The suburbs might not be the place where people would expect to find a significant religious shrine. Yet, thousands gathered over this past weekend in Des Plaines, Illinois:
That was the first sighting of at least 1,000 equestrians who rode through a Cook County Forest Preserve in Wheeling to pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Virgin Mary. Saturday marked the tenth kickoff of the tradition in which mostly Latino Catholics from across the tristate area and even the U.S. made the pilgrimage to Des Plaines to visit the Guadalupana’s shrine, the most visited monument of its kind in the United States.
Many make the annual journey to the shrine to mirror the pilgrimages done in Mexico to fulfill a promise — a manda ― or give thanks to the Virgin Mary for blessings and protection. Others do it as a sacrifice as they pray for a specific need or concern…
Equestrians and their families from all over the Midwest partake in the pilgrimage. There are young children and women who also ride their horses.
Though Maria Vargas has attended hourslong pilgrimages to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Patroness of the Americas, for several years, in 2016 she and her brother organized a caravan with their semi-trucks offering it as prayer for their family business.
The same suburb known as an early home to McDonald’s is also home to an important religious site. This latter fact highlights the potential for suburban space – often devoted to private, single-family homes – to be sacred space. I have seen and experienced both more permanent and transitory sacredness in such settings.
The history of the shrine at solg.org says it all began in the late 1980s:
In 1987, Mr. Joaquín Martínez acquired a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe during a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. When the statue arrived in Chicago, Mr. Martinez and a group of devotees called “Friends of Our Lady of Guadalupe” decided to begin a mission whereby the image began a pilgrimage to several parishes and family homes to encourage devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Chicago.
At the beginning of this mission, which coincided with the Marian Year proclaimed by Pope St. John Paul II, Fr. Robert Harne blessed the statue during a Mass that was held outdoors at Lake Opeka Park (Des Plaines) on June 14, 1987.
In June 1988, in search of a permanent place for the veneration of the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fr. John P. Smyth, President of Maryville Academy, welcomed the image and its faithful devotees. On July 4, 1988, the statue was brought to Maryville Academy with the blessing of Most Rev. Placido Rodríguez, O.C.M, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
On December 12, 1995, Fr. John Smyth, Fr. David Ryan and Fr. Rafael Orozco inaugurated the construction of an outdoor shrine modeled after the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City. The outdoor shrine, known as “El Cerrito”, became the main devotional area for the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The number of Mexican Americans in the Chicago region, both in the city and throughout the suburbs, helps make this possible. The city does not mention the shrine on its history page but there are numerous Catholic parishes and Latino residents in and around the community.