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Hundreds of clowns celebrate 30th annual pilgrimage to Mexico City basilica

They may have been a bit noisy before the church service started, but the hundreds of clowns who made their annual pilgrimage to the site of Mexico’s patron saint Monday still took the ritual seriously.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Afternoon mass at Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe got off to a riotous start Monday when hundreds of clowns celebrated their 30th annual pilgrimage to the popular religious site. 

It was not an easy bunch to get to sit still for a group photo, but the feat was accomplished after a half an hour or so of rabble wrangling and good-natured jabs at the more mulish among the onlookers. The jesters then carried an idol of Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, across the plaza and into the church. 

It wouldn’t be a clown party without a little irreverence. Making fun of each other’s poor spelling, they entered the church shouting: “Gimme an L!” until they finally got it right and spelled out “Lupita,” a popular diminutive of the name Guadalupe.

The jocular lack of decorum was tolerated by congregants and clergy alike. Soon after their arrival, a priest came out to welcome the gaggle of goof-offs with prayers and a splash of holy water. 

The priest at Mexico City's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe splashes holy water on the group of clowns who made their 30th annual pilgrimage to the religious site on Dec. 19, 2022. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

Mexico City resident Alejandra Amador Carranza said the hysterical start to mass did not bother her or otherwise disrupt her experience. 

“It’s a nice tradition. We hope it doesn’t go away,” said Amador, 61. “The chanting and shouting is a just part of it. Some people might not like it, because it’s a different tradition, but they’re not being disrespectful. They’re praising the holy virgin in their own way.”

Indeed, despite horsing around in church, the harlequin pilgrims ultimately took the observance seriously. 

“It’s a way to show our gratitude for what God gave us during these years of pandemic,” said Tilín, 49, who has been a clown for 11 years. 

In addition to his offbeat piety, Tilín came to express a hopeful message to those he aims to make laugh: “Smile today, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Sporting an oversize Stetson and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back, Tilín’s colleague Tin Tin did not miss a chance to demand a peck on the painted cheek after posing for photos with visitors. 

“That was some kiss!” said a friend of a woman who gave Tin Tin a smooch. “You took some makeup off with it!”

Clown pilgrims carry an idol of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the basilica dedicated to the saint. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

Still, spreading the message of his faith was just as important to Tin Tin as spreading good cheer. 

“It’s nice to visit the Basilica of Guadalupe because we have lost the culture of relating the Catholic Church with the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Tin Tin, 42, who has been a clown for 22 years. 

Tin Tin’s concern for the popularity of his country’s patron saint may be a little undue. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most visited Catholic sites in the world, drawing millions of visitors each year.

Guadalupe’s official day on the calendar is Dec. 12, when the plaza outside the church fills with tents, idols and pilgrims, many of whom make their arrival walking on their knees as penance. Authorities in Mexico City estimated that this year’s observance broke records with 11 million paying homage to the country’s patron saint on that date this year. 

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