The following comes from a May 25 story in the Ventura Star.

Thousands of people from across California and beyond are expected to converge on Santa Paula over the next week and a half to pay their respects to a tiny statue dressed in blue.

Known as El Santo Niño de Atocha, or the Holy Child of Atocha, the statue is a sacred image of the Christ child and is one of Mexico’s most beloved Catholic icons.

The statue normally is housed at a shrine in Plateros, Mexico. But members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Paula travel every year to the Mexican shrine to collect a replica of the icon and bring it to Ventura County for a few weeks or days.

This year marks El Santo Niño de Atocha’s 10th visit to Santa Paula, and it will be celebrated with special processions, masses, devotional visits from pilgrims seeking miracles and giving thanks, and a farewell Mass led by the Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles.

Patricia Huerta, office manager at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, said this year’s visit of El Santo Niño is expected to attract more people than ever. About 5,000 attended the final Mass last year, she said. This is the first year for the archbishop to travel to Santa Paula to be a part of the celebration.

“A lot of people that have come in the past years tell their relatives and people they know,” Huerta said. “We have had people from Utah, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, this year Seattle, Washington, all over California. … A lot of people cannot travel to Mexico, especially because of all the violence we’re still having over there, so they don’t want to go, and this is the second-best place to come and see El Santo Niño.”

The visit will begin with a welcome procession starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at Harding Park, 427 N. Oak St., and ending at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for a Mass at 6 p.m. Special masses will be held throughout the week, and pilgrims will be able to visit El Santo Niño at the church, touch the statue and make offerings.

A goodbye procession will begin at 3 p.m. June 5 at the church and end at Las Piedras Park, 431 N. 13th St., with Gomez leading the Mass there at 4 p.m.

Dance groups from Ojai, Oxnard, Las Vegas and Seattle, among other locations, will perform traditional Mexican dances during the processions, which will be accompanied by a live marching band, Huerta said. The church also will sell food and religious items imported from Mexico, said Father Charles Lueras, pastor.

The original Santa Niño de Atocha statue was brought to Mexico centuries ago from Atocha, Spain. The statue is believed to have brought food to Christians in Atocha who were imprisoned by invading Moors during the 13th century. Later in Mexico, El Santa Niño was credited with saving trapped silver miners.

Many people believe the saint can perform miracles. Pilgrims visit the statue to ask for favors, such as healing from an illness, or for children if they have fertility problems, Huerta said. They might leave small offerings, such as flowers, money or small religious items, or simply want to touch the icon. Devotees also visit the statue to give thanks when they believe a miracle has been granted, Huerta said. She said there are usually long lines of people outside Our Lady of Guadalupe when El Santa Niño is in town.

“A lot of people have their miracles and they now want to come and pay their respects,” Huerta said. “I have seen a lot of babies come in with their parents, newborns, to pay their respects, and (the parents) have told us their story.”

Lueras said it takes months of work to prepare for the icon’s visit. He said local hotels and motels fill up with pilgrims, and Santa Paula becomes like “Disneyland” with all the people visiting.

“I’m just inspired by the devotion of the people,” he said. “It’s a very exciting moment for our community.”