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Wooden crosses bearing the bloodied effigy of Jesus and huge framed pictures of the la Virgen de Guadalupe are quite literally walking down Mexico City’s Calzada de Guadalupe. Boys with gelled hair labor with crosses strapped to their backs and middle-aged women lumber along the tree-lined avenue with enormous pictures roped to their shoulders in an image that brings to mind filmed depictions of the crucifixion itself.
The religious icons are being bourn by Mexico’s millions of faithful, who for the last few days have been making the annual pilgrimage, many from miles away, to the city’s two Basilicas de Guadalupe.
Today is to many Mexicans one of the most important days in the religious calendar, and millions will make the trip to the city’s Tepeyac Hill, where the Virgin of Guadalupe is believed to have first appeared nearly five centuries ago. People come from all over Mexico, many of them traveling- some even walking – from states such as Morelos, Hidalgo and Queretaro.
The usual Mexican street fare mixes with the pilgrims along the avenue; homeless men nattering to themselves and Mexican families selling steaming tamales and tacos. Hundreds of ‘puestos’, the makeshift stalls that crowd Mexico City’s streets, are piled high with more religious merchandise a person could ever need; statues of the Virgin, Jesus and all manner of saints, rosary beads, mantels, shrines, icons to hang on the wall….even T-shirts bearing the Virgin’s image.
To pass through the gates leading to the Basilica of Guadalupe in the days surrounding this festival is to get an insight into the strength of many people’s religious faith in Mexico. Tents are dotted around the churches where people have been camped for days. People shelter from the sun under blankets attached to the surrounding fences as they await today’s religious ceremonies. Whole families sit on the ground in clusters, eating tamales and leaning against each other to prop themselves up.
A man with a small baby in his arms shuffles up to the church stairs, only getting to his feet when reaching the base of the Basilica. Behind him is a young girl with a bunch of flowers clutched to her bosom, walking on her knees towards the church.
And to my side, a girl in an orange T-shirt clings to the forearms of a friend standing in front of her as she struggles along painfully.
Towards the gates is a young man of no more than twenty with the legs of his jeans rolled up so as to bare his knee-caps for the concrete ground.
Around the side of the Basilica people cluster in front of a make-shift altar behind which stands a priest. They hold their pictures of the Virgin aloft as the priest carries out group blessings, scattering holy water across the crowd.
Today was the scene of masses and other religious ceremonies through with the faithful pay respects to the Virgin and reaffirm their faith. Whether you’re a believer or not, the proof of faith is awesome to behold.