Before Erica Alfaro arrives at school every day, she recites a prayer. Once she gets to school and arrives at her locker, she locates a candle with the Virgin Mary and recites the quote on the back of it. After reading the candle, she picks up a book full of quotes from the Bible, each day reading a different one, giving her motivation for the day. Surrounded by religion her entire life, Erica sees her Catholicism as part of her identity and couldn’t imagine the person she would be without it.
Every year on Dec. 12, Erica and 300,000 others participate in a pilgrimage from their respective churches to Des Plaines, where the largest shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is located. The walk takes over eight hours coming from Evanston in the grueling cold, but Erica doesn’t complain. Those who take part are followed by warm cars and are offered food and hot chocolate from residents of some houses along the way. Erica looks forward to this event every year and always meets new people along the way.
While there may be an existing stereotype that those who practice Christianity tend to be more close-minded when it comes to their beliefs, Erica knows this is not the case with her and her community. At her church, all are welcome and no one is judged. At a high school where students who consider themselves religious are not very common, Erica stands out among her classmates.