More than 100 horseback riders made a five-mile trek to begin the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in northwest suburban Des Plaines on Sunday.

It was the unofficial start of two days of festivities at the shrine, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of Catholics from across the country this week to celebrate.

Members of Club Los Vaqueros, or United Cowboys Club, and their horses were blessed by a priest for the three-hour ride from Northbrook to the Des Plaines shrine — the most visited American shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second-most visited in the world.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the “Patroness of the Americas,” is celebrated by Catholics around the world on Dec. 12. Celebrants leave thousands of gifts and candles at the foot of the Des Plaines shrine, as part of the annual Chicago-area pilgrimage that dates back to the mid-1980s.

Festivities will conclude with 24 hours of outdoor Masses at the shrine for the feast day on Tuesday.