Friday, December 12, 2008

Celebrating the Day of La Virgen of Guadalupe.

Thousands of pilgrims pour into the enormous Basilica of Mexico City on 12 December to pay their respects to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Mexico's patron saint is behind the conversion of tens of thousands to the Roman Catholic faith.

The Virgin first appeared in 1531 to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican Christian convert. He was walking in the hills through sacred Aztec ground when she appeared to him and instructed him to fill his gown with rose petals, to report the event to the Bishop of the Diocese and have him build a shrine on the spot. As he spoke the roses fell from his clothing to reveal an image of the Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on his cloak. Ever since, apparitions have been witnessed all over the Americas.

Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe is patron of the Americans and the most celebrated saint on the Pacific Rim - her shrine is the most visited pilgrimage site in the western hemisphere and her icon appears on T-shirts and the bonnets of cars, even magnetically attached to household fridges. Pope John Paul II visited twice and in 1999 declared the saint's day a liturgical Holy Day for the whole continent. Her feast day draws devotees from as far south as Chile and the northern reaches of the United States of America to pay their respects.

The Basilica is located on the spot where the vision took place, now a northern Mexico City neighbourhood called Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo (or simply "la Villa"). Some devotees still approach the last few hundred metres on their knees. If this is not for you, there is a metro stop there (La Villa Basilica) and several buses stop nearby too. Visitors to the shrine will be able to appreciate the cloak in question, set behind a 30-ton railing. Visit her shrine and you will not be alone, but you may be blessed!

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