, the faithful have only a few seconds to snap photos and pray before the image of the Virgin, as they move through the sanctuary on a mechanical belt that doesn’t allow anyone to linger or turn back.
The capital’s street vendors see the pilgrimage as a chance to make some extra money. Maribel, who runs a souvenir shop down the street from the basilica, said she expects sales to rise 20 percent.
There are others, meanwhile, who treat the Guadalupe feast as an opportunity to give.
“This is our way of honoring the Virgin,” says a volunteer distributing free bread and hot drinks.