At Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage, Pope's possible Mexico visit ranks second

Vatican sources say that the Pope may soon announce plans to visit Mexico next year. But at Mexico's annual celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, reaction was muted.

Marco Ugarte/AP
Pilgrims carry an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe toward the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Sunday Dec. 11. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are making the pilgrimage to the shrine in anticipation of the Catholic icon's feast day on Dec. 12.

Pope Benedict XVI’s tentative plan to visit Mexico in 2012 is meeting with lukewarm reception here on a day when millions of Mexicans celebrate their beloved Virgin of Guadalupe with pilgrimage and prayer.

Vatican sources have said the Pope may confirm a trip to Mexico on Dec. 12, coinciding with the day of the Our Lady of Guadalupe and a mass at the Vatican commemorating the bicentennial of Latin American nations' independence. Mexico celebrated its independence bicentennial in September 2010.

The Vatican confirmed Friday the Pope will visit Cuba in the spring, after mounting anticipation that he would visit a Spanish-speaking country in the New Year. Mexico and Colombia have also extended invitations to the Pope. Benedict XVI has visited Latin America once as pope, when he made a stop in two cities in Brazil in 2007.

But today in Mexico City, the possibility of seeing Pope Benedict on his visit to Mexico ranks as a distant second to what many Mexicans believe to be the country's most important pilgrimage.

At the Basilica of Saint Mary of Guadalupe in the far north of this sprawling city, two months of pilgrimages come to a head today. Dec. 12 marks the day in 1531 when the indigenous Juan Diego saw the Virgin in a night-blue cloak studded with stars.

Every year during this season, some 8 million people make their way to the Basilica, according to the Archdiocese of Mexico.

Some arrive with a dozen family members in caravans that have traveled hundreds of miles. Some come walking with heavy icons of the Virgin of Guadalupe strapped to their backs. Others come crawling, knees bleeding across the expanse of stone leading to the sanctuary.

Miguel Angel Neri came walking to the Basilica four days from Metepec, Hidalgo, with about 15 of his extended family members. “When I arrive it feels really good,” he said, adding that he comes to pray “that all his family members are okay.”

He said he may go see the Pope, “if the possibility arises - maybe.”

But which was more important, the pilgrimage to the Virgin or seeing the Pope?

“Truthfully? Coming to the Basilica,” he said. “She is the Virgin of all Mexicans, and we are from this nation.”

Images of the Virgin and the late Pope Juan Pablo II hung from a stand selling religious trinkets on the long avenue leading to the Basilica. There were no images of Benedict to be found.

“People really love John Paul II,” said Joel Gilberto Valencia Diego, the vendor. “We sell a lot of things of him.”

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