Over 1,000 riders come to the shrine for the start of the pilgrimage | Religion

Central Road in Des Plaines, Ill., Which normally buzzed with fast cars, was empty just after noon on a recent Saturday except for police cars blocking the entrance. There was only the sound of geese honking their horns.

Then, soft clods came from the east, steadily increasing in volume and soon accentuated by neighing. On the horizon, a group of horse riders crept towards their destination, some taking photos on their phones and others proudly placing their arms on their hips.

It was the first sighting of at least 1,000 horsemen crossing a Cook County forest reserve in Wheeling to pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Virgin Mary. The day marked the 10th kick-off of the tradition in which most Latino Catholics from the tri-state region and even the United States made the pilgrimage to Des Plaines to visit the Sanctuary of Guadalupana, the monument on most visited of its kind in the United States.

Many make the annual trip to the shrine to reflect pilgrimages made to Mexico to fulfill a promise – a manda – or to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for her blessings and protection. Others do it as a sacrifice while praying for a specific need or concern.

Arturo Gante, 48, said he traveled from Lake Station, Indiana, on his first pilgrimage to the shrine. While repairing the equipment of his horse named Colorado, he expressed his enthusiasm for paying homage and praying for his family and his work.

“We’re just here to celebrate,” Gante said of handling Colorado. “I’m Catholic, so it’s part of the church.”

Jenni Ochoa, a freshman at Eastern Illinois University, visited the shrine as a volunteer, repairing the roses and other arrangements around the shrine. The visit has special significance for Ochoa, who was baptized at the Sanctuary Church, but also for her elders, she said.

“It’s great to see everyone here practicing their faith,” said Ochoa, who grew up in Round Lake Beach. “Most churches were closed during the pandemic. Most of the older Hispanic community, I feel like their faith is stronger so it brings joy to them to be here.

Last year the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the first replica of the sacred mantle with her image in the Basilica in Mexico City, was removed and stored to dissuade people from gathering for a special day known as of Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which attracts over 200,000 worshipers each year in December.

Before the journey began in the morning, Napoleon Abella Calzada, 16, watched his father guide his horse in a waltz through the grass. It was the boy of this size’s first pilgrimage, and he was in awe of the crowd who were ready to join his father.

“Just being here is important to me and my family, especially since that’s pretty much how it’s done in Mexico,” said Abella Calzada, of Appleton, Wisconsin. “It’s really important for us to come and celebrate our religion.

For Jesus Gonzalez, the organizer of the event, the pilgrimage is a family affair, carried out with the help of his children and his wife. His brothers all own horses and year after year join the sacred journey.

In Gonzalez’s hometown of Mexico, he grew up surrounded by riders in traditional Mexican rodeos and other equestrian sports.

“We have always been grateful for our health and the love that surrounds us,” Gonzalez said.

Horse riders and their families from across the Midwest participate in the pilgrimage. There are young children and women who also ride horses.

Although Maria Vargas had attended multi-hour pilgrimages for several years in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as Patron Saint of the Americas, in 2016 she and her brother organized a caravan with their semi -trucks offering it as a prayer for their family business.

“We wanted to thank God for protecting us, but we also wanted to pray for all of our drivers and truckers in town,” Vargas said.

During the pilgrimage on December 4, more than 50 tractor-trailer drivers and their families also joined the faithful who visited Guadalupana, a week before the annual feast at the shrine which will resume this year after last year’s break. .

The drivers decorated their trucks with images of the Virgen De Guadalupe, lights and garlands.

The drivers’ wives and children also joined the driver for the ride. While the mariachis played at their meeting point in a parking lot near Pilsen, the families ate tamales.

“It’s a gathering of love and community,” Vargas said. “It is a demonstration of love for Our Lady of Guadalupe but also for the people for whom you pray.”

She said that devotion to the Virgin Mary breaks down barriers and that for a few hours – whether in a caravan, on a pilgrimage on foot or on horseback – people forget their differences and come together for the blessings of Our Lady of Guadalupe. .

The past few years have not been easy, said Vargas. One of their drivers died of COVID-19, and they plan to pay their respects with the trailer.

“Pilgrimages renew the faith,” Vargas added. “If people are willing to walk for miles, to brave the cold, to sacrifice so much, you realize the power of faith. “

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