Thousands Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines

Thousands of people made the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in suburban Des Plaines to celebrate feast day on Tuesday night.

"We come here every year to celebrate," said Daniel Navarret, who visits the shrine with his family.

The Des Plaines celebration is the largest in the world outside Mexico City, as it is the only place other than the Basilica where pilgrims can "fulfill their pledges or promise to Our Lady of Guadalupe," according to the church.

Masses held every two hours were scheduled to last through Wednesday night, each one packed with hundreds of people.

The two-day event is a major religious holiday for Latino Catholics, celebrating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to peasant Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531.

This year, leaders are putting an emphasis on safety, with police estimating more than 220,000 people were expected to travel to Des Plaines to visit the shrine.

"For the last couple months we have been talking about security with local police and also federal government," said Father Esequiel Sanchez.

Though there was no specific threat toward the Guadalupe festivities this year, Sanchez recalled deadly shootings at places of worship - 11 people killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October and more than two dozen at a Baptist church in Texas last year - that have led to increased security. 

"We don't have any threat, but we have collaborated together different municipalities here to help," he said. "Federal government as well. A lot of security. You won’t necessarily identify it right away, but it’s here."

Traffic is always an issue, though many making the journey come on foot as well. Roads around the property that houses the 12-foot statue were closed and even the food was being vetted Tuesday night.

"It is far more, higher security for us," Sanchez said. "We are in constant communication. Walkie talkies with our own security at shrine as well as outside. People should feel very safe."

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