DES PLAINES, Ill. (WLS) -- The faithful gathered Friday at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in northwest suburban Des Plaines.
The overnight celebration began with a Mass Friday evening. This year's pilgrimage comes just months after the removal of a prominent Latino priest who served as rector at the shrine.
Throngs of Catholics are expected to take part in the celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, who Hispanics see as the mother of the one true God.
Officials estimate between 150,000-200,000 people could make the pilgrimage to the shrine located on the Maryville Academy campus. It's a tradition for the Chavez family.
"It's very important because it's a connection that we have between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Jesus," said Maria Chavez.
The overnight celebration continues with a Mass led by Reverend Adan Sandoval, the shrine's new administrator.
"It's a spiritual moment when you walk on your knees to the altar. It's a spiritual growth," Fr. Sandoval said.
Missing is Father Marco Mercado, who was priest of the shrine until he was removed because of allegations he having a romantic relationship with an adult male.
"Whether you're gay or straight, there is a correct moral behavior that we should be able to expect of one another," said Archbishop Blase Cupich.
This year marks the 484th anniversary of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It's a day Catholics across Latin America celebrate the multiple appearances by the Virgin Mary to an Aztec who had converted to Catholicism. It happened in the area now known as Mexico City.
On Friday afternoon, the faithful leave roses on the robe of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Parishes around the Chicago area are also participating. More than 300 people from St. John Bosco church in the city's Belmont Cragin neighborhood are making the 6-hour walk to the shrine. Hundreds more will bike there.
"Because they take a great deal of pride in the fact that the Virgin visited Mexico," said Rev. Tom Provenzano, St. John Bosco Church.
After the last mass on Friday, there'll be lighting of the Guadalupe torch, where pilgrims light their own torches as a symbol of Christ's light in this world, then carry them back to their home parishes.
The celebration is something Richard Chavez hopes his little sister will one day understand and value.
"It's just a big part of our culture. I want to pass it on to the little ones," Chavez said.
Faithful gather at Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines
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