Woman arrested in connection with arson of Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in Illinois

Des Plaines Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine fire Virginia Roque-Fermin is charged with one felony count of arson in connection with starting a fire that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages to The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, May 23, 2023. | Credit: Des Plaines Police Department

A 41-year-old woman has been arrested and charged in connection with causing more than $78,000 in damages in a Tuesday arson attack at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois.

The 60-acre shrine, which receives hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and is meant to spread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, operates under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Virginia Roque-Fermin of Arlington Heights, Illinois, was charged with one felony count of Arson, police said.

Des Plaines police responded to the fire at 2:31 a.m. and unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire. The Des Plaines Fire Department was able to put out the fire after arriving.

After responding to the fire, police said they saw the woman “quickly walking away” from the fire, which was set at an outdoor chapel where devotional candles are typically lit. Police said they noticed soot on her shirt and took her into custody, according to ABC7 Chicago.

Security footage shows Roque-Fermin throwing statues, buckets, chairs, and planter pots into the fire to stoke the flames, police said. The footage, observed by CNA, shows rosaries being thrown into the fire.

On its website, the shrine says it considers itself “an extension of that mission given in Mexico in the year 1531” to St. Juan Diego.

“It’s a desecration of a very holy place,” one pilgrim, Ethel Gina Bailon, told ABC7.

“And there’s no regard anymore for a holy place,” Bailon said.

Father Esequiel Sanchez, the shrine’s rector, told CNA Wednesday that the outdoor area that was set on fire is called the Chapel of the Resurrected Christ. Pilgrims often gravitate toward this chapel and leave written petitions, candles, photographs, or locks of hair of loved ones, he said.

The chapel, which houses a large statue of Jesus, was “totally demolished” by the flames, he said.

“Thankfully, because of the security system, the police were able to capture her really quickly,” he said.

The shrine is being rebuilt and the damage cleaned up, Sanchez said. He added that the day the chapel was burned down, a funeral was planned at the shrine for a teenage boy who died in a car accident.

That funeral was held despite the damage on the property.

The shrine is a home for many different cultures of people, Sanchez said. Pilgrims come with many petitions and many bring thanks for answered prayers, he said.

He added that he was praying for Roque-Fermin.

“We don’t know the motive or why she did this, but we’re praying for her,” he said.

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