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Video: The Virgin of Guadalupe brings Mexicans to their knees

December 11, 2008 |  4:50 pm

Julio Cesar, a 19-year-old metalworker, crawled on his knees for five hours to reach the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Surrounded by four of his friends, who had to physically support him in the final yards as he scaled the steps of the huge church, Cesar was fulfilling a promise.

“I asked the Virgin to look after my children,” he said, his young face burned red by the sun on this December day. His prayers were answered, he said, and this was his act of thanks to her.

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Cesar was one of an estimated 7 million Mexican Catholics who made the annual pilgrimage to the basilica in Mexico City this week. Today is expected to bring the largest numbers of people to the spot that tradition holds is where the Virgin de Guadalupe, Mexico’s most revered saint, first appeared.

Bertin Nava, a salesman, and girlfriend Mayra Sanchez, a hairdresser, both from the working-class Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City, walked hand in hand toward the church. Each of them had a small statue of the Virgin tucked under an arm.

“This is a family tradition. My father started coming when I was small and started the custom of coming every year, walking from the house to here,” said Nava.

He and Sanchez had been walking for six hours. Nearby, Ricardo Lozano walked for 2 1/2 days from Atlixco, in the central state of Puebla. He arrived Thursday. He had a thick blanket rolled and tied to his back, and walked gingerly on feet rubbed raw by his boots.

But he was in high spirits.

“I have a strong faith and wanted to make the journey to the Virgin,” he said.

Two churches actually stand on Tepeyac hill in the north of Mexico City, known as La Villa de Guadalupe -– the old and the new basilicas. Both were besieged by visitors Thursday, many of them with heavy, wooden-framed effigies of the Virgin tied to their backs.

The show of faith was a formidable sight.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Photo: Julio Cesar, a 19-year-old metalworker, crawled on his knees for five hours Thursday to reach the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times. Go to Flickr to see more photos of the annual pilgrimage.

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