Hope for miracles at a mountain church turned to horror as the crush of thousands of faithful inside the cathedral killed at least 41 people, including more than a dozen children, officials said.

Some pilgrims called it a miracle in itself that they got out alive from the Ash Wednesday stampede, which sent at least 21 other people to the hospital.Before the incident, a snaking line of buses and trucks festooned with bright pink flowers brought worshipers to this town 40 miles south of Mexico City. They were making a centuries-old annual pilgrimage to a Christ-like icon believed to work miracles.

The multitudes pushed through the narrow street leading to the Sanctuary of Our Lord of Chalma only to collide with throngs leaving the church.

In the frenzy to get through the doorway, 13 children and 28 adults were suffocated and crushed to death, officials said.

"There was an avalanche of people. We were leaving and those that were coming in squashed those going out," said Maria Velazquez, 46. Her sister-in-law's 9-year-old daughter was killed in the press of the crowd.

The stampede apparently started partly because street vendors blocked the way of the oncoming streams of people, the state government said in a news release.