DALLAS – An estimated 20,000 people lined up outside a San Antonio basilica to see the cloak of a recently sainted Mexican peasant, Sept 12. Catholic Church officials announced that saint Juan Diego wore the five-century year old relic when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.
"It's one of a kind," said Andrew Walther of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, coordinating the tour. "Literally thousands have shown up everywhere we take it, and the crowds have been really excited, emotional and faith-filled. The only other place you can see a piece of this is in Mexico City."
Almost 2,000 more pilgrims gathered on Sunday to the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine in Dallas, as part of relic’s 20-city tour. The Dallas cathedral, the country’s largest shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, was one of two Texas dioceses holding the tour in the city.
Visitors to the event lined up across several block; horse drawn carriages, Aztec Indian folk dancers and a special mass were a part of the festivities.
"My mother told me the story about it when I was growing up," said Hembra Salazar, who sat outside watching her mother participate in the procession from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts to the cathedral.
Outside the church, memorabilia on sale included T-shirts of the peasant Juan Diego kneeling before the Virgin Mary, fresh roses in buckets, and candles with an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the message: "Visit of the Relic of the Tilma of Tepeyac, September 12, 13 & 14, 2003."
Maria Pilar Hernandez traveled several hours Saturday from Rio Grande City with grandson Octavio Martinez and two daughters just to catch a glimpse of the cloak that Juan Diego was wearing in 1531.
Hernandez had celebrated her 96th birthday last week and, when asked what she wanted as a present, replied that she wanted to get closer to God. Martinez, 28, changed his weekend plans and drove his grandmother and aunts to the basilica.
The women stood in line nearly an hour under the bright sun to see the half-inch-square piece of cloth, encased in Plexiglas. Ivory-colored veils covered their heads and each had a rosary in one hand and a red rose in the other.
Hernandez prayed, asking the Virgin Mary to watch over family members and keep them out of harm's way, saying she then felt both weak and strong.
"It's a feeling I've never felt before in my life," Hernandez said