~ By Alejandra Molina, Religion News Service
To the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, it’s important for Catholics to be cautious, but not afraid, as they prepare to honor the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe a year after COVID-19 shut down the annual pilgrimage in Des Plaines, Illinois – considered to be the largest gathering in the United States honoring the patron saint of Mexico.
The pandemic last December forced the cancellation of large-scale pilgrimages as the virus surged during the winter months. who has been a source of hope for many Latinos throughout the pandemic. As the omicron coronavirus variant circulates, Catholic leaders are urging mask wearing during these events and promoting the vaccine against the virus.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to arrive on foot, bike, bus, or car at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines to fulfill or make “mandas” or promises, to the Virgin Mary, praying in return for health, employment and immigration issues. Many make promises to visit the Virgin at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The two-day celebration at the shrine will begin December 11 with an evening Mass and will follow with fireworks and “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional serenade to Our Lady of Guadalupe just before midnight Mass. On Sunday, there will be a range of prayer services for immigrants and for the elderly and sick, as well as music and folkloric dance performances by choirs, groups and pilgrims from around the Midwest.
Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said many of the faithful have been wounded by the pandemic, losing loved ones back home in Mexico and not having the ability to travel there due to immigration status, economic hardship or pandemic concerns. Those who’ve caught the virus fear they can get reinfected and are “unsure of who to trust, who to believe,” Sanchez said.
The feast day, he said, is more than just a social gathering. “It is a true unburdening. It is a true expression of the community’s soul,” Sanchez said.