'You feel right at home': Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe draws tens of thousands to Des Plaines
Tens of thousands of worshippers from near and far made their pilgrimage to Des Plaines beginning Wednesday night for overnight festivities honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Some worshippers walked from great distances to arrive at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on River Road, with more to come in the wee hours. The Des Plaines 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 Mary, according to the Catholic Church.
Catholics around the world are participating in the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Thursday, celebrating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to indigenous peasant St. Juan Diego in 1531 near present-day Mexico City.
The Very Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said the celebration is for anyone.
"This is a shrine for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and we're part of the church that's not just Latino," Sanchez said during a break Wednesday night. "And I think sometimes people can feel, because they hear so much Spanish, it may sound foreign to them.
"But when you enter the experience of it, you feel right at home. You really do. And everyone has a welcoming heart, welcoming everybody that comes in. We know why you came."
Music and incense filled the air on an evening with temperatures in the low 20s but little wind. Flowers brought by visitors mounted near a 12-foot replica statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that came from Mexico City and sits in the shrine.
Among the worshippers were Arlington Heights residents Elma Avila, 37, and her daughter, Karla, 15. With her daughter serving as interpreter, Elma Avila said she's "very proud and happy" to have the shrine that originated in Mexico so close to her home.
"We grew up believing in this since we were little kids," Elma Avila said. "And we come here annually on (my) birthday to celebrate her annually and everything."
Karla said she looks forward to the annual pilgrimage to the Des Plaines shrine.
"I feel grateful for everything, first of all," she said. "We get to come celebrate her and thank her for everything in life."
Alexander Garcia, 17, of Chicago was with his family to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe for the third consecutive year. His father carried a banner with Our Lady of Guadalupe's image as the family entered the plaza.
Garcia came to the festivities with a drum for an Aztec dance performance.
"It just brings me happiness and joy to see how other people just come through and just come watch us, come see the Virgin Mary, show respect and just have support for us and her," Garcia said.
Masses were celebrated throughout the night and were to continue into the morning. The closing Mass is set for 7 p.m. Thursday in the new St. Joseph Chapel.
About 200,000 worshippers visited the Des Plaines church for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe last year. Organizers were expecting a similar total by the end of Thursday.
Roughly 350 volunteers have been handling a variety of chores, said Sanchez, who led a torch-lighting in the plaza late Wednesday.