Millions flock to Mexico City in annual pilgrimage

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 this year.

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, some 135 kilometers (85 miles) 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 canonized Juan Diego as the first indigenous saint of the Americas in 2002.