By LISSETTE ROMERO
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s largest religious pilgrimage for its Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe returned Monday without restrictions for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. For two years, the multi-day pilgrimage had been cancelled or curtailed because the massive numbers of faithful presented a risk of contagion.
During the darkest days of the pandemic in 2020, the Mexico City Basilica where the Virgin’s image is preserved was closed entirely for four days. It was open in 2021, but pilgrims coming from across the country were not allowed to maintain their tradition of sleeping outside it.
For this year’s Dec. 12 ceremony, the basilica’s patio was awash in a sea of tents and sleeping people.
People sleep at the basilica to show their devotion — one of the high points is a midnight Mass at which the traditional birthday song “Las Mañanitas” is sung to the Virgin — but also because many pilgrims are poor.
Hundreds of thousands walk, ride bicycles or take buses on the pilgrimage. This year, the Mexico City government estimated a total of 11 million people visited the shrine over the last few days.
“Thanks to God, we have recovered normality,” the Rector of the Basilica, Mons. Salvador Martínez, said in a statement inviting people to visit “if possible, avoiding large crowds.”
Such good intentions were impossible amid a human sea of believers.
Ade Carbajal visited the Basilica with her two children Monday to give thanks to the Virgin for her family having been spared during the pandemic.
“What we went through with COVID, there were very difficult situations, so we wanted to thank her,” said Carbajal.
Nazario Bonilla, 23, came from the neighboring state of Morelos with a pilgrimage of fellow motorcyclists, his eighth visit.
“We always come to ask her for a little health, that we don’t run out of work,” said Bonilla.
The basilica holds an image of the Virgin that is said to have miraculously imprinted itself on a cloak belonging to the Indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531.
At the Vatican on Monday, Pope Francis said Mary appeared then “to accompany the American people in this difficult path of poverty, exploitation and socioeconomic and cultural colonialism,” and remains a mother figure to Latin Americans today.
“She’s there, in the middle of the caravans that, seeking freedom and well-being, head north,” he said, referring to the caravans of migrants seeking to cross into the United States,” the pope said.
The day of the Virgin is also celebrated throughout Mexico with fireworks. At one such event in a town northeast of Mexico City, a police pickup truck carrying fireworks exploded, injuring a dozen people.
The injured, including a child, suffered third-degree burns and fractures in the explosion late Sunday in the town of Nopaltepec, according the State of Mexico health department.
Photos posted by volunteer firefighters from the nearby town of San Martín de los Piramides showed the burned, twisted wreckage of the pickup truck lying in a street.