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Former priest to serve life for 1960 murder in Texas

Brownsville, Texas, Dec 13, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 60 years after Irene Garza disappeared after going to confession in her Texas hometown, the last person who saw her – who was a priest at the time – has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

John Feit, an 85-year-old former priest has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Garza on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1960.

Irene Garza was a 25-year-old schoolteacher, former beauty queen, and figure in the McAllen Tex. Catholic and Mexican-American communities. Friends and neighbors remember her as a young woman of faith.

“Remember the last time we talked, I told you I was afraid of death?” Garza wrote to her friend mere days before her death. The letter was later published by Texas Monthly. “Well I think I’m cured. You see, I’ve been going to communion and Mass daily and you can’t imagine the courage and faith and happiness it has given me.”

Six days later, Garza went to go to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church before Easter services. She never returned. Her body was discovered days later in a ditch.

Later, police determined that she had been raped, physically restrained, and beaten for several days before suffocating to death.

Feit, who was a 27-years-old visiting priest at the time, was a main suspect early on in the case: he was the priest who heard Garza’s confession, and his portable slide viewer was found alongside Garza’s body.

Suspicion grew after Feit was charged and pled “no contest” to assaulting and the attempted rape another young woman, Maria Guerra. Guerra was attacked while she was praying at another church in a nearby Texas town only three weeks before Garza’s death.

However, Feit was not charged with Garza’s murder until over five decades later.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, and afterwards married and worked for the St. Vincent de Paul charity in Phoenix.

After Feit left the priesthood, two priests told the authorities of their suspicions that Feit murdered Garza, with one claiming the priest had scratches on his face after Garza’s disappearance, and another saying that Feit told the priest that he had murdered a young woman, and offered details on how he committed the crime. At the time, however, the then-priest (who himself also left the priesthood) did not know the crime Feit described was Garza’s murder.

After the priests’ statements to authorities in the 2000s, the case was re-opened in 2015. Feit was arrested and charged in 2016, and the trial began Nov. 28, 2017 after several setbacks. He was sentenced Dec. 8.

Pennsylvania governor promises veto of 20-week abortion limit

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 13, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would limit abortions to 20 weeks into pregnancy and ban dismemberment abortion, but Gov. Tom Wolf intends to veto it.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, criticized the governor’s pledge to veto.

“His extreme pro-abortion stance is radically out of step with Pennsylvanians as he prepares to face the voters in 2018,” she said Dec. 13.

The Susan B. Anthony List cited a 2013 Harper Polling survey that said 82 percent of Democratic primary voters in the state think abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the legislation, Senate Bill 3, by a vote of 121-70 on Dec. 12. Six Republicans opposed the bill, while 12 Democrats voted in favor.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 32-18 in February. There are likely not enough votes to override a veto.

Wolf opposed the bill, saying it violated the doctor-patient relationship. He objected to its lack of exceptions for abortion in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I will veto <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SB3?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SB3</a> because I stand with every woman in Pennsylvania who deserves to make her own health decisions. <a href="https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a">https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a</a></p>&mdash; Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorTomWolf/status/940739354355519488?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 13, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

“These women deserve our support, not to be maligned by politicians in Harrisburg for making medical decisions about their bodies for their families with their doctors,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Dannenfelser had another view.

“The Pennsylvania legislature just took a bold step to protect unborn children and their mothers,” she said. “We are encouraged by the legislature’s action and look forward to the day when all unborn children are protected under the law.”

The state currently bars abortions 24 weeks or later into pregnancy.

Backers of the bill cited progress in medicine that allows premature babies to survive earlier in pregnancy than before.

The bill would preserve current exemptions for when a mother’s life is at risk, or if she is at risk of a serious permanent injury, the Associated Press reports. It would not allow exemptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities.

Dawn Keefer, R-York, said the issue should not be framed only in terms of women’s rights. Rather, she asked, “what about the rights of those pre-born women in the womb being exterminated?”

Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, characterized the bill as an attempt to control women “by imposing the views of some legislators on women, and I think that's wrong – that's morally wrong.”

The dismemberment abortion ban would in effect ban dilation-and-evacuation abortion, the most common method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy.

