One cold December day, Maribel Soto decided to stop her walk and knelt down. She prayed, crossed herself and continued to advance for 200 painful meters only supported on her knees. Each step was more difficult than the last. The hard concrete was hitting her bones and joints, but she kept strong to get their aim. In order not to fall, she sometimes leaned her arms on her sons, who accompanied and encouraged her. After a few minutes she got it. The pitiful walk was over. She had managed to reach the gates of the Basilica of Guadalupe.
The Basilica of Guadalupe is the most important religious temple of Mexico. It was built between 1974 and 1976, its main building measures 7,800 m2 (sq. m.) and its square is a little bit smaller than St Peter’s Square located at the Vatican City. Its bell tower has 48 bells and is 23 meters high.
Every year, during the festivities in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Basilica receives about 9.8 million of faithful devotees. Although its day is December 12th, since the beginning of that month millions of pilgrims from different cities and villages around the country visit and celebrate her.
For centuries, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been the most revered catholic representation in Mexico. The myth of its creation dates back to December 1935 — 10 years after spanish conquest — when supposedly the virgin appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego on the Tepeyac’s Hill at the north of Mexico City. The virgin told him that she wanted her temple to be built over there. As a proof of her appearance, the virgin stamped her image on Juan Diego’s ayate, a kind of blanket that was used to collect crops.
The temple was built where the virgin indicated at the beginning of the 18th century. Later, during the 20th century, the new Basilica was built and now the Juan Diego’s ayate is exhibited there.
Nowadays, every December 12th the country paralyzes and celebrates in honor of the virgin. On that day, it is common to hear mariachis sing ‘Las Mañanitas’ — a kind of ‘Happy Birthday’ song — from the time the clock strikes 12 am. In several houses people offer dinners in her honor. Many streets throughout Mexico City are closed to offer masses and food to devotees. In hundreds of subway stations and bus stops, big celebrations are made in honor of ‘The Patroness of America’ as also is named.
In the hundreds of subway stations and truck stops there are big parties to celebrate the so-called Queen of Mexico, Empress of America, name given by Popes Pius X and Pius XII, for his great devotion throughout Latin America and even in the United States.
But this year was different. The Covid-19 pandemic that plague the world forced the city authorities to suspend the festivities and close the Basilica of Guadalupe for several days and thus avoid crowds of people in order to avoid contagion among the citizens.
Maribel Soto is a woman from Mexico City in their 50s. What she did — walk on her knees through the Basilica’s square to the gates of the temple — is common among the devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Most of them do it to show repentance, humility and to pay some manda: to fulfill a promise to the virgin for a miracle: from curing a sick relative to solving a complicated financial situation. In Maribel’s case, it was to help her free her son from jail for a crime he did not commit.
“For me, going on my knees means paying in a way for the pain that the virgin felt when she gave her son. I come because I’m grateful to her. The virgin has always helped me with many troubles and I have an infinite faith in her. My son was unjustly arrested, and I implored her to return him to me and, thanks God, justice has been done,” says Maribel.
This year, the devotees anticipated the suspension of celebrations in the Basilica, so they attended days before in an orderly manner, respecting the sanitary filters that were placed, to be able to be close to the most beloved religious figure in Mexico for a few minutes.
Maribel has been going since she was a child and this year was no exception. “My parents teach me to come to mass, to always thank the virgin and God and thank for a new day, for breathing, for hearing, for feeling, for smelling, for everything.”
After crossing the Basilica’s square on her knees, Maribel spent a few minutes praying and thanking the virgin for the jail release of her son. Then, she went to a small chapel next to the Basilica to be blessed with holy water. Later she entered the Basilica to pray in front of the ayate of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
As the ayate is the most important point of the temple, for some years, the authorities have placed pedestrian bands, like those located in airports, so that people can pray without crowding under the image.
The devotion that Mexicans have to the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most important religious venerations in the world. Even the temple has been visited by different Popes on several occasions. In addition, Juan Diego was made saint by the Catholic Church in 2002.
“For me the virgin means everything in my life, she is a part of me and she is the person who has always been by my side in difficult times and always accompanies me, and I know that she never leaves me,” says Maribel before gone.
Perhaps there is nothing more loved by Mexicans than the Virgin of Guadalupe