Guadalupe shrine cancels in-person feast celebrations due to COVID-19

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Pilgrims make their way past the image of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on the eve of her feast day Dec. 11, 2019. The celebration, which draws more than 100,000 pilgrims to the shrine over 24 hours, has been canceled this year because of the pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The more than 100,000 pilgrims who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines each year between Dec. 11 and 12 will have to celebrate the feast day privately this year because the pandemic has forced the shrine to cancel celebrations.

Mexican church and civic officials have also canceled public feast celebrations for Mexico’s patroness at her shrine in Mexico City due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration normally attracts 10 million pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The Des Plaines site is the only sister-shrine to the main basilica.

Local shrine staff began considering in September whether the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations could take place safely in light of COVID-19 restrictions, said Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the shrine. While many of the celebrations take place outdoors in the shrine’s plaza, when the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 began to spike this fall, they knew they would have to cancel.

The annual feast day celebration at the shrine draws pilgrims from all over the Midwest and features indoor and outdoor Masses held regularly over the 24-hour period, visits to the outdoor image of Our Lady of Guadalupe where people leave flowers and candles, performances by ethnic musical groups, torch runs from parishes, traditional Mexican food and more.

Since a lot of preparations go into the event, a decision to cancel couldn’t be made at the last minute, Sanchez said.

“After a while, we just realized this thing is really getting out of hand,” Sanchez said. “Talking to the cardinal and all the folks involved, I made the decision. I said, I can’t guarantee people’s safety. Ultimately that’s what it’s about.”

Throughout the pandemic, the shrine has enforced social distancing measures so pilgrims could continue to visit.

“We’re able to receive people. The challenge is, we just can’t handle the size of the crowd that the festivities would have brought,” Sanchez said.

The shrine will close in the afternoon of Dec. 11 and reopen Dec. 13. Local police departments will help direct pilgrims away from the shrine.

For Sanchez, the decision to cancel is difficult because many who make the pilgrimages are poor.

“It’s a door to the soul of a community, to the soul of a city, really,” he said. “The ones doing the pilgrimages are the most needy, because we have no health care. We have no options as other people have.”

Last year, Sanchez encountered a man who walked on his knees for two miles to make a pilgrimage. When he asked him why he was doing that, the man told him his 4-year-old daughter needed a liver transplant but the family was undocumented and had no health insurance.

“People when they say ‘We are looking for a miracle,’ that’s what they are looking for no matter what everyone else may say about religious faith,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to these people who have no choices.”

Sanchez tried to keep some portion of the event open if he could because COVID-19 has hit the Latino immigrant community particularly hard. Many in society as a whole are worn down from the pandemic too, he said.

“These are the people who need the pilgrimage the most and I can’t provide it. That’s what made the decision so hard because they needed a shot in the arm,” Sanchez said. “We’re all a family. We’re coming to get a look at the image, a mother. We’re coming to see a woman.”

The shrine will livestream two Masses — one on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. and one on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. — and will broadcast rosaries during the times when they would have had Masses throughout the 24-hour period. At 5 a.m. on Dec. 12, they will live-stream the traditional las mañanitas (or serenade) to Our Lady.

The shrine is asking people to attend services at their local parishes this year if they can. Those celebrations will also be different this year because of the pandemic.

“Basically, everything is virtual,” said Father Donald Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave.

The parish will start with a novena of Masses to Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 3 at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Those Masses will be livestreamed on Facebook.

The daily rosary gatherings will change too.

“The parish neighborhood is divided up into 10 sectors, and in the past at least one house in each sector would host a rosary every night and they would invite their neighbors to come in,” he said. “Obviously they can’t do that in the homes this year, so we’re doing that virtually also.”

To accommodate the many people who bring flowers to the Blessed Mother during the whole 11 days, the parish will set up an altar in front of an outdoor statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe where they can leave their offerings.

“It will be a way for people to leave their flowers because they can’t really come into church. We can’t allow people to just walk through church all day,” Nevins said.

The parish will add another altar outside closer to the feast day. Parishioners can also make donations to go toward the purchase of flowers to decorate the inside of the church for the feast day.

On Dec. 12, the parish will celebrate five in-person Masses with regular pandemic protocols observed. Those Masses will also be livestreamed.

“When the news came out about the shrine canceling the celebration I thought, ‘OK, we’re not wrong doing all the Masses virtually up until the 12th.’ It seems everyone is thinking along the same lines,” Nevins said.

For information about the virtual celebrations at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, visit


  • shrine of our lady of guadalupe
  • covid-19

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