Veronica Garcia had major surgery a few weeks ago, but that didn’t keep her from waking up at 3 a.m. to go to church.
Garcia is a devout believer in the Virgin of Guadalupe and wanted to bring the virgin flowers and to pray to her on the day many believers recognize as the virgin’s birthday.
Thousands of Mexican immigrants like Garcia celebrated on Wednesday the patron saint of Mexico. Garcia went to Our Lady of Tepeyac in Little Village to celebrate. Hundreds made a pilgrimage to a shrine of the virgin in northwest suburban Des Plaines.
“The biggest miracle is my daughter. She is now 26 years old,” Garcia said, explaining that praying to the virgin helped her get through a high-risk pregnancy.
Whenever Garcia encounters a challenge, her faith for the virgin helps her, she said.
Garcia went to the service with her daughter and her 7-month old grandson, Juan Manuel. Her grandson came to church dressed like Juan Diego, the indigenous man who first witnessed the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
According to the story, it was Dec. 12, 1531, when the virgin appeared to Juan Diego as he was walking the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City and spoke to him in his native language telling him to build a church in her name.
The story has been retold millions of times in Mexican households.
While many Mexicans see the virgin as a symbol of hope, it wasn’t always that way, says Delia Cosentino, a history professor at DePaul University.
“[Virgin of] Guadalupe is a Mexican manifestation of the virgin Mary,” she said.
When Spaniards invaded Mexico, they brought a European virgin Mary. After the apparition appeared to Juan Diego, Spaniards used the darker-skinned virgin of Guadalupe to help convert indigenous people to Catholicism, Cosentino said.
“She has this olive skin tone which has been understood to mirror a kind of darker skin of indigenous Mexicans.”
Maria Ines Zamudio covers immigration for WBEZ. Follow her @mizamudio.