A little rain does not hamper the massive flow of pilgrims

Caught in the afternoon rain, pilgrims soldier on. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

Pilgrims got a break Monday when afternoon rains changed to cloudy skies.

Although some pilgrims to Cartago were soaked when the rains began around 1 p.m., others waited until the storms moved on to begin their trek. Thousands were in the plaza of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles by mid-evening, and thousands more were on the way, guarded by a major police effort.

The Cruz Roja reported that its 400 volunteers had treated more than 1,600 persons at aid stations all over the country. The bulk of the exhausted hikers were treated at the Cartago aid station. About 40 persons had to be transferred to a hospital due to more serious maladies. The bulk of the wounded complained of sore muscles. Volunteers provided massages of sore limbs.

Some had sore knees. One man claimed to have traveled 70 kilometers (about 44 miles) on his knees. Knees were the order of the day once pilgrims reached the basilica. Entry into the middle aisle of the church is limited to the faithful who travel on their knees. That is a year-round rule, but waves of pilgrims were headed to the altar and the small rock statute of La Negrita, the affectionate name for the country’s patroness. Presumably President Laura Chinchilla, who arrived at the basilica about 7:45 p.m., also traveled the length of the church on her knees, but security officials and Fuerza Pública officers kept the press outside.

The plaza was like a party with bands, singing and food.

This is an annual event culminating in a Mass and a series of prayers and speeches this morning. Each year the number of faithful seems to increase. Some say the number this year will reach 2 million persons. The number last year was easily 1.4 million.

In addition to knees and feet, some came on horseback or on bicycles. Some who live in Cartago chose to walk west to San José and then return so that they, too, would experience the sense of the pilgrimage. Most who participated nursed a private petition to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, or were participating due to promises made over past favors.

The darkest cloud over the pilgrimage was the death early Monday of a woman who was among those hit by a car Sunday morning in San Juan de La Unión de Cartago. Coincidently, that same area was the scene of another fatality involving a pilgrim several years ago. Family member erected a small shrine.

The latest fatality was Rosa María Arguedas Vargas, 58, a teacher. The driver of the vehicle, a 19 year old with the last names of Bolaños Valverde, was hospitalized because other pilgrims attacked him after his vehicle ran into 14 person, including Ms. Arguedas. When he left Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago Monday, he was detained by the Judicial Investigating Organization and brought into court. He was not jailed, but told he must sign in with prosecutors every 15 days while they consider his case. The accident happened when he turned from a side road into a main avenue filled with pilgrims.

There were reports Monday night of yet another death of a pilgrim on a main street in San José.

The police agencies were out in force. The security ministry’s Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea put a helicopter in the air and quickly pointed out that the agency just spent $250,000 to repair the craft.

The ministry also was preparing its own devotions for early today. As the Día de La Virgen de Los Ángeles began, security officials were planning to fly a fixed-wing craft above the Cartago church and dump flowers on the faithful gathered below. They said this would be their homage to the Virgen de Los Ángeles.

Traffic was cut off or restricted on a number of roads around Cartago. Thousands were still on the highways early today.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted cloudy skies for today with the possibility of light rain in the afternoon. Most pilgrims should be heading home by then.

The rains Monday were only a few millimeters but very penetrating and accompanied by humidity that made wearing plastic rain gear uncomfortable.

Many businesses and officers were closed Monday because employees were hiking to Cartago. But it is today that is the official legal holiday.

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