On a cloudy Thursday morning, more than a hundred people gathered near the northwest corner of Humboldt Park to welcome the statue of the Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos to Chicago. The icon is a traveling version of the original statue in Jalisco, whose shrine is the second most visited religious pilgrimage site in Mexico. This is the second year in a row it has visited San José Luis Sánchez del Río Parish, which was created by the merger of three Humboldt Park parishes in 2018. The Sept. 12 prayer service was an opportunity to welcome the icon in the way that all immigrants should be welcomed, said Belen Morales, a member of the Pastoral Migratoria immigrant-to-immigrant ministry at the parish. “She’s coming from Mexico, from San Juan de los Lagos, and you see how beautifully we welcome her,” said Morales, as participants prepared to follow the statue in a procession down North Avenue to Maternity BVM Church, 3647 W. North Ave., one of the parish’s three worship sites. “This is an example of how we should welcome the immigrant. This is how we would all like to be welcomed.” The event included a prayer service with Marian hymns and readings from Exodus and the Gospel of Luke. Participants carried blue and white balloons and signs with quotations from Scripture, papal encyclicals and other Catholic teachings in Spanish and English on the innate dignity of every human person. Father Gary Graf, pastor of San José Luis Sánchez del Río Parish, said he wanted the visit to “acknowledge the immigrant community as a blessing to this country, as well as recognize and rejoice in the diversity of cultures.” The icon represents Mary, the mother of the whole world, Graf said. “It is she who breaks down the barriers between us,” he said. “We are a universal church. There are no borders in our church.” His parishioners have lived that lesson over the past two years, as Maternity BVM, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Philomena parishes came together to form one parish community, Graf said. Priests spoke of an “ugly atmosphere” that has been created toward immigrants, especially the inhumane conditions in which children are being kept in detention centers, children separated from their families and chronically ill children in danger of being deported. All Christians are called to witness to their faith by showing love for their neighbors, said Franciscan Father Ed Shea. “We are a family of faith,” Shea said. “We belong to each other. And the church has always taught that.” Morales said Catholics must look to Mary for an example. “If we ever wonder how to treat our neighbor, we just think of our mother Mary,” she said. “She will tell us how to do it.” Maria Vargas came to pray with and for her mother, Angelina, who no longer speaks after suffering a stroke and who uses a wheelchair. “She has congestive heart failure,” Maria Vargas explained, “and we want to do everything we can for her.” But Vargas said that it’s also important for the wider community to see and acknowledge the contributions of immigrants and their children. Her parents immigrated to the United States, Maria Vargas said, and now she owns a business with her brother, another sister is also an entrepreneur, and one more sister is a manager in a commercial printing business that makes American flag lapel pins. “It’s important for us to stand for our community,” she said. When the pilgrims left the park to set off for the church, an expected police escort did not appear, but that did not stop them from processing along the sidewalk, groups of men and women taking turns carrying the statue on their shoulders, singing and chanting. The statue was carried in a similar procession to St. Francis of Assisi Church, 932 N. Kostner Ave., on Sept. 13, and to St. Philomena Church, 1921 N. Kedvale Ave., on Sept. 14. The statue of the virgin was also scheduled to visit several other parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago and surrounding area.