Millions of believers in the Virgin of Guadalupe flocked to Tepeyac hill in Mexico City yesterday in the annual pilgrimage to the world’s third most visited sacred site.
It was on this day in 1531 on the same hill that the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared for the fourth time before Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, leaving her image imprinted on the peasant’s cloak.
That cloak is on exhibition to this day at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.
Tepeyac hill had been a sacred site even before the Spanish conquest of the Mexica people, when it was a temple for the Náhuatl love and fertility god Tonantzin. The temple was destroyed by the Spanish.
By midnight last night authorities in Gustavo A. Madero, where the basilica is located, estimated that 4.5 million people had visited, and expected at least 4 million more today.
Whole families participate in the pilgrimage, the luckiest of whom found a spot in the basilia’s esplanade to set up a tent and spend the night. Others opted to sleep under blankets, cardboard or plastic.
Their intention was to rest after days of travel and be the first to be present when the clock hit midnight, marking another anniversary of the Marian apparition. Believers celebrate by singing the Las Mañanaitas birthday song to the syncretic figure of Guadalupe-Tonantzin.
During the day an endless procession of people pass before the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, those few brief seconds being the reward for their pilgrimage.
Among them was Emilio Aguirre Galicia, 24, who walked for four days with a double mission: to thank Guadalupe for granting his mother the miracle of being cured of a disease and to ask for her favor and protection for his pregnant girlfriend.
“It feels good to visit the virgencita, here in her home, with faith and devotion,” said the young man. “You feel relieved of your sins but also tired after the journey.”
That journey, he continues, is not an easy one. “We only stopped our walk in the mountains for half an hour to light a fire because your bones freeze, it’s just too cold. [But] all’s really worth it for those that have faith. Even if you arrive with blisters [on your feet], you get here one way or the other.”
Some believe that the number of blisters the pilgrims get is proportional to the sins they’re “carrying” with them. Miguel Ramírez Martínez finds that notion laughable.
Instead, he sees blisters as a sign of devotion. He walked for three tiring days, and does so every year. “It’s indescribable, you don’t feel the days as you walk, because when you’re here, in the home of la Virgen Morena, you forget about everything. It’s only a few seconds that you spend in front [of the image], but it feels like an eternity.”
Up until yesterday, local authorities had handed out 160,000 liters of drinking water to the weary but adoring faithful. Five dormitories were opened for those looking for a place to stay, and pilgrims were advised to either use them or find shelter elsewhere, as temperatures were expected to drop close to 0 C.
Despite the massive number of people of all ages converging in a single venue, no tragedies have been reported although an estimated 1,700 people received medical attention on the site.
Source: El Universal (sp)