Starting out at dawn, an estimated 20,000 Californians walk 34 miles.
Perhaps the most ironic thing about Thursday’s 34-mile pilgrimage honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in California’s Coachella Valley is the name of the starting point: Our Lady of Solitude Church in Palm Springs.
The Virgin of Guadalupe was anything but in solitude, as an estimated 20,000 pilgrims accompanied her on the long trek.
The Palm Springs-to-Coachella pilgrimage, now in its 19th year, is considered the longest such pilgrimage in the country. Organizer Sonia Gonzalez told the Desert Sun that she expected as many as 20,000 people to participate. An exact count is hard to come by, however, because the procession’s size ebbs and flows throughout the day as people join or drop out along the route.
“We don’t know exactly how many people participate, but the procession is about two miles long,” she told the newspaper.
When the procession first started in 2000, it was organized by a local family, but the responsibility later was taken up by area dioceses. They pay for the cost of police services and provide portable bathrooms and other support services for the day-long walk.
The pilgrimage this year, which got underway at dawn, was accompanied by a new seven-and-a-half-foot tall replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is one of 125 officially recognized by the Church as authentic copies.