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Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration near Chicago, largest in US, canceled due to COVID-19

More than 200,000 devotees normally attend the celebration, some walking barefoot and carrying statues of the Virgin.

(RNS) — A Chicago suburb’s usual celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thought to be the largest in the U.S., has been canceled as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Midwest.

The Very Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, said the celebration, scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12, will be livestreamed instead. 

More than 200,000 devotees normally attend the celebration, according to the Chicago Tribune. Only Mexico City’s observance of the feast is thought to be larger.

The shrine grounds will be closed to protect “the health and safety of the thousands of pilgrims who yearly visit,” said Sanchez in a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Chicago on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

“While we cannot observe this feast as we have in the past, it is still a time of prayer, petition and hope,” Sanchez said.

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The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, officially Dec. 12, marks the appearance of Mary in 1531 to Juan Diego, an indigenous man who was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. The brown-skinned Virgin, patron saint of Mexico, is typically honored with Masses and other festivities by Mexicans around the world.

People of Mexican heritage make up the largest group of Latinos in the city of Chicago, whose numbers are estimated at about 800,000 people. Thousands brave cold temperatures to make pilgrimages to the shrine in Des Plaines, some walking barefoot and carrying heavy statues of the Virgin Mary during the procession.

This year, parishioners are urged to celebrate the feast day from their homes or in their neighborhood churches.

The customary Guadalupe Torch Runs, in which runners bear lighted torches from the shrine to other parishes in nearby suburbs, have also been canceled. Some parts of the celebration may be held later, if the pandemic subsides.