ASUNCION – Cardinal Luis Hector Villalba, Pope Francis’s special envoy to Paraguay, officiated Thursday at a Mass at the Caacupe Basilica in honor of the Virgin Mary, the main Catholic celebration in this South American country.
The steady rain did not prevent thousands of people from attending the Mass in Caacupe, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Asuncion, at which the Argentine cardinal read a message of greetings from the pontiff, who in 2015 visited the then-sanctuary with an eye toward elevating it to the status of a basilica.
The cardinal congratulated the people attending the Mass for turning out on a stormy and rainy day to honor the “Virgin of Miracles.”
“I see that your love for the Virgin is stronger than the inclement weather; I congratulate you for that,” he said.
Among those attending the Mass was Paraguayan Vice President Juan Afara, representing President Horacio Cartes, who on Tuesday began an official visit to France and Germany.
Villalba’s presence was the result of a request from Caacupe Bishop Claudio Gimenez, who had asked the Vatican to send a special envoy to this year’s annual ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diocese.
During the Mass, the cardinal was presented with a poncho decorated by local artisans and was declared an illustrious guest of the municipality.
The pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgin of Caacupe is one of Latin America’s largest Marian celebrations.