More than 100,000 people will descend on Maryville Academy in Des Plaines this week -- many of them on foot -- to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of the Our Lady shrine, says worshippers could celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe at their home parishes, but increasingly they come to the Des Plaines campus, where a 12-foot tall replica of Our Lady of Guadalupe resides.
Maryville has limited parking. Use these sites instead.
Ÿ Palwaukee Plaza, near Milwaukee Avenue and River Road, Prospect Heights.
Ÿ St. Emily's Catholic Church, 1400 E. Central Road, Mount Prospect.
Ÿ St. Paul Chong Hasang Korean Church, Wolf Road and Dursey Lane, Des Plaines.
Ÿ Northwest Assembly of God, 900 N. Wolf Road, Mount Prospect.
Ÿ Oakton Community College, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines.
"It was never intended to be a shrine," Mercado says. "That's the miracle of it. Because of their devotion to Our Lady, this site has gotten into the heart of the people."
The festival begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday and continues with Masses -- both outdoors and inside the gymnasium at Maryville -- every two hours until the closing liturgy at 7 p.m. Thursday. A feast day Mass will be held at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
Many of those planning to come consider it a pilgrimage and walk from their parishes. Groups making the trek are coming from Mount Prospect, Wheeling and Arlington Heights, as well as Round Lake and Waukegan, and many from Chicago, Mercado says.
Noé Quiroga of Palatine will be among the estimated 500 pilgrims walking from Mission San Juan Diego in Palatine.
"We will be walking to say thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe," he says. "It's stronger walking in a group. You feel united with the community."
A highlight comes at 10 p.m. Wednesday. A flame will be lit, and hundreds of people carrying torches from Catholic parishes throughout the Archdiocese will be blessed. They will light their torches, then run back to their churches.
At their parishes, runners will place the torch at a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and mananitas, or songs that honor Mary will be sung. This will be followed by a 5 a.m. Mass on Thursday.
Archdiocesan officials credit the Rev. Matthew Foley, pastor of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, with bringing the torch run to the area.
"I spent six years in Mexico working for the archdiocese and the missions and saw people making this pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica," Foley says.
In Mexico, he organized a torch run from the village where he served, which was an eight-hour bus ride from Mexico City. They completed the run back in shifts, rotating on and off the bus, he said.
In 2004, as pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Church in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, he started a torch run from Maryville to Little Village, about 21 miles. The current pastor, the Rev. Donald Nevins, has continued the tradition, and this year will be its 10th anniversary.
"It speaks to the community and dedication of people to Mary," Foley says. "Doing something physical like this speaks to them, in terms of their spirituality."
For those who stay at the Maryville shrine, a separate tent will accommodate dancers and live music. Praying of the rosary, adoration and other liturgical worship will continue inside the gymnasium, allowing for silent reflection at the outdoor shrine itself.
The celebration mirrors the historic one in Mexico, which has gone on for centuries and draws tens of thousands of worshippers to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City for the feast day and to satisfy their mandas, or promises, made to Mary for considering their wishes.
The feast day celebrates the December day in 1531, when the Virgin Mary appeared to a Mexican peasant on a hill outside Mexico City, and asked that a church be built in her honor at that place.
"For those that come, it's a powerful experience," Mercado says.
The shrine at Maryville dates to 1988, when the former director, the Rev. John Smyth, agreed to take in a statue of the Patroness of the Americas brought from Mexico City by Joaquim Martinez, a parishioner from a church in Northbrook.
Over the years, Maryville officials set the statue on a hill and added original elements from the Basilica in Mexico City. In 1997, Msgr. Esteban Martinez, from the Basilica, blessed the shrine and declared it to be a place where people could satisfy their mandas to Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the only shrine in the world outside of Mexico City where this is permitted.