“Dismemberment abortion is completely inhumane, it's barbaric,” said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York.

Federal legislation to bar abortion after 20 weeks has made some progress. On Oct. 3 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act late by a vote of 237 to 189, largely along party lines. It was expected to fail in the Senate.

Dannenfelser, however, claimed, “Momentum is building to pass a national ban on late-term abortion more than halfway through pregnancy.”

Archbishop Gomez: Find God's voice in the flames

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 13, 2017 / 03:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While fires in southern California continue to threaten thousands of homes, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles reflected that God can be found even amidst the violent flames, if we just listen for his message.

“Always it is the same question: Where is God to be found when natural disasters strike and bad things happen to good people?” he said in a Dec. 12 column, published at Angelus News, the archdiocese’s multimedia publication.

“God is speaking in every moment, in every circumstance. But sometimes he speaks in a whisper. He asks us to listen, to have ears to hear.”

The Thomas Fire began on Dec. 4 in Steckel Park, near St Thomas Aquinas College in southern California. Within nine hours, strong winds pushed the fire to engulf 31,000 acres, moving at a rate of an acre per second, CNN reported.  

The fire has destroyed more than 237,000 acres and more than 1,000 structures. More than 95,000 residents have been evacuated. The fire was only 25 percent contained as of Tuesday night and still poses a risk to thousands of structures in the Ventura and Santa Barbara County regions.

“The stories of loss are heartbreaking – families and small business owners who have lost everything,” said the archbishop.  

These disasters often force people to turn to faith and science for answers, he said, noting how the fire has also prompted his own reflection of scripture.

Gomez recalled the story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God on the holy mountain. The prophet found that “the Lord was not in the fire,” but was in a “tiny whispering sound” after the flames went out. To encounter the Lord, he had to listen carefully.

In a similar way, the archbishop said, natural disasters can contain a message about the preciousness of life, which if heard, allows for greater solidarity in the suffering community.
 
While there can sometimes be a human tendency to separate ourselves from those in pain, he said, disasters break down the barriers of pride and enable opportunities for “extraordinary heroism and ordinary human kindness.”

“The Lord is in the fire!” Gomez proclaimed, noting that he has seen the presence of God in the volunteers of organizations like Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

“He is there in all these stories of sharing and self-sacrifice, in all those who are opening their homes to strangers, in all those who are risking their lives to save others.”

God has asked his people to comfort the vulnerable, he said, and encouraged Christians to be the ones who stand by the afflicted, weep with the sorrowful, and help rebuild the broken.

Turning to the Blessed Mother, he asked her to intercede for California that the community may recognize the whisper of the Lord.

 

Founding member of CFRs and EWTN host Fr. Andrew Apostoli dies at age 75

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2017 / 09:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Franciscan friar and EWTN host Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, passed away on the morning of Dec. 13, his community has confirmed.

Fr. Apostoli was a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and was a regular on EWTN programming, most recently as the host of “Sunday Night Prime.”

He also authored numerous books and was considered one of the leading experts on the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions.

“All of us at EWTN are saddened by the loss of our dear friend Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR. Father Andrew was a constant presence on the Network for nearly twenty-five years, particularly as the host of ‘Sunday Night Prime’ for the past five years,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

Fr. Apostoli was born Joseph Dominic Apostoli on July 3, 1942 in Woodbury, New Jersey, and was the second of four boys. He first encountered Capuchin Franciscan friars at his parish in 8th grade and was inspired by their joy.

“I felt that the brothers were joyful and I wanted the joy that I saw,” he told the Catholic Herald in 2015.

He met Archbishop Fulton Sheen while attending high school seminary, and would later be ordained a priest by Archbishop Sheen on March 16, 1967. He would eventually become the Vice Postulator for Sheen’s cause for canonization.

Fr. Apostoli was a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in 1988, and was also influential in the founding of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.

During his time in active ministry, Fr. Apostoli served as a teacher, retreat leader and spiritual director. He also wrote many spiritual books on subjects including Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Spirit. His most recent book, “Answering the Questions of Jesus,” is a book designed to lead readers into deeper reflection on each of the personal questions Jesus asks in the Gospel.

