Thousands make pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration in Des Plaines

  • Volunteer Ismaez Valdez lights candles during the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Sunday in Des Plaines. More than 200,000 people were expected to take part in the overnight Masses and pilgrimage.

      Volunteer Ismaez Valdez lights candles during the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Sunday in Des Plaines. More than 200,000 people were expected to take part in the overnight Masses and pilgrimage. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Maria Hernandez, 11, and her sister, Mia, 7, pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on Sunday. Despite Sunday's snow, tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to the shrine for the overnight celebration.

      Maria Hernandez, 11, and her sister, Mia, 7, pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on Sunday. Despite Sunday's snow, tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to the shrine for the overnight celebration. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Volunteer Maria Felipe, 15, of Mount Prospect, right, takes candles and flowers from pilgrims Sunday during the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.

      Volunteer Maria Felipe, 15, of Mount Prospect, right, takes candles and flowers from pilgrims Sunday during the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/11/2016 7:23 PM

Thousands braved a winter storm Sunday to celebrate the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, with some pilgrims traveling all day by foot and others walking on their knees through wet snow to pray.

Visitors to the annual celebration at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the campus of Maryville Academy brought concerns about national policy, particularly immigration issues, but also personal, everyday problems, said the shrine's new rector, the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez. He recalled speaking with a father who started walking from Chicago in the morning, praying for his sick son during the journey.

 

"They come with whatever life has thrown at them," Sanchez said. "Everyday problems -- but they take extraordinary steps to answer them."

The shrine is the only place in the world outside the Basilica in Mexico City where believers can satisfy their mandas, or promises made to the Virgin Mary, according to the church. A 12-foot replica statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that came from Mexico City sits in the shrine.

The religious pilgrimage is second only to the Basilica in size, Sanchez said. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich is scheduled to lead the Mass at 5 a.m. Monday.

The annual feast last year drew an estimated record attendance of 300,000 people, organizers said. Organizers planned for as many as 200,000 during the 36-hour event this weekend.

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Among those visiting was 23-year-old Alexi Arcos of Northfield, who carried flowers as she trudged through snow to pray. She described being in a dark place as a teenager, when she moved out of her home at age 17. Arcos said she visited the shrine because she is grateful to be reunited with her family.

"I'm just surprised I'm not a druggie," Arcos said. "I actually have two jobs now. I'm working hard, and I want to go back to school."

Andres Espino, 21, has been an altar server at the shrine for 10 years. The Chicago man lit candles and placed flowers from visitors who walked through the outdoor shrine. The celebration is a bonding moment for families and the church, Espino said.

"It's not too cold -- just a little snow," Espino said as the sky grew dark and pilgrims continued trekking into the shrine. "We're still here."

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