Pilgrims flock to Mexico City

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iol pic wld basilica_religion REUTERS A pilgrim carries a picture during celebrations marking the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe at Basilica's square in Mexico City.

Mexico City -

Millions of pilgrims flocked to Mexico City's basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Wednesday, arriving on their knees, feet or bicycles to see one of Latin America's most revered religious icons.

The annual pilgrimage attracts Roman Catholics from across the region to view the dark-skinned Virgin's image, which they believe was miraculously imprinted on a piece of fabric after the virgin appeared before indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531.

Around 4.8 million people had passed through the basilica by mid-day, carrying shrines or portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe, according to city officials. The capital expects six million pilgrims to visit the site in 2012.

Thousands had spent the night outside the modern, circular basilica. Some slept in tents while many lied down in the open air.

A group danced in indigenous clothes.

Roman Catholics travel to the basilica at the start of December in a pilgrimage that culminates on December 12 to give thanks for help with personal problems or illnesses.

The temple lies at the foot of Tepeyac hill, where the Virgin of Guadalupe is believed to have appeared 481 years ago. The new basilica was built in 1976 to replace one built in the 18th century.

Oscar Ramos arrived by bicycle from the city of Puebla, about 135 kilometres east of Mexico City, with a wooden shrine on the back.

“It was an exhausting journey. We almost didn't make it,” Ramos said.

The late pope John Paul II canonised Juan Diego as the first indigenous saint of the Americas in 2002. - Sapa-AFP

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