ROSARIO, Argentina – Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City, said the Virgin Mary would have given him a “failing grade” if he hadn’t cancelled the festivities surrounding the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Our Mother, Mary of Guadalupe, is for life,” Aguiar said on Tuesday. “She wants our life. That is why we go to her in the face of so many situations, to ask her almost always to help us overcome problems.”

The cardinal said the shrine – on of the most popular in the world – would remain closed Dec. 11-13, when millions of pilgrims usually flock to the capital for the Dec. 12 feast.

“What would the Virgin of Guadalupe say to me if, as custodian of her image, as successor to Fray Juan de Zumárraga [the bishop of Mexico City when the Virgin reportedly appeared to Juan Diego], I did not take into account the life and health of the parishioners? ‘failed!’” Aguiar said.

In this Dec. 12, 2019 file photo, pilgrims arrive at the plaza outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mexican Catholic Church announced on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 the cancelation of the annual pilgrimage, the largest Catholic pilgrimage worldwide. (Credit: AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File.)

The cardinal then said that even though the shrine will be closed to the public, the faithful will still be able to seek consolation in the Virgin amidst a trying year: Instead of walking for days to reach the shrine, people are instead called to mark the occasion from their homes, with a live feed that will be available through social media and other online platforms.

Mexico has reported more than 1 million infections of COVID-19, with over 100,000 deaths, including over 100 members of the clergy. Mexico City has been tightening health measures as hospital capacity begin to fill up.

Juan Diego was an indigenous peasant who said he saw the Virgin Mary in 1531. She left her image on his cloak, which still hangs in the shrine. According to the Guadalupe tradition, the fact that she not only spoke in his native language, but also appeared to be wearing the dress of an Aztec princess, helped convert millions to the Catholic faith in less than seven years.

The mystery of how the image came was produced, and how the simple cloak has survived 500 years intact, is considered a scientific enigma, and probably the most studied Catholic relic after the Shroud of Turin.

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