Politics and religiosity mix in the Cartago church plaza

Some pilgrims stayed at the basilica for a procession and Mass Tuesday night. There are more activities today. Photo: Ken Beedle

Religious activities at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles continued into the night with more planned for today.

The small, black figure of the Virgin Mary and her child, Jesus, was the centerpiece of a procession as priests removed what is called la Negrita from its place high above the church’s altar.

In the morning, the small statue was dressed in golden garments for the day and adorned with a gold rosary that had been sent by Pope Benedicto XVI in the care of Francisco Robles Ortega, a cardinal from México, who participated in the morning Mass.

Ms. Chinchilla delivers her morning message beneath the crucified Christ. Photo: Casa Presidencial

The Cruz Roja said that its 600 volunteers treated 3,904 pilgrims, mostly for muscle aches since last week. However, the rescue agency also was involved in the two vehicle fatalities that took place, one Sunday and one Monday night.

Among those treated were 237 minors, the agency said. The aid stations were being dismantled late Tuesday, although those at the basilica and at Tres Ríos would be maintained through today.

The Cruz Roja said that it spent about 40 million colons or about $80,000 for its activities over the weekend and into Tuesday. That figure does not count the thousands of hours put in by volunteers, the agency said. Nor does it count the costs of the various police forces.

The Fuerza Pública said it was pleased with the results of the four days of high security. There were but eight arrests. Five persons were the subject of arrests warrants, two were illegal immigrants and one driver was accused of being drunk.

Juan José Andrade, director general of the police agency, said the pilgrimage was one of the most secure and that officers confiscated only small quantities of drugs.

By contrast there were 40 arrests last year, police said.

Police will continue to guard pilgrims through today because of the additional activities at the basilica. Although there are no official figures and many pilgrims jumped the gun and walked to the basilica a week early, some officials estimated that nearly two million persons participated. That would make the pilgrimage the largest in history.

Speaking at the morning ceremony was President Laura Chinchilla. Once again she blamed legislators for not passing her plan for $1 billion in new taxes so that her administration could take unspecified steps to end crime.

She also encouraged parents to raise their children free of aggression and violence and cultivate love and respect so that they would not become criminals. She also called for a national union to combat violence. Only in that way could Costa Ricans manage to construct a country more secure, she said, using one of the slogans from her administration.

The president said the police were facing criminal bands but that they had scarce resources and that the citizens are not going to be able to win the battle.

She also said that her administration was focusing on what she said was the grave problem of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The social services and medical agency is running a big deficit, in part because the central government owes it $2 billion for social security payments for years of employees.

As usual, Ms. Chinchilla spoke in abstract terms and did not specify exactly how any new money would be used to fight crimes or what resources police lack.

Later in a press conference Ms. Chinchilla stood up and threatened to leave when a reporter pressed her on the issue of in vitro fertilization, which has become a major issue. She blamed lawmakers for the situation that has resulted in pressure from the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. Such procedures now are not legal in Costa Rica, and the court has said this is a violation of rights.

She also asked lawmakers to pass the pending $300 annual tax on corporations. The proceeds are supposed to be used for as-yet undefined resources for the police. Opposition parties control the Asamblea Legislativa.

Many political figures were at the morning Mass, which was conducted under unusually hot weather.

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