Each year, one of the largest gatherings of Catholics in the United States happens right here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. It’s the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines Dec. 11-12 for the feast day. No matter the weather, over 200,000 people make a pilgrimage to the shrine seeking Mary’s intercession or thanking her for answered prayers. They start coming early on Dec. 11 and grow into large crowds in the late evening hours bringing flowers — mostly roses since that’s what Mary gifted to Juan Diego during that fateful apparition in Mexico in 1531. Many come as families. Pilgrims bring so many flowers that they cover the outdoor grotto at the shrine. It’s a sight to see as volunteers stack the flowers and the amount increases hour by hour as pilgrims pass by on their way to or from Mass. Masses are held every two hours starting at 5 p.m. on the 11th and ending with 7 p.m. Mass on the 12th. Midnight Mass is held outdoors in front of the shrine. Pilgrims also bring votive candles, which volunteers at the shrine light and place in the grotto. Prayers of petition and thanksgiving too numerous to count are said at the shrine each year. It’s a pilgrimage largely attended by people of Mexican descent, since the apparition occurred in Mexico. In recent years more non-Mexicans are attending. Most people come on foot. Given the crowds, the shrine is closed to parking. At least two dozen parishes bring buses of pilgrims to the shrine. Many of those pilgrims walk — yes, walk — back from the shrine to their parishes arriving in time for 5 a.m. songs to Mary called “Las Mañanitas.” Catholics in most every ethnic group across the globe have a devotion to Mary. For Filipinos it’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help. For Cubans it’s Our Lady of Charity. For Poles it’s Our Lady of Czetechowa. On a smaller scale than what takes place in Des Plaines, more than 10,000 Catholics of Polish descent walk 32 miles each year from St. Michael, 8235 South Shore Drive, to the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Merrillville, Indiana. It’s a local version of walking pilgrimages that take place all over Poland around the first Sunday of August to the shrine in Czestechowa. People walk for the same reasons as those who make the trek to Des Plaines — to pray for family members, for healing, for jobs, in thanksgiving for answered prayers. All of these are a sight to behold and never fail to touch the heart. In this world filled with discord and pain, there is still faith and love. Our Lord gave us a great gift in Mary. We don’t worship her. Rather we honor her special place in God’s plan for the world and seek her intercession, much like we would with our earthly families, in taking our petitions to our Father and much-beloved Brother, seeking their ascent. If you haven’t yet, go out to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines and witness the devotion. As Father Esequiel Sanchez, the shrine’s rector, often says, the shrine is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. It’s outdoors, after all. All are welcome. Don’t forget to bring flowers for Mary.