Today is the big day for a flood of pilgrim hikers

Ministerio de OLbras Públicas
y Transportes photo
This is the goal of the pilgrims, the basilica

Today is the big day for pilgrims on their way to Cartago from all points of the country. They will fill the highways, and emergency and police are working overtime to insure their safety.

Some pilgrims or romeros, as they are called, have been walking for several days to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles. The small, black statue there is called la Negrita, and it is the Costa Rican manifestation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ in Christian theology. Most of the hikers are doing so as thanks for favors granted or with personal petitions they hope the Virgin Mary will present to God, the Father.

Each year some 2 million persons make the trek but not all on the same day. Hikers have been heading for the basilica for two weeks.

The high point is a Roman Catholic Mass Thursday morning, and politicians of every stripe will be there. The day is a legal holiday.

Fire fighters are active, too. A provision fire station has been set up in Oreamuno west of Cartago. And there is a small, temporary fire facility immediately behind the basilica, the Cuerpo de Bomberos said. Fire stations in Tres Ríos and Cartago have been reinforced.

The Policía de Tránsito, the Fuerza Pública, judicial police and anti-drug agents are all on the job along the main roads leading to Cartago.There even are aircraft keeping an eye on the hikers during the day. The Cruz Roja has set up aid stations for the weary and the ill.

Heavy trucks and those with dangerous cargos are prohibited along the routes. Traffic has been blocked for three blocks around the basilica and many routes have been restricted to vehicular traffic. The basilica plaza there will be the scene of an all-night religious and social gathering tonight though Thursday morning.

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