IMAGE: Woman with image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
Guillermo Arias  /  AP
A woman carries the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as she lines up to enter the basilica during the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Tuesday.
updated 12/12/2006 7:15:22 PM ET 2006-12-13T00:15:22

An estimated 5.2 million people drove, biked, walked and crawled to the sprawling Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Tuesday to commemorate the Virgin Mary’s appearance to an Indian peasant nearly 500 years ago.

More than 2,600 pilgrims were treated for mostly minor medical conditions, including a mother who gave birth to a baby boy at the entrance to the basilica, the Mexican news agency Notimex reported.

Authorities from Mexico City's Gustavo A. Madero borough, where the basilica is located, said the worshippers arrived in 613 separate pilgrimages over two days from across the country, under the watchful eye of 1,400 city and 400 federal police officers.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, the dark-skinned woman appeared to the Indian Juan Diego on a Mexico City hillside in 1531, soon after the Spaniards had introduced Catholicism to the Indian population, and told him she was the mother of Jesus. After a bishop asked for proof of Juan Diego's story, the woman returned to him and caused her image to appear on his cloak, which remains on display at the basilica.

Many of the pilgrims came to give thanks to the Virgin for her help in alleviating illness or personal problems. Others were inspired by devotion and respect for the Virgin, who by papal decree is patroness of all the Americas, particularly of Latin America.

Many of the worshippers came from remote villages, walking for days to reach the basilica and then crawling on their knees across its cement plaza.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego as the first Indian saint of the Americas, part of efforts by the church to counter Protestant gains in the traditionally Catholic region.

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