As economy weakens, Mexicans seek solace at shrine

Fri Dec 12, 2008 1:42pm EST
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By Robert Campbell

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Crowds thronged Mexico's holiest Catholic shrine on Friday in one of the world's biggest regular pilgrimages, with many of the faithful seeking spiritual support as the economy slips toward recession.

Streams of people from across Mexico and as far away as the United States, worshiped in front of a centuries-old cloak emblazoned with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared to a 16th-century Indian peasant in December 1531.

Many walked for days carrying images of the dark-skinned virgin on their backs to pray at the giant basilica in Mexico City for health, forgiveness of their sins and, as Mexico's economy slows, help to find jobs and money.

"I am hoping the virgin will help my husband find a job," said Margarita Lopez as she led her two small children through the crowd toward the giant basilica. "He's in the United States and has been out of work for two months."

Prospects for Mexico's economy have dimmed sharply with the deepening recession in the United States. The country sends about 80 percent of its exports to its neighbor to the north and money sent home by millions of migrant workers there provides a critical cash lifeline for many impoverished Mexican families.

Economists who were optimistic that Mexico could skirt a recession now fret that a deep downturn may be difficult to avoid.

A river of mostly poor people poured into the shrine from the early morning. Some crawled the trash-strewn final stretch on their knees past troupes of twirling dancers decked out in Aztec garb.

Church and municipal leaders expect several million people to make the pilgrimage in the days up to and including Friday and claim the basilica is the second most visited Catholic church in the world after St Peter's in Rome.   Continued...

<p>An image of the Virgin of Guadalupe are seen near Mexican pilgrims as they rest on the forecourt of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City early December 12, 2008. Catholics marked the 477th anniversary of what Catholics believe was the apparition of the Virgin Mary before Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican. REUTERS/Henry Romero</p>