Police getting ready for annual flood of pilgrims to Cartago

Only two weeks remain before Costa Ricans head for the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles in Cartago, and police officials are getting ready.

The Fuerza Pública said Thursday that more than 1,000 officers will be involved in safeguarding pilgrims.

More than a million persons make the pilgrimage, and capabilities of all police and rescue agencies are strained. Aug. 2 is Tuesday this year. That means the majority of the faithful will be walking Sunday and Monday,

The idea is to be in the plaza of the basilica the morning of Aug. 2, which also happens to be a legal holiday in Costa Rica.

Police contingents will be swinging into high gear Saturday, July 30, but some pilgrims from distant areas begin their walk earlier. Some walk from nearby countries.

This is the 376th anniversary of the finding of the small, black carved rock that is venerated as a representation of the
Blessed Virgin. Most pilgrims carry in their hearts a special wish for which they seek the Virgin to intercede with her son, Jesus.

The security ministry will be setting up a command post along one side of the basilica. There will be at least 20 mounted officers, most in the vicinity of the church. There also will be air patrols, weather permitting.

For someone who has not seen the pilgrimage, it is hard to envision a million or more persons on foot filling up the nation’s roads. For many this is as much an entertainment or a way to spend time alone with that special someone.

Police encourage pilgrims to walk in groups for safety. Every year there is petty theft and some violence, but much less than would be expected in such a mass movement.

Aug. 2 is marked by a Roman Catholic Mass and speeches. Politicians attend, and President Laura Chinchilla, a devote Catholic, most certainly will be there.

The bishops who speak usually berate the politicians for not doing enough for the poor.

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