One of the things I discovered when I came to photograph the Catholic Church in Chicago is that there are so many different devotions celebrated by people of various ethnicities. Immigrant groups have brought these celebrations and traditions from their countries and have taught them to new generations growing up in the city. 

I’ve been moved by the beauty in these expressions of faith, which present the universal Church in so many forms of worship. It’s hard not to be moved by more than 5,000 Polish Catholics making a 33-mile walking pilgrimage from Chicago to Merrillville, Ind., carrying images and signs proclaiming devotion to Christ and Mary. It’s a pilgrimage that takes place each August. I’ve seen them make it in 95-degree heat. The U.S. pilgrimage traces its roots to a tradition in Poland that dates back to the 14th century. 

  Get Adobe Flash player    

In the fall, Peruvian Catholics in the city’s Rogers Park neighborhood hand their babies over to people dressed in purple to be blessed in front of an icon of El Senor de los Milagros (“Lord of Miracles”). Peruvians around the globe commemorate the image’s survival in a 17th-century earthquake that destroyed Lima. 

There are also homegrown traditions in our African-American parishes that are full of praise, worship and pomp and circumstance. 

Almost half of the Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago are Hispanic, so we see many devotions from Latin American countries. A moving devotion takes place each Good Friday evening, when Catholics of Mexican descent gather at one church for Pésame (Spanish for “condolences”). This is a devotion where the faithful keep vigil with Mary on the evening when her son was crucified. The priests dress in black vestments and lead participants in a service and procession around the city’s Little Village neighborhood. After the procession, participants approach an image of Mary to express their condolences. The statue of Mary is draped with a black veil to symbolize her mourning. What a way to end Good Friday. 

The universal Church is on display in Chicago. To see how Christ moves so many people of so many backgrounds is a powerful thing. 

Karen Callaway is the photo editor of Catholic New World in the Archdiocese of Chicago.