By Jaime Septien
MEXICO CITY, DEC. 14, 2009 (Zenit.org).- More than 6.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe on Friday and Saturday to mark the 478th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, according to the official figures made public Saturday night.
The figure breaks the historic attendance record set in 2008 when just over 6 million pilgrims visited the shrine last year on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, considered the most important day in the religious calendar for Mexicans.
A recent surveyed showed that one out of every four Mexicans say they have received a favor or miracle through the intercession of the Virgin, who is patron of the Americas.
Pilgrimages from all corners of Mexico, some from Central America and others from the United States, joined the celebration that included native dances, pre-Hispanic rituals and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims approaching the basilica on their knees.
The shrine houses the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that appeared miraculously on the cloak of Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Juan Diego on July 31, 2002.
Early Saturday morning more than a million people gathered in the basilica and courtyard of the shrine to sing the "Mananitas," the traditional Mexican song sung for birthdays or name days. The song was repeated in virtually all the churches of the country, as Dec. 12 is a holy day of obligation in Mexico.
Before leading the faithful in the traditional song, Msgr. Diego Monroy Ponce, rector of the basilica, asked the Catholic faithful to pray for the country, which "is being destroyed little by little [...] when violence, corruption, justice, impunity, drug trafficking strike us, hurt us and disintegrate us."
"May our poor not be satisfied to live from alms, but rather may they live from what belongs to them as the fruit of their effort and work," he said. "May we all understand, but more so our authorities, that only through fraternity and solidarity can we build a world of greater harmony, justice, equity and peace."
After singing the "Mananitas," the rector urged: "Let us be dedicated to others, let us give ourselves to them, let us build for Our Lady a Mexico of values, where life is loved and respected, where the family, as vital cell of society, has the privileged place that corresponds to it given the many realities that try to overshadow and weaken it."
Addressing Our Lady of Guadalupe, Msgr. Ponce said: "You [...] know very well the difficulties that afflict us; keep us in hope. You know well the social and religious situation we are going through; may no one be lacking access to health, work, knowledge, development, rest and the inestimable gift of peace for political, social, cultural or economic reasons."
Mexicans living in the United States gathered in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and to receive the Guadalupe Torch that left Tepeyac in October.
The celebration, which has taken place at the cathedral since 2002, gathers the Hispanic community in the United States. Each year, a torch travels north to the United States until it arrives in the heart of Manhattan, having been carried by 25,000 porters.
The objective of the Guadalupe Torch is to call attention to the need for an integral reform of the U.S. immigration system, as well as for the reinforcement of the bonds of friendship between Mexico and the United States.
Joel Magallan, executive director of the Tepeyac Association, which organizes the Guadalupe Torch, said that it is necessary "that the tradition be passed on to the young people born in the United States." In 2009, 40% of the porters were young Hispanics born in the United States.
This year's Guadalupe celebration at St. Patrick's was the first for Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. He concelebrated the Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Josu Iriondo, vicar for Hispanic Affairs for the Archdiocese of New York.