Patricio Espinoza reporting from the Yucatan in Mexico:
MERIDA, Yucatan, Mexico -- The pilgrimage begins days ahead of December 12th, when thousands walk, run, or ride bicycles for days. Some will travel hundreds of miles to Mexico City in order to reach the Tepeyac, the temple that holds that nation's revered Virgen De Guadalupe.
For more than 400 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe has united the people of Mexico as well those from other Latin American countries and Latino communities around the world who celebrate the feast of Guadalupe every December 12th.
Those who can't make the long trip may still endure days of traveling to get to the nearest town or major city to visit a church that holds a replica of the original image in the Tepeyac. Merida, Yucatan is one of those cities and on the night of December 11th, hundreds of pilgrims arrived there, including 17-year-old Bladimir who walked for days without shoes.
"Por amor a la Virgin…" for my love to the Virgin and my family he said as he struggled to hold his breath. He had just arrived at San Cristobal, a church near downtown Merida where a replica image of the La Virgen de Guadalupe is kept.
Like Bladimir, thousands converged around Mexico to celebrate the nation's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. They come from around the Mexican Republic, and as far away as Texas, California, and New York.
Susan Johnson traveled from Virginia "to see the temple and understand better the culture of celebrating the Virgin… These people are making do with what they have. I take my pleasures for granted." she told us.
Pilgrims make promises and ask for healings and blessings. And every year, in return, they come back to honor the Guadalupana or Virgen Morena, the dark skin Virgin, as she's known among the people.
It is believed that 481 years ago, she appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant and saint today. Catholics believe she -the Virgen- left her own image, not created by human hands, miraculously imprinted on Juan Diego's cloak. A temple was then built as the Virgen had asked Juan Diego, on the Hills of the Tepeyac, where today millions meet every December 12th and come to see her image.
Juan Coyoc traveled more than 250 miles from his home town to Merida, the capital of the State of Yucatan "450 kilometros…." Juan, who is a descendant of the Mayas, who has been doing this since he was a child. He is now 63 years old, and like many others here, hopes to return again.