Safety at the forefront as Des Plaines prepares for Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration

Leaders are urging caution and safety as thousands of faithful Catholics make the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines this week for annual feast day celebrations.

With recent shootings at places of worship across the country, police and leaders at the shrine say they are prepared to make the event secure and meaningful for all. Police said there is no evidence or information of a threat to the event.

"This past year, the country has suffered quite a bit of people walking into religious houses of worship and committing some atrocities," said the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, the rector of the shrine. "Here at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we have gone out of our way to make sure that parishioners and pilgrims have a safe and beautiful experience."

In late October, a gunman killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Another gunman killed 27 people at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017.

"There's been a disturbing pattern in this country over the past year or so of attacks on religious events," Police Chief Bill Kushner said. "We are fully prepared to counter anything. We have no evidence or information regarding any credible threats."

Kushner said the biggest concern for police usually is traffic, as delays are expected on River and Central roads during the event, which begins Tuesday evening and continues into Wednesday. Central Road between River and Wolf roads will be closed on Tuesday and part of Wednesday.

The event has attracted an estimated 250,000 people in previous years, as worshippers from across the country make pilgrimages to the outdoor shrine on the campus of Maryville Academy, 1170 N. River Road. Pilgrims also are known to walk from Chicago all the way to the shrine.

The shrine is the only place in the world outside the Basilica in Mexico City where believers can satisfy what's known as mandas, their 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 shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a very significant space of gathering for people, not only for expressing their faith and religious beliefs, but also an opportunity in which people of all nationalities, particularly immigrants, have found their way to the shrine to find networking, to find solace, to find support in faith and support in life's journeys," Sanchez said.

This years marks the first time the visitors will celebrate Masses in the Chapel of St. Joseph, a building with capacity for 1,100 people inaugurated in April.

On Tuesday, Masses will be at 6 p.m., 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight. The "Las Mananitas" torch-lighting ceremony will be in the plaza at 10 p.m.

On Wednesday, Masses will be at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. (youth Mass), 5 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Organizers asked visitors to use remote parking lots with free shuttle transportation because parking at the shrine is limited. The remote parking lots and shuttle buses will be available from 5 p.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Wednesday. They are at Palwaukee Plaza, 644 Milwaukee Ave. in Prospect Heights; Oakton Community College-Lot D, 1600 E. Golf Road in Des Plaines; and St. Emily Catholic Church, 1400 E. Central Road in Mount Prospect.

  Maria Rodriguez of Hoffman Estates prays in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the 2017 feast day celebration. Huge crowds are expected to travel to Des Plaines for the feast celebration Tuesday and Wednesday. Steve Lundy/, 2017
  The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, says organizers have gone out of their way to "make sure that parishioners and pilgrims have a safe and beautiful experience." Steve Lundy/, 2017
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