More than 1,000 riders travel to the shrine to the pilgrimage site | religion

Usually teeming with fast cars, Central Road in Des Plaines, Illinois, was empty just after noon on a Saturday, save for the police cars blocking the driveway. All that could be heard was the honking of the geese.

Then came a faint knocking from the east, which grew louder and louder and was soon reinforced by the neighing. Beyond the horizon, a cadre of horsemen crept towards its destination, some taking pictures on their cell phones and others holding their arms proudly.

This was the first sighting of at least 1,000 horsemen riding through a Cook County forest reserve in Wheeling to pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Virgin Mary. That day marked the 10th start of the tradition, with mostly Latin American Catholics from across the Tristate area and even the United States making the pilgrimage to Des Plaines to visit the Guadalupana Shrine, the most visited monument of its kind in the United States.

Many take the annual trip to the sanctuary to reflect pilgrimages in Mexico, to fulfill a promise – a manda – or to thank the Virgin Mary for blessings and protection. Others do it as sacrifices when praying for a specific need or concern.

Arturo Gante, 48, said he had traveled from Lake Station, Indiana, for his first pilgrimage to the shrine. While repairing equipment on his horse named Colorado, he spoke of the excitement of showing respect and praying for his family and job.

“We’re only here to celebrate,” Gante said while tending to Colorado. “I’m Catholic, so that’s part of the Church.”

Jenni Ochoa, a freshman at Eastern Illinois University, traveled to the shrine as a volunteer to repair the roses and other arrangements around the shrine. The visit has a special meaning for Ochoa, who was baptized in the shrine church, but also for her elders, she said.

“It’s great to see everyone practice their faith out here,” said Ochoa, who grew up in Round Lake Beach. “Most of the churches have been closed due to the pandemic. The majority of the older Hispanic community feel that their faith is stronger and they enjoy being here. “

Last year, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the first replica of the sacred cloak with her image in the Mexican basilica, was removed and kept to deter people from coming to a special day, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe gather. which attracts more than 200,000 devotees each December.

Before the morning journey began, Napoleon Abella Calzada, 16, watched his father waltz his horse back and forth on the grass. It was the boy’s first pilgrimage of this size, and he was impressed with the crowd willing to join his father.

“It’s just important to me and my family to be here, especially because that’s the way it is in Mexico,” said Abella Calzada of Appleton, Wisconsin. “It’s really important for us to come and just 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 take part in the sacred journey year after year.

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

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

Horsemen and their families from across the Midwest take part in the pilgrimage. There are young children and women who ride their horses too.

Although Maria Vargas has been participating in long-term pilgrimages in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Patroness of America, for several years, in 2016 she and her brother organized a caravan with their articulated trucks, which she offered 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.

On the pilgrimage on December 4th, more than 50 truck drivers and their families also joined the faithful visiting the Guadalupana a week before the annual festival at the shrine, which resumes this year after the hiatus last year.

The drivers decorated their trucks with pictures of the Virgen De Guadalupe, lights and tinsel.

The drivers’ wives and children also joined the ride. While the mariachi were playing at their meeting point in a parking lot near Pilsen, the families ate tamales.

“It is a gathering of love and community,” said Vargas. “It is an expression of love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also for the people for whom you are praying.”

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

The last few years have not been easy, said Vargas. One of their drivers died of COVID-19 and they want to honor him with the caravan.

“Pilgrimages renew the faith,” added Vargas. “When people are ready to walk miles, brave the cold and sacrifice so much, you can see the power of faith.”

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