By David Agren
MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Mexican church and civic officials have canceled public feast celebrations for Mexico’s patroness at her shrine in Mexico City due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration normally attracts 10 million pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the world’s most-visited Marian shrine.
At a joint news conference Nov. 24, Mexico City Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes and Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum urged pilgrims to stay away from the basilica and to avoid congregating in the area. Pilgrims normally descend on the area — often arriving on foot from cities and towns surrounding the Mexican capital — and gather at midnight prior to the Dec. 12 feast day to serenade Mary.
Church officials instead urged devotees to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe at their local parishes or at home via broadcasts from the basilica online and on public television.
“We already know that the Virgin moves and moves to where her sons and daughters are, especially those who are grieving,” Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference, said at the news conference.
“We want to collaborate with our local authorities … to implement, for the good of all of Mexico, these measures that are necessary and do not in any way try to eliminate the fervor, devotion and faith of those who celebrate Holy Mary of Guadalupe.”
The announcement to close the basilica from Dec. 10 to 13 reversed previous plans to allow limited access to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, while implementing health measures and canceling liturgical celebrations.
“It’s understandable that, like every year, millions of people wish to attend (the basilica celebrations) in search of comfort in the face of desperation and abandonment being experienced due to the pandemic and other difficulties,” church and civic officials said in a joint statement Nov. 23.
“It is important to emphasize that the health conditions the country is experiencing as a result of COVID-19 do not allow us on this occasion to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe together at her shrine.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains strong in Mexico City, and civic officials have spoken of possibly returning to widespread closures of nonessential businesses. Cardinal Aguiar said Catholic parishes have avoided being sources of contagion as preventive measures have been taken and attendance is limited to 30% capacity.
It remains uncertain if the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe has previously canceled public celebrations, though journalistic reports showed the site closing its doors between 1926 and 1929 due to the Cristero Rebellion, when the church was persecuted, according to The Associated Press.
Earlier in 2020, an annual passion play that draws more than a million spectators to the Iztapalapa borough was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attempts at celebrating the St. Jude Thaddeus feast day Oct. 28 were fraught with difficulties as devotees showed up early and waited in long lines, despite admonishments to stay away.