SAN JUAN — Thousands of Catholics poured onto the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle to mark Good Friday in preparation for Easter Sunday.

The large mass, which spilled from the pebbled walkway into the grassy field, walked about a mile, stopping at each one of the 12 stations of the cross to sing somber hymns and pray.

“This is like the top of the mountain we’ve been climbing over the lenten season, and over three days, we get to the top and we get to see the resurrection of our Lord,” said Bishop Mario Aviles, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville.

Catholics observe Good Friday in remembrance of the death of their messiah, Jesus Christ, who they believe resurrected from the dead after being crucified.

“What happened on Good Friday to our Lord is what we experience everyday in our life,” Aviles said. “We have to suffer. We have difficult situations in our life, but we know that in the end, if we stay faithful, in the end there will be a resurrection.”

Thousands of men, women and children of all ages followed Aviles through the stations of the cross, which are depicted on the church grounds by bronze statues. Many of Friday’s visitors came from far to mark the occasion, including Aida Flores and her son, 22-year-old Alejandro Flores. They traveled from Three Rivers and George West with Aida’s cousin Irma Esquivel, to mark the occasion.

“We’ve been here before, but we came for the stations of the cross this time,” the 22-year-old said. “It was very helpful. It shed some guidance on me.”

Aviles asked those in attendance to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and apply to people in their lives.

“My last words at the end of the way of the cross that we just finished, was to keep in mind the suffering that our Lord did for us,” he said. “Our world and our society are getting tired of just thinking about ourselves, and putting ourselves first. We have to think, to sacrifice and help others and this is going to … change the world.”

Flor Arnold, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, said she had never attended the event, but was glad she finally had the opportunity to do so when her friend invited her.

“It was very beautiful and we had a great time,” she said. “It’s well organized and the music was great, but above all, the participation was great.”

For 11-year-old Justin Esguerra, the walk was a familiar one. He’s observed Good Friday for most of his life and in Catholic school at Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen, where students also marked the event.

“After our Holy Thursday Mass in the morning, we actually prayed the stations at the gym where we have sort of a play,” he said. “So the whole school actually prays with us.”

“This is just like a continuation of everything,” his aunt Annabel Castillo said.

The Basilica will host a vigil Saturday at 8 p.m., followed by an Easter celebration at Mass on Sunday.

nlopez@themonitor.com