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The InterVIEW

Two days, thousands of pilgrims, one Virgin Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Des Plaines readies for feast day festivities

Fireworks illuminate the crowd during the eve of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Maryville-Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Des Plaines on Dec. 12, 2008. More than 100,000 pilgrims from around Chicago and neighboring areas flock to the shrine to partake in the annual feast day celebrations. This year’s event organizers expect larger crowds because the feast day falls on a weekend. - Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Father Miguel Martinez has served as the pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines since 2005, and has seen tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to pray to the virgin each December.

The annual festivities in honor of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 commemorate the 16th century appearance of the virgin to San Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in what is now Mexico City. Events in Des Plaines last two to three days, and include Masses and devotions.

While the majority of pilgrims are Latino, the event has become more multi-cultural in recent years. Martinez spoke by telephone with assistant editor Michelle Martin about preparations for the feast day on Dec. 12.

Catholic New World: How much time do you spend preparing for each year’s event?

Father Miguel Martinez: We start with our first meetings in February of every year. We schedule at least one meeting with the police of Des Plaines because we want to review how the festivity went each year, and we want to start planning for the new one.

With the volunteers and all the people that are involved, we start in July. We have around 200 to 250 volunteers just on the grounds.

CNW: How did you develop the working relationship with the city of Des Plaines?

Martinez: It’s a long story already. The last six years, they’ve been working pretty closely to us. This year they are more confident and at ease because of the experience. They know about the festivities they know how to treat people. They know what’s coming as far as pilgrimages on foot, walking pilgrimages or cars, bicycles and all these different ways of people coming to the shrine, and they are fine with it.

CNW: What’s the average number of pilgrims to visit the shrine?

Martinez: An estimate for 48 hours, two full days, it would be around 130,000. That would be the number given by the Department of Police in Des Plaines. It’s very hard to count people because many people come, spend 2 to 3 hours and then go. It’s a constant coming and going of people.

This year we are expecting more because it falls on a weekend, so people will have more time to come. It will extend until Sunday. I’m sure on Sunday we’ll have a bigger crowd than usual because of those people who won’t be able to come on Friday or Saturday because of their work, they will come on Sunday. I’m adding another Mass on Sunday — two Masses on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

CNW: Pilgrims can purchase religious articles and food to eat while at the shrine. Where do these come from?

Martinez: Everything that is sold in the shrine belongs to the shrine in a general way. For example, the food, we have a Mexican restaurant. It’s called Monica’s, and she is a very devout lady and she helps us every year. She brings all these tools and all the meat and all the food she prepares, and we go through the inspection and everything. Everything we sell as far is food is just one restaurant, but she’s used to the summer restaurant festivals and carnivals and that sort of thing.

We also sell religious articles. Those are ours, we always sell roses and candles, because people are always asking for them.

That helps us to pay all the expenses. In the feast, the expenses are large because of all the things that are involved. In the last few years, we have been able to cut it, not by half, but we have been able to cut it a lot.

We spend between $30,000 to $40,000 for the feast day. Some things we used to rent — we have reduced the amount of rent for tents, and also for light towers.

We have to pay for the police — there are about 40 men and women, police working the streets, so it depends on how much they charge. Then the food and all the articles, the stipends, the materials that are involved.

We cut the things we use. During the last two years, I have an assistant who starts in June going to different companies and gets proposals for the lowest price. That has been a great help in reducing the cost.

CNW: How do you prepare the shrine itself?

Martinez: We start in May or June with the staff. One of the priorities is logistics as far as parking lots and traffic, so we contact Oakton College and all the churches around that let us use their parking lots.

We start soliciting proposals. The biggest expenses are the stage for the Mass inside, the light towers, the big tent — we use a tent that is 240 feet by 200 feet. We meet in September with police, fire department, Oakton College, Maryville Academy and the people who are more involved in the feast. We do an ad book, and we do a raffle — those are the two main fundraisers of the feast.

When December comes, people start giving donations for the Masses of the 12 days before Dec. 12.

The priests and the bishops, I contact early. For Cardinal George, I contacted over a year ago. Bishop Gustavo (Garcia- Siller) on the feast, I ask him if he can come next year. The other priests around, they come to hear confessions. Last year I added 38 hours of confessions during the feast. It was really the first year we had confessions. Last year was really, really good.

We contact the parishes that participate in the blessing of the fire (which they carry back to their own churches). This year, more parishes will participate. They will send a representative to light a torch out of the fire that is blessed in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Now we are hearing that St. Joseph in Round Lake, they will bring five to seven buses full of people just for that. St. Agnes of Bohemia in Chicago, they will bring a bus. So we have to accommodate in the parking lot for them.

We are going to go to the Spanish media to bring them the package with the program. They already know it’s coming. Univision, Telemundo and the radio stations always come. This year we will have Relevant Radio and Radio Maria who will be broadcasting the Masses.