Millions of Mexicans celebrate Virgin of Guadalupe

Millions of faithful have visited Mexico City's Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as part of the annual celebration of the country's patroness

MEXICO CITY -- Millions of faithful visited Mexico City's Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe Thursday during the annual celebration of the country's patroness.

Steady streams of men, women and children arrived, many carrying portraits of the Virgin, known affectionately as “La Morena,” or “The dark-skinned.”

Authorities estimated that 9.8 million people had gathered around the basilica, considered the largest and most important Marian shrine in the world. That is about equivalent to the city's entire population, though many of the visitors come from outlying states, some walking miles to reach the basilica.

The basilica holds an image of the Virgin that is said to have miraculously imprinted itself on a cloak belonging to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531.

Maria de la Luz Andrade, from the low-income suburb of Chimalhuacán, visited the shrine with her 13-year-old son Jesus. Jesus said he has asked the Virgin to cure his feet; a birth defect makes it difficult for him to walk.

“It is the first time I have come to see La Morenita,” said Jesus. “I asked her to cure my feet.”

The traditional Dec. 12 celebrations are so big that many spend the night before sleeping on the ground around the basilica.