DES PLAINES, Ill. (WLS) -- The annual celebration at Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines will return this year after it was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Aimee De Leon and her aunts were grateful as they visited the shrine Wednesday.
"We do need this," said Gemma Lopez, one of De Leon's aunts. "We do need this to come together as a family, to pray and renew our hope, strength and spirit."
SEE ALSO | Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, holy pilgrimage canceled in Des Plaines due to COVID-19 surge
De Leon now lives in Los Angeles, but she is back in Chicago visiting her aunts and dozens of relatives for the first time since the pandemic started. De Leon and two of her aunts stopped by the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe Wednesday afternoon to pray and reflect.
"Last year, we missed all of that. So it's nice with vaccinations and everybody being careful," said De Leon, who spent Thanksgiving with her Chicago relatives. "It's a time to come together."
In 2020, church leaders moved the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to prevent crowds from gathering. And Cardinal Blase Cupich released a message asking pilgrims to avoid the annual tradition because of the COVID-19 virus.
SEE ALSO | Des Plaines Our Lady of Guadalupe image removed from shrine over crowd concerns amid COVID-19 pandemic
This year, the Shrine's rector - Very Rev. Esequiel Sanchez - expects thousand to pay homage to the Virgin Mary, who appeared to Saint Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531.
"This celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a communal expression of the power of hope that helps us overcome the adversities of our life, including those advertisers that are yet to come," said Very Rev. Sanchez, recognizing the continuing pandemic, hardship and loss among the Latino community.
He said the celebration is a point of hope. "Everyone is getting ready for your visit," he said, addressing the tens of thousands expected to make the pilgrimage this year.
The 2021 Celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe will being Saturday, December 11th. Solemn opening mass begins at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 8:30. Throughout the two-day event, pilgrims can pray the rosary and attend various masses.
The celebration continues Sunday with masses or prayers scheduled nearly every hour. The closing mass starts at 6 p.m.
Whether you're driving, walking, or biking, Very Rev. Sanchez has asked people to come in groups. They are asking everyone to wear a mask. No alcohol, weapons or pets are allowed, and police want you to be prepared as well.
"In years past, it has been snowy or cold, so please dress for the weather," said Commander Matt Bowler of the Des Plaines Police Department.
Remote parking lots and shuttles are free, but on Saturday only, you will have to pay $10 to park at the Shrine, Sanchez said.
Other events are planned before the big weekend celebration. On Friday, December 3rd, the Shrine starts a Novena - or 9 days of prayer.
On Saturday, December 4th, the Shrine's new entrance will be dedicated. The Very Rev. Sanchez sees it as a sign of hope.
"People say, 'Father, it just feels like home here,'" he said. "If they can tell me that, we're doing our job."
For pilgrims like De Leon's aunt, it's a chance to renew one's faith, especially in the midst of a pandemic. The Shrine, Gemma Lopez said, is a gathering point for those moved by Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"Now to have one place where everyone can come together," she said, "it's just tremendous to have that feeling, that hope, that renewal of the faith, the tranquility she brings to us."