Fr. Apostoli first appeared on EWTN on the “Mother Angelica Live” program in July of 1993, together with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and taped his own series for the network in 1994, which first aired in 1995.

In 2012, Fr. Apostoli took over as host for EWTN’s “Sunday Night Prime” which had previously been hosted by Fr. Benedict Groschel, a fellow Franciscan Friar of the Renewal.

On November 10, Fr. Apostoli announced on the CFR’s website that due to declining health, he could no longer maintain a public schedule. Over the past month, the brothers have been posting brief health updates about the priest and asking for prayers.

In the morning of Dec. 13, the brothers confirmed that he had passed away.

“We always looked forward to his many visits to Irondale to produce programs,” Warsaw said.

“He was such a kind and holy man who always brought joy to the EWTN Family and who was a constant witness to the Franciscan spirit. We will certainly miss him.”

New York archdiocese stresses commitment to aiding victims of clergy abuse

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 200 sex abuse victims of clergy in the New York archdiocese have received compensation through a program the archdiocese says shows the Church’s willingness to reach out to and listen to victims.

“At a time when nearly every institution that involves minors has had to face allegations of abuse, the Church is now a model in how to respond to this horror,” the Archdiocese of New York said Dec. 7.

Since its program launched last year, the archdiocese has compensated 189 victims of archdiocesan clergy abuse in amounts totaling more than $40 million.

“By any measure, the reconciliation program has been a success,” the archdiocese said. “Many of the victim-survivors have expressed their gratitude that the Church extended an invitation, listened, and responded with compassion and understanding. All left knowing that the Archdiocese of New York was willing to make a genuine act of reparation for the harm that was done to them.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York launched The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program in October 2016.

The program was headed by Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney and mediator who led the September 11 victims’ fund. He has been assisted by his colleague Camille Biros. They determined issuance and amount of compensation to be given to victims.

The compensation figures are accurate as of Nov. 30. More than 200 individuals applied, and additional claims made before the Nov. 1 application deadline are still being processed.

The Church’s effort against sex abuse and its care for survivors are summarized in the report.

“The crime and sin of the sexual abuse of minors has surfaced in every segment of society – schools, families, Hollywood, sports teams, youth groups, government programs for youth, religion – really, any group or organization that brings adult and minors into contact,” the report’s introduction says.

“Fortunately, for the Catholic Church, such horrors are now mostly confined to the past,” it continues. “That does not mean our work is over. Prevention, education, and, yes, reconciliation with those who have been hurt remain an ongoing priority.”

Youth with special needs rock runway in NYC church

New York City, N.Y., Dec 12, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last Friday night, more than 200 people gathered for a Times Square fashion show in New York City.  It wasn't in a fashion house or theater. Instead, the models walked in a unique venue: a Church. The special venue was only fitting: the models have special needs, and they modeled adaptive clothing brands and styles, raising money for charities that help children with disabilities.

"Organizing a fashion show for those with special needs reminds us that true beauty lies in our dignity as unique children of God" said Sean O'Hare, fashion show organizer, in a statement.

The show was held at St. Malachy’s Church on the West Side of Manhattan, and all proceeds from the show went to benefit the Special Needs Activity Center for Kids and Adults. Models, who have a variety of special needs, modeled outfits from dress designer Jovani, fashion brand Thursday Boots, and adaptive clothing brand Independence Day Clothing.

Because some of the models have sensitivities to loud music, shouting, or clapping, the show chose a novel soundtrack for its show: a live choir. The St. Joseph’s Choir, a Catholic choir based at the university parish at New York University, sang pop and praise songs as the models walked.

Along with O’Hare, former Miss America 2008 and Fox News Contributor Kirsten Haglund co-hosted the event.

Any fashion show, one of the most important elements, besides the clothes themselves, is the audience reception. At St. Malachy’s the models were met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.  

"What a terrific night!” said Tracy Nixon, a mother and founder of a non-profit for those with Down syndrome, Gigi's Playhouse NYC. “My daughter and everyone from GiGi’s Playhouse NYC had the best time tonight!"

The positive reception of the show has even inspired organizer O’Hare to plan other fashion shows like this around the country under the name, “100 Million Strong.”

