More than 1,000 horseback riders journey to shrine for start of pilgrimage

Laura Rodríguez Presa, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

“Just being here is important to me and my family, especially since this is pretty much how you do it in Mexico,” Abella Calzada, from Appleton, Wisconsin, said. “It’s really important for us to come and just celebrate our religion.”

For Jesus Gonzalez, the event’s organizer, the pilgrimage is a family affair, done with the help of his children and wife. His brothers all own horses and year after year join the sacred journey.

In Gonzalez’s native town in Mexico, he grew up surrounded by horsemen in traditional Mexican rodeos and other equestrian sports.

“We’ve always been grateful for our health and the love that surrounds us,” said Gonzalez.

Equestrians and their families from all over the Midwest partake in the pilgrimage. There are young children and women who also ride their horses.

Though Maria Vargas has attended hourslong pilgrimages to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Patroness of the Americas, for several years, in 2016 she and her brother organized a caravan with their semi-trucks offering it as prayer for their family business.

“We wanted to thank God for keeping us safe, but we also wanted to pray for all of our drivers and truckers in the city,” Vargas said.

On Saturday’s pilgrimage, more than 50 semi-truck drivers and their families also joined the devotees that paid a visit to the Guadalupana, a week before the annual feast at the shrine that will resume this year after last year’s pause.


The drivers adorned their trucks with images of the Virgen De Guadalupe, lights and tinsels.

The wives and children of the drivers also joined the driver for the journey. While the mariachi played at their meeting spot at a parking lot near Pilsen, the families ate tamales.

“It’s a gathering of love and community,” said Vargas. “It’s a demonstration of love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also for the people that you pray for.”

She said that the devotion for the Virgin Mary breaks barriers and for a few hours — whether on the caravan, pilgrimage by foot or on horseback — people forget their differences and join each other for Our Lady Of Guadalupe’s blessings.

The past years haven’t been easy, Vargas said. One of their driver’s died of COVID-19, and they intend to honor him with the caravan.

“Pilgrimages renew faith,” Vargas added. “If people are willing to walk miles, braving the cold, sacrifice so much, you realize the power of faith.”

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