Guadalupe celebration draws Cupich, 140,000 to Des Plaines

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich urged the crowd of thousands huddled outside after midnight in Des Plaines to cheer.

"¡Yo soy guadalupano!" "¡Viva México!" they shouted enthusiastically.

Making one of his first appearances in the suburbs since joining the archdiocese in November, Cupich managed to keep an intimate atmosphere amid the 140,000 mostly Latino worshippers celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine on the Maryville campus.

Police estimate the crowd at the 36-hour event Thursday and Friday was more than double last year's attendance, which was shrunk by freezing temperatures. This year, the festive celebration was buoyed by the weather and by Cupich, who led the main Mass amid the live mariachi bands, fragrant red roses in an outdoor grotto and hundreds of volunteers.

"It was a peaceful crowd," Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner said. There were road closures and delays along River and Central roads but no incidents, he said.

Cupich became the first Chicago archbishop to preside over the 12:30 a.m. outdoor Mass, which he celebrated entirely in Spanish.

"This year is so special because Archbishop Cupich - he wanted to be here as one of the pilgrims ... to pay his respects and to honor God through Our Lady of Guadalupe," said the Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of the shrine.

During a brief news conference Thursday night, Cupich said he has "wonderful admiration and respect" for the pilgrims, who made the trek to the shrine on foot as well as those who arrived by the busloads.

"We have to do it together," he told reporters. "And we have to keep the people together. Unity is a very important part of the life of the church."

Throughout the event, renderings of plans for an ambitious, $60 million monument were shown on a large video screen. In July 2013 the shrine's leaders unveiled their vision to build the second-largest basilica in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who Catholics believe appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, outside what is now Mexico City in 1531.

So far, a local fundraising campaign has garnered about $2 million, and Mercado hopes to take the fundraising drive national in early 2015.

"We are very hopeful that the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps growing and especially here in Des Plaines," he said.

The basilica would stand at the corner of Central and River roads and connect to "huge, beautiful gardens," he said. The shape of the roof will be inspired by Juan Diego's tilma, or cloak.

The pilgrimage also was a celebration of Mexican heritage. Dancers wearing ornate costumes and headdresses with feathers dyed the red, green and white of the Mexican flag performed to the beat of a drum.

And after a ritual torch lighting Thursday night, teams of pilgrims ran and walked back to their home churches, handing off the torches in a relay.

Eric Lopez joined his sister, nieces and nephews at the shrine to pay tribute to the Patroness of the Americas. The Mount Prospect 18-year-old stayed until the Mañanitas, when the crowds serenade the Virgin with a birthday song at midnight.

"She is the mother of all Mexicans," he said.

Catholic pilgrims flock to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine

  Archbishop Blase Cupich delivers communion to Marylynn Davison of Western Springs in the early morning hours Friday. Mark Welsh/
  Archbishop Blase Cupich greets thousands of people about midnight Thursday. Mark Welsh/
  Hundreds of people stood in the cold to pray. Mark Welsh/
  Archbishop Blase Cupich greets the tens of thousands of people who attended the festival. Mark Welsh/
  Graciala Gonzalez of Round Lake carries a picture of Our Lady while at the shrine on Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Jaime Estrada of Des Plaines places a candle at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Maria Reyes of Joliet makes her way through the crowd to the shrine. Bob Chwedyk/
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