In a tradition that hails from Mexico, more than 250 people rode their horses on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on Dec. 7 to pay homage to Mary. The pilgrimage was held in advance of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. The group, mainly comprised of men, began their journey in the morning on forest preserve trails in Lincolnshire. It took four hours to arrive at the shrine. Once they arrived, riders were greeted with crowds and bands. As they passed by the outdoor shrine, many removed their hats, and all placed a rose in a basket for Mary. In Mexico City, it’s a tradition for groups or clubs to make a pilgrimage to the Guadalupe shrine there on the feast day, which commemorates Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill near modern-day Mexico City. Mary appeared to Diego for the first time at dawn Dec. 9, 1531 and said she wanted a church built in her honor on that hill. Diego went to the bishop to share this news, but was put off by the prelate. She appeared again, and Diego — who was called by name by the lady in the apparition — again approached the bishop. The bishop asked for a sign from this lady of Diego’s and Mary produced enough roses in December to fill Diego’s cloak, or tilma. When he emptied them in front of the bishop, he found that she had left her image on the tilma, which remains today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The local shrine in Des Plaines began in the mid-1980s. This is the third year for the riding pilgrimage, which is organized by Club Los Vaqueros Unidos (United Cowboys Club) in Wadsworth. Organizer Jesus Gonzalez said the pilgrimage is a way for families to spend time together and carry on traditions. Not everyone who made the pilgrimage was Catholic but “we’re all horse people,” Gonzalez said. The group makes its journey before the feast day because more than 120,000 pilgrims usually visit the shrine over Dec. 12 and 13 and accommodating the horses would be difficult. On the evening of Dec. 7, a group of tractor trailer drivers drove to the Des Plaines shrine for their own pilgrimage. Pilgrimages to holy places have a long tradition in the Catholic Church, said Father Marco Mercado, shrine director. While many Americans might not make pilgrimages anymore it’s something that is still deeply rooted in the Hispanic community, he said. “It’s a reminder that we are a walking people — walking to our final place in heaven,” Mercado said. For information about the shrine, visit fiestasguadalupanas.santuarioguadalupe.org.