MEXICO CITY ( Associated Press) – Celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, celebrated every December 12 at what is considered the largest Catholic pilgrimage site in Mexico and Latin America, returned to the Mexican capital on Monday without restrictions for the first time since the start of the pandemic. of COVID-19.
In the past two years, the pilgrimage, which took several days in December, was canceled or restricted because the large number of pilgrims represented a high risk of contagion from the coronavirus.
On Monday, however, Claudia Sheinbaum, the capital’s head of government, announced that more than 11 million pilgrims have passed through the basilica since December 8, almost half of them since Sunday.
“Very difficult situations have passed and what we live from COVID is to give thanks to her,” said Ade Carbajal, who, accompanied by her two children, visited the basilica for the first time on the day of the feast to thank the Virgin. did. Didn’t lose anyone in your family during the pandemic.
During the most difficult days in late 2020, Mexico City’s basilica, where the most revered image of the Virgin known as “Guadalupana” or “La Morenita” is preserved, was completely closed for four days. Not seen in decades.
It was open in 2021, but pilgrims coming not only from different parts of the country but also from abroad were customarily not allowed to sleep on the plinth around the temple.
The rector of the basilica, Salvador Martinez, in a statement celebrated the recovery of “normality” and invited the public to visit the sanctuary, but “to avoid large crowds.”
But this was not possible. They disappeared into a sea of well-intentioned believers and on Monday morning the basilica’s outer courtyard resumed its traditional image, filled with a sea of tents.
Many worshipers did not want to miss one of the most emotional moments of the celebration, the Midnight Mass in which, in the first minute of December 12, the traditional Mexican birthday song “Las Mañanitas” is sung in Guadalupe.
Pope Francis, as is traditional on this date, sent a message to the faithful and, on the occasion, expressed his solidarity with migrants who cross the Americas in search of freedom and a better life, usually in the United States .
According to what he said at Monday’s mass, the Virgin of Guadalupe “came to accompany the American people on this difficult path of poverty, exploitation, socio-economic and cultural colonialism” and “is in the middle of the caravan that leads to freedom.” Seeking welfare they walk towards the north.”
Every year hundreds of thousands of people come to the basilica by foot, bicycle or bus, many carrying huge images or statues of the Virgin and sometimes walking the last meters on their knees or offering some other form of sacrifice they offer to Guadalupeña. . Asking for a favor or giving thanks.
“We always ask them to give us some health, so that we don’t lack work,” said Nazario Bonilla, 23, one of the pilgrims who accompanied a group of motorcyclists for the eighth pilgrimage. from the state of Morelos, south of the capital.
Since the 16th century, Cerro del Tepayac – where Catholics believe the Virgin appeared and the site where the current church was built – has been a point of pilgrimage for millions as Guadalupeña is the patron saint not only of Mexico but of all Latin America.
The temple houses an image which, according to believers, was miraculously imprinted on the cloak of the indigenous farmer Juan Diego in 1531.
By the year of the pandemic, only the closures from 1926 to 1929 were remembered, during the war in which the state actively persecuted the Catholic Church, and because of construction work on its current headquarters in the 70s.
The celebration also takes place in the cities and communities of Mexico with parties, pilgrimages and shows with rockets and fireworks.
In just such an act, a truck carrying fireworks exploded on Sunday night in a town northeast of Mexico City, injuring an unknown number of people.
There was no official count of injuries from the crash in the city of Nopaltepec, but photos released by volunteer firefighters from the nearby city of San Martín de los Pyramides showed the charred and twisted remains of the truck on a road.