MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican church and civic leaders on Monday canceled an annual gathering that attracts massive crowds of Catholic pilgrims to protect people amid an intensifying coronavirus outbreak.
The feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrated on Dec. 12 typically features lavish pageantry at her namesake basilica in the north of Mexico City where throngs of pilgrims arrive on their knees in prayer.
But this year the festivities will move online, according to a statement issued by the bishops’ conference and city government.
“The health conditions the country is experiencing due to COVID-19 do not permit us at this time to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe together at her sanctuary,” the statement said.
The closure will run from Dec. 10 through Dec. 13, and a security perimeter will be erected to ensure compliance.
The basilica is the most visited Catholic shrine of the Americas and was built next to a hill where legend holds that Jesus’s mother, Mary, appeared to an Aztec man in the 1531 just a decade after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
The authorities said that while millions would like to attend the celebration “in search of comfort in the face of anguish, despair and helplessness… the common good motivates us to take containment measures to avoid further spread of the virus.”
Since the pandemic reached Mexico in the spring, most in-person religious gatherings, including Catholic Masses, have been pared back or simply canceled and replaced with online services.
(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Raul Cortes Fernandez; Editing by Nick Macfie)