For Cendy Vazquez traveling to Des Plaines for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is personal.
"She did a lot of things for us," said the 16-year-old who came from Waukegan with her parents and grandmother and 9-year-old sister, Evelyn, who rode on her father's shoulders.
"My sister was unable to walk, but she had an operation and now she can walk a little," said Vazquez. "And I was in the hospital with a tumor."
The religious celebration at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Maryville campus near Central and River roads could attract as many as 200,000 people this year, say archdiocesan officials. It started Friday evening and will continue until a closing Mass at 8 p.m. Saturday. Cardinal Francis George celebrates Mass at noon Saturday.
Perhaps it's appropriate that 16-year-old Celia Calderon and her family and friends from Boxwood Drive in Mount Prospect have to wear winter jackets under their traditional light white blouses. It was winter when Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego and made decidedly unseasonal flowers bloom outside Mexico City in 1531.
To commemorate the event, pilgrims present bouquets of roses, light candles and bring their own pictures of the miracle to be blessed at a large outdoor shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Groups from parishes in Chicago light torches at the shrine, then volunteers relay them back for Masses at their home churches in Albany Park, Humboldt Park and Pilsen.
Celebrants can warm up in places like a large tent where food and religious items are sold, a gymnasium where music and Mass are celebrated, and a small chapel.
Temperatures were in the teens Friday night, but it was not as bad as last year, said Sandra Alvarez of Chicago. She explained that pilgrims come to pray for favors and also make commitments to Mary.
"It has to be done with heart. It's very serious now," said her friend Rodolfo Quintana. "With trust in God everything is possible."
Daifeny Martinez of Chicago and her husband brought their well-bundled 3-year-old son, Ruben.
"We want to thank her for everything for the blessings that we have and ask for a better world and peace and love in our hearts," said Martinez.
Jesus Bahena, a 16-year-old student at Elgin High School, said coming with his parents and siblings is a tradition, and his friends will arrive Saturday.
"Our parents tell us about the Virgin Mary. She appeared to us to do a miracle for us. For Mexican people and all Americans."
Des Plaines and Mount Prospect police concentrate on keeping pedestrians safe and traffic moving on the streets surrounding the campus. There's usually a backup of a mile or two between 10 or 11 p.m. and 4 or 5 a.m., said Cmdr. Tim Veit of Des Plaines.