Around 5.8 million Christian faithful on Wednesday visited the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Mexican capital with the aim of celebrating the 481st anniversary of the Virgin Mary's last appearance before Indian peasant Juan Diego, who was canonized in 2002.

The celebration began at 12:01 a.m., when thousands of people, among them artists such as Pedro Fernandez and Daniela Romo, sang the Mexican version of "Happy Birthday" to the country's patron saint during a Mass.

Coming from across Mexico and other countries as well, the pilgrims during the morning enjoyed a light and sound show in the vicinity of the Basilica.

A large part of the people on hand spent the night outdoors, covered with light blankets or in sleeping bags, in the area around the most-visited Catholic church in the world after St. Peter's in Rome.

More than 100 doctors and nurses are working in the zone, where first aid stations have been set up and ambulances deployed, while some 17,000 police are participating in the operation to patrol the Basilica and its environs.

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday also recalled the Virgin of Guadalupe and asked her to watch over Mexico and "grant (the country) unity, justice, harmony and peace." 

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