"According to the UN there are approximately 100 million severely disabled individuals around the world,” O’Hare explained. “We want to demonstrate that this a large community, but one with strength, fortitude and joy!"  
He hopes these shows can help to raise money for local special needs charities, encourage other designers to consider adaptive clothing solutions for people with unique physical needs, and celebrate the special needs community around the nation.

 

Companies admit illegal fetal tissue sales, end California operations. Is Planned Parenthood next?

Orange, Calif., Dec 12, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The trade in fetal tissue from aborted babies proved costly for two bioscience companies who will admit fault, cease California operations and meet the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

“This settlement seized all profits from DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences, which they acquired by viewing body parts as a commodity and illegally selling fetal tissues for valuable consideration,” said Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas. “These companies will never be able to operate again in Orange County or the state of California.”

The Yorba Linda-based DV Biologics LLC and its sister company DaVinci Biosciences LLC reached the settlement with the Orange County district attorney’s office, the Los Angeles Times reports. Prosecutors began their investigation in September 2015 after the California-based Center for Medical Progress filed a complaint.

David Daleiden, project lead for the Center for Medical Progress, helped run undercover investigative reports into the illicit sale of body parts and tissue from unborn babies at Planned Parenthood clinics, fetal tissue companies, and leaders in the abortion industry.

“The DaVinci companies’ admission of guilt for selling baby parts from Planned Parenthood is a ringing vindication of (the Center for Medical Progress’) citizen journalism methods and accuracy,” said Daleiden.

“In light of the news that Planned Parenthood is now under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for the sale of fetal body parts, the next step is for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties to be held accountable under the law for their seven-year-long aiding, abetting, and profiting in DaVinci’s criminal scheme to sell baby parts for profit,” he added.

The prosecutors’ complaint was filed in October 2016 in Orange County Superior Court, charging that the defendants’ business practices were unlawful, unfair and fraudulent.

The companies were accused of illegally selling cells from fetal brain tissue for up to $1,100 per vial, in at least 500 sales, between 2009 and 2015. Sales brought in more than $1.5 million from 2013 to 2015. Tissue was acquired from Planned Parenthood and other sources, the Orange County Register reported.

Beginning in 2009, the companies hired marketing consultants and launched an advertising campaign with summer sales and promotional discounts on fetal tissue.

State and federal law only allow charges for the processing and shipping of fetal tissue. Sale of tissue for profit is illegal.

Other defendants in the case were company principals Estefano Isaias Sr., Estefano Isaias Jr. and Andres Isaias.

Not much of the $7.785 million settlement will be in cash, however. DV Biologics will pay the county $195,000. About $7.5 million of the settlement is the estimated scientific value of donated adult biological samples.

The defendants will donate adult samples, tissues and cells to a nonprofit academic and scientific teaching institution affiliated with a major U.S. medical school whose name prosecutors did not disclose. They will also donate and transfer lab storage containers and equipment.

DaVinci Biosciences focuses on medical research for spinal injuries, sports injuries and degenerative diseases. DV Biologics provides human tissue to research facilities.

The companies’ purchasers included academic institutions and pharmaceutical businesses in Japan, China, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.K.

Documents from financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations were posted to the site DCLeaks.com last year, which appeared to show Planned Parenthood’s allies and funders engaged in a multi-million dollar damage control campaign to counter the fallout from the videos.

The document, apparently written weeks after the July 2015 release of the first Center for Medical Progress videos, cited a need to defend the reputation and credibility of the provider and to defend it against potential loss of federal funding.

 

Thousands gather in LA to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thousands of Catholics attended midnight Mass at the Los Angeles cathedral following festivities drawn from Mexican culture.

“This is always a special night for me. On this night, we know, in a beautiful way, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly our mother, who loves us and protects us,” commented Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who said the Dec. 12 Mass.

“This year, we will be praying also for our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of the wildfires, and also for all those young people and families who are anxiously waiting for Congress to act on immigration reform, especially to help the Dreamers. We entrust everyone in our community to the maternal tenderness of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The festivities began the preceding evening with traditional Aztec and Matachines dances and a performance by a Oaxacan band.
 
Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, many faithful brought flowers to the chapel which houses a half-inch square relic of the cloak on which is miraculously imprinted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
 
The relic was gifted to Archbishop John Cantwell of Los Angeles after he led a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1940s and is the only Guadalupe relic in the U.S.

The celebration moved into the church at 10 p.m. where a rosary was said, accompanied by the cathedral’s Spanish choir, before the Mass.

In 1531 on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City, Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego as an indigenous woman speaking in the native language Nahuatl. She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, as a place where the compassion of Christ could be proclaimed.

After the bishop demanded a sign, Mary requested that Juan Diego gather the roses growing on the hillside, despite it being winter. Collecting the roses in his cloak, Juan Diego presented them to the bishop only to have the image of Our Lady be miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

These Dominican brothers are releasing a folk album

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2017 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- Folk music is known for its foot-tapping, hand-clapping, barn-raising style – but now, a group of Dominican brothers is giving the genre a theological twist.

Meet the Hillbilly Thomists, a group of Dominican brothers who have a new album coming out on Dec. 12, which they describe as an authentic human and religious experience.

“Music can be sacred, but it can also be simply human – which is also sacred, just in a less explicit way with lyrics and themes,” Brother Timothy Danaher, one of the vocalists, told CNA in an interview with four of the band members.

“The New Evangelization needs all kinds of music, both the sacred and the human, to get the attention of people going about their daily lives.”

The band consists of 10 members from the Dominican House of Study and St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington D.C. It began as a lighthearted project with a focus on traditional Celtic music.

“The band itself was started by a couple of friars in our province,” said Brother Jonah Teller, who sings and plays guitar in the band. It grew out of a group of brothers who would get together to play Irish tunes, he said.

At first, the project was a fun excuse for the brothers to get together weekly and enjoy music. But as it grew from Irish tunes to more folk and bluegrass, the band began to perform publicly, receiving gigs for Catholics venues outside of the house.  

The name “Hillbilly Thomists” comes from a line delivered by Catholic author Flannery O’Connor. After her novel Wise Blood was released, she said people had identified her as a “hillbilly nihilist,” to which she responded that she was more like a “hillbilly Thomist.”

The album is eponymous – named after the band – and consists of 12 songs featuring instruments including the guitar, washboard, fiddle, banjo, and the bodhrán, an Irish drum. Eleven of the songs are covers of old-timey spirituals like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace,” and “St. Anne’s Reel.” The album also includes an original song, “I am Dog,” written by Brother Justin Bolger.

When asked how music corresponds to evangelization, the band emphasized that humans are both spiritual and physical beings, and that their spirits are lifted by beautiful images and sounds, especially when accompanied by Scripture-based lyrics.

“I do think music can enhance evangelization if done right. We’re bodily beings, so beautiful images and sounds can be good for us, can help lift our minds to God,” said Brother Peter Gaustsch, who plays mandolin, piano, and guitar.

The Dominican order has released several albums of choir music, but the band hopes that this project reaches hearts of its listeners in a different way.

“There are so many great old songs in this tradition that speak of God's love, his mercy, his grace, and our hope in him,” said Brother Justin Bolger, who sings and also plays piano, accordion, bass, and guitar.

Among the songs on the album is “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – an American spiritual which has been covered by artists including Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris.

The wayfarer – or traveler – is an important image in Catholic theology, one of the brothers said, and cited examples from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.

“The poor wayfaring stranger is all of us,” said Gautsch. “There’s a strong theme in the history of Christian spirituality of our lives as a kind of pilgrimage to our heavenly homeland.”

“There's a loveliness and beauty that carries with it the longing for our heavenly home and the trials that can face us as we make our way towards the Lord, hopeful because of the promise of his love and mercy,” added Teller.

Gautsch said the song depicts the struggle that is part of carrying our individual cross and learning to rely on the graces Christ provides for the journey.

“Sometimes the way is hard and steep, as the song says – in fact, it inevitably involves the cross – but the path has already been trod by Christ, who goes before us to prepare a place for us.”

The album can be ordered online, and is available for download at iTunes and Google Play.

Surprise! Chicago suburb is home to a major Guadalupe shrine

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marian devotion is intense among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year on her feast day.

