Celebrations for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe adjust for 2020

A lady lights a candle during the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in this 2011 file photo from The Miscellany.

MEXICO CITY—Mexican church and civic officials have canceled public feast celebrations for Mexico’s patroness at her shrine in Mexico City due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration normally attracts 10 million pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the world’s most-visited Marian shrine.

At a joint news conference Nov. 24, Mexico City Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes and Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum urged pilgrims to stay away from the basilica and to avoid congregating in the area. Pilgrims normally descend on the area — often arriving on foot from cities and towns surrounding the Mexican capital — and gather at midnight prior to the Dec. 12 feast day to serenade Mary.

Church officials instead urged devotees to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe at their local parishes or at home via broadcasts from the basilica online and on public television.

Churches worldwide have followed suit, asking the faithful to honor Our Lady in a devoted fashion that is safe for all.

In the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., parishes were advised that, while celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe may proceed, they are limited to a Mass and rosary.

Pastors and other parish leaders were cautioned that social distancing must be embraced and accepted, and the guidelines for precautions set by the CDC and local authorities should be fully explained to participants prior to any event.

Although communities that typically celebrate with parades, plays, dancing and feasts are saddened by changes caused by the pandemic, they have adjusted and scaled down the usual tribute to Our Lady.

For instance, St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg-Leesville, which has a predominantly Hispanic congregation, usually hosts an elaborate celebration with hundreds of participants. This year, the celebration will focus on a special Mass at 5 p.m. on Dec. 12, according to Janet Hayden, coordinator of religious education.

People who wish to attend must sign up ahead of time as Mass is limited to 130 people. Hayden said many people in the parish will participate in a novena leading up to the feast day and will pray together in their homes.

Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia is another parish that usually draws a massive crowd from surrounding communities to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe events, including an elaborate procession and costumed dancers. This year, however, the feast will be celebrated on Dec. 13 with a simple rosary at 1 p.m. followed by Mass at 2 p.m.

In Mexico, Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, president of the Mexican bishops’ conference, told the faithful to remember that “the Virgin moves and moves to where her sons and daughters are, especially those who are grieving.”

“We want to collaborate with our local authorities … to implement, for the good of all of Mexico, these measures that are necessary and do not in any way try to eliminate the fervor, devotion and faith of those who celebrate Holy Mary of Guadalupe,” he said.

The announcement to close the basilica from Dec. 10 to 13 reversed previous plans to allow limited access to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, while implementing health measures and canceling liturgical celebrations.

“It’s understandable that, like every year, millions of people wish to attend (the basilica celebrations) in search of comfort in the face of desperation and abandonment being experienced due to the pandemic and other difficulties,” church and civic officials said in a joint statement Nov. 23.

“It is important to emphasize that the health conditions the country is experiencing as a result of COVID-19 do not allow us on this occasion to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe together at her shrine.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains strong in Mexico City, and civic officials have spoken of possibly returning to widespread closures of nonessential businesses. Cardinal Aguiar said Catholic parishes have avoided being sources of contagion as preventive measures have been taken and attendance is limited to 30% capacity.

Authorities noted that an earlier feast day, the St. Jude Thaddeus feast on Oct. 28, was fraught with difficulties as devotees showed up early and waited in long lines, despite admonishments to stay away.

By David Agren 

The Catholic Miscellany contributed to this report.