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A frigid journey to suburban Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine

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Updated: January 14, 2014 12:34PM



Eduardo Rojas wasn’t stressing over the frigid weather he’d face in making his three-hour walk from Wheeling to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines Wednesday night.

For many years, he said, he has joined the now more than 100,000 Catholic faithful who annually mark the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe by descending on the shrine. It is an overnight celebration in which many make pilgrimages by foot from parishes throughout the metropolitan area.

This year was no different, said Rojas, a member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wheeling, where other members also participated.

“This is special for me, for everybody who is Latin,” he said as he prepared for the celebration Wednesday. “It’s tradition.”

This year marks the 482nd anniversary of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is a day when Catholics across celebrate the Virgin Mary’s multiple appearances, in what is now Mexico City, to Juan Diego Cuahtlatoatzin, an Aztec native who converted to Catholicism, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The annual festivities at the Des Plaines shrine kick off with a 4 p.m. mass. Masses are scheduled every few hours in the shrine’s outdoor grotto and in the gymnasium with a closing mass scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday.

A warming tent was on hand to help keep the flock warm.

The festivities feature the lighting of Guadalupe Torch followed by pilgrims lighting their own torches and embarking on a torch run back to their home parishes.

Upon arriving at their parishes, runners place their torches near statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and sing mañanitas” — a serenade that honors Mary, the Mother of God, during. Mañanitas also are sung at the Des Plaines shrine.

Hispanic Catholics celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe as the mother of the one true God, and the torches are a symbol of Christ’s light in this world, according to the archdiocese. Every year, thousands gather in her presence and seek her intercession and protection, the archdiocese noted.

Ten parishes from the Chicago metropolitan area participated in the torch run from Des Plaines this year, and about 140 parishes in the area participate in Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, according to Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of the shrine.

“The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is very strong, ” Mercado said of what drives people to participate. “It’s the sense of identity and inclusiveness they feel.”

“It used to be pretty much the Mexican community,” Mercado said. “Now it’s pretty spread out throughout the Hispanic community, and more and more its getting to other cultures, like the Polish community the Filipino community.”

The torch run began at the shrine in 2004 following a request by Rev. Matt Foley, then pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, according to the archdiocese. Foley asked to light a torch at the shrine to be carried back by runners, in the form of a relay, to his parish almost 26 miles away. Eighty-five people from St. Agnes participated in that first run. The event grew from there.

Foley, now pastor of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, had previously worked for the archdiocese at a village in Mexico. There he organized a torch run with young people from Mexico City back to the village that took approximately two days, he said.

The torch run pilgrimage here has grown here “because it speaks to the people,” Foley said. “People like a pilgrimage. They like something physical and spiritual at the same time. I think there are some real beneficial blessings that come from doing something physical, sacrificial . . . to correlate that with spiritual development.”

Email: fknowles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @KnowlesFran



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