Not just her shrine in Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe has a major place of honor in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

“People make the journey to come, and they leave their flowers and their offerings. They light a candle,” said Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “They want to get here, they want to get to her. When you talk to the pilgrims, you see the genuineness of the people’s faith.”

Last year, despite cold and snow, 250,000 people visited the shrine for the Dec. 12 feast day, Sanchez told CNA. The shrine draws over 1 million pilgrims each year.

While most pilgrims arrive by vehicle, many people walk to the shrine either from Chicago or throughout the Midwest as a sign of devotion or mortification.

“They walk miles to arrive,” said Fr. Sanchez. They each have a story to tell. A 2016 pilgrim walked on his knees part of the final two-and-a-half miles to the shine.

People like him will say “my daughter’s sick, and I want Our Lady to help,” the priest recounted, adding: “the extreme of the expression only indicates the extreme of the concern for their petition.”

The shrine hosts a digital replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the most visited U.S. shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Its origins date to 1987, when a group of Chicago-area Catholics decided to launch a mission to promote devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe using a special pilgrim statue from the shrine in Mexico City.

In 1995, construction began on an outdoor shrine in Des Plaines modeled after Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

The apparition helped inspire mass conversions of indigenous people to Christianity.

While devotion to the Guadalupe Marian apparition is strong among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Fr. Sanchez said other Catholics in America are “beginning to appreciate her a little more, and honor her.”

“I think American Catholics are looking at the story itself, and how much it sounds like the gospel,” he said.

The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is promoting Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she has become an image for the pro-life movement as well as for women’s issues, the priest noted. Other ethnic groups are growing in devotion to her, including the Indian and Polish communities.

Sometimes the mortifications of the pilgrims are extreme. In severe cold weather, senior citizens will still walk through the snow.

“Here we don’t judge them. We just get them to Our Lady,” Sanchez said. “Our job is to make sure you get there safely.”

Sometimes safety is a concern.

Once, a group of pilgrims traveled on foot through the northern Illinois city of Rockford on their way to the shrine. They were holding a banner and singing songs. A group of people voicing anti-immigrant attitudes began to assault them, told them to get out of the neighborhood, and threw rocks at them.

“It’s not necessarily a wonderful experience,” Sanchez said. “They continued their pilgrimage and made it.”

The priest suggested the pressures of contemporary American culture also drive devotion.

“Whatever the country is feeling, the community is looking for hope,” he said. “We live in a time when people feel less welcomed, where people feel scared, and often the only thing they feel they can trust is their prayer, and the one thing that has got them through the hardest times of their lives thus far: Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The feast day can create a major traffic issue, with 300,000 people in a 36-hour period. Planning begins months in advance, with the local police department helping to manage the situation.

There are 150 to 200 volunteers just to care for the pilgrims Dec. 11-12.

“Our job is to take care of the pilgrims when they come. They are trying to get to her,” Sanchez said, adding that they aim to help the pilgrims feel loved and well-fed.

“We make sure that the people’s experience is one that is very, very festive,” he said. “There’s a lot of music, a lot of serenading mananitas, a lot of indigenous dancing, what you see in other shrines.”

Sanchez said there is a strong custom in Mexican Hispanic culture of “mandas,” which means “promises” in English.

“People make promises to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a specific intentions or miracles or an act of gratitude,” he said.

“The problem is a lot of people here in the U.S. can’t go back to Mexico. There are immigration issues, economic issues, health issues, there are a lot of issues that keep them from going to Mexico City to fulfill their life’s promise to Our Lady.”

To help these pilgrims fulfill their promises, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City has offered them the same graces and indulgences if they visit the Illinois shrine.

Other pilgrimages come during the novena, the nine days before the feast day.

“On the ninth, we have a pilgrimage of truckers,” Sanzhe said. “They bring their tractor trailers, the truck, just the cab… and they decorate their trucks and they come to the shrine and they have a special Mass in which all their trucks get blessed.”

About 300 horseback riders come through for a separate blessing.

Devotees even organize through their occupations. The local landscapers’ union sought a special blessing and a Mass.

“It’s wonderful to see they’re finding Our Lady of Guadalupe, and how much that really helps them,” the shrine’s rector said.