DES PLAINES, Ill. (WLS) -- Thousands of the faithful are again returning the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines Thursday.
During the annual pilgrimage, thousands brave the cold and pray for hours, many making the pilgrimage on foot for hours
"We walked seven hours to get here," said Isabelle Soto. "We came from Chicago"
They will light candles and leave flowers and some come to pray to the Virgin Mary to give thanks for their blessings.
"Just to keep my family healthy," said shrine visitor Jennifer Perez. "We did go through some health issues but you know everything was great and we are hoping it stays that way."
Others come to just be in her presence.
"It's special because you know you are not alone she is there watching over you and being there for you when you most need it," said shrine visitor Melissa Montoya.
Barbara Mazur travels to Mexico often, and has seen this celebration there and wanted to be here today to pray.
"I have a very good memory from Mexico," said shrine visitor Barbara Mazur. "I see how people deeply celebrate this day for blessed Mary."
This celebration is the largest outside of Mexico, It honors the Virgin Mary, Catholics believe on December 12, 1531, she appeared in Mexico City.
Church leaders expect over 300,000 visitors to make the pilgrimage to the shrine. Masses got underway at. Wednesday evening and continue until 7 p.m. Thursday. All Masses outside of the midnight Mass are taking place in the St. Joseph Chapel.
"All of the expressions of faith that you see is what's happening in the soul, so it's an incredibly beautiful, beautiful celebration" said Father Esequiel Sanchez, priest of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Father Sanchez believes the Virgin Mary saved him and 100 others when their plane crashed after takeoff in Durango, Mexico, last August.
"I always tell people God said to bring him up and the Blessed Mother said 'Wait, he works for me,'" Father Esequiel Sanchez said. "I thank God every day because I believe in miracles. I lived through one."
The Shrine at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines is the largest outside of the church and basilica in Mexico City