MEXICO CITY (AP) — Thousands of people sang the traditional Mexican birthday song “Las mañanitas” at Mexico City's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe Tuesday to honor the virgin on the 492nd anniversary of her apparition in 1531.
Authorities estimated that over five million faithful visited the Basilica during the days leading up to the annual celebration of the country’s patroness.
Many had walked from distant villages, others had ridden bicycles or buses to reach the Basilica's enormous patio, where a sea of tents held pilgrims who had slept overnight to greet the virgin in the morning.
The journey was not without dangers and risks. Mexico City prosecutors said Tuesday that three pilgrims, who were among a group on motorcycles, had been run over and killed on a highway leading from Mexico City east toward the city of Puebla.
Ten others were injured when a pickup truck ran into the group late Monday. The driver was arrested at the scene. Such groups of pilgrims walking or riding to or from the Basilica are a common sight on highways in December, when they sometimes occupy a lane or two of roadways.
The cold temperature, long walks and the wait to see the virgin's cloak inside the Basilica did not discourage the pilgrims, many of whom walked the last mile or so carrying flowers or large paintings of the virgin.
According to church tradition, in 1531 the dark-skinned virgin appeared to the Indigenous peasant Juan Diego and her image was imprinted on his cloak, which is on display inside the church. Juan Diego was made a saint in 2002 by Saint John Paul II.
Traditionally, those who have asked for help from the Virgin of Guadalupe with life problems come in a sign of appreciation, sometimes traveling the last stretch to the Basilica barefoot or on their knees.
Sara Peña Montaño, 46, was one of a group of 80 people from the southern state of Morelos who came to the Basilica and waited all night to greet her in the morning.
Peña Montaño, a homemaker, had been praying to the virgin for her son Silverio, 29, who was detained in the United States for crossing the border illegally. He was later released.
“I came to greet her on this day, which is very important for all Mexicans,” said Peña Montaño. “My heart was beating hard from so much emotion. I was very excited to arrive.”
Evelyn Pilón, 20, came from Chiconcuac, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City famous for its knit goods and artisanry. She and her companion carried an image of the virgin carved from animal bone.
“We walked all night without stopping until now,” said Pilón, who is praying for the health of her baby son. “I felt a lot of emotion when I arrived, because I was reminded of my baby. I couldn't bring him because he is very sick.”
The pilgrimage also attracted people from around the world.
“I came to pray for my people and I came here to see the Mexican faithful who came here by foot,” said Elizabeth Kuszka, 66, of Phoenix, Arizona. "It’s just amazing.”
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