Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church announced the cancellation Monday of what’s considered the world’s largest Catholic pilgrimage, for the Virgin of Guadalupe, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mexico’s Episcopal Conference said in a statement that the basilica will be closed from December 10-13. The Virgin is celebrated on Dec. 12 and for weeks in advance, pilgrims travel from across Mexico to gather by the millions in Mexico City.
The church recommended that “the Guadalupe celebrations be held in churches or at home, avoiding gatherings and with the appropriate health measures.”
Bishop Salvador Martínez, rector at the basilica, said recently in a video circulated on social media that as many as 15 million pilgrims visit during the first two weeks of December.
Many of the pilgrims arrive on foot, some carrying large representations of the Virgin.
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.
The church recognized that 2020 has been a trying year and that many of the faithful want to seek consolation at basilica, but said that conditions don’t permit a pilgrimage that brings so many into close contact.
At the basilica, church authorities said they couldn’t remember its doors being closed for another Dec. 12. But newspaper reports from nearly a century ago show that the church formally closed the basilica and with withdrew priests from 1926 to 1929 in protest of anti-religious laws, but accounts from the time described thousands sometimes flocking to the basilica despite the lack of a Mass.
Mexico has reported more than 1 million infections with the new coronavirus and 101,676 COVID-19 deaths.
Mexico City has been tightening health measures as the number of infections and hospital occupancy begin to creep up again.