The faithful in small numbers have begun their annual trek to Cartago.
Firefighters and traffic police were on duty this weekend. The bulk of the Fuerza Pública, 1,000 strong, begins their annual operation early Friday.
The holiday Friday for the Anexión del Partido de Nicoya, is situated conveniently so that many Costa Ricans have a three-day weekend. For many there is no need to be in the plaza at the Cartago basilica for the Aug. 2 Mass as long as the route is covered in the days before.
Mario Calderón, director of the Policía de Tránsito, said that his officers expect a large flow of pilgrims Friday through next Sunday but that they were aware that this weekend would see some activity, too. An emphasis now are those routes distant from the capital where pilgrims are beginning their trek. This includes the Peñas Blancas border crossing where pilgrims will enter from countries to the north. Also getting early attention are routes in the southern part of the country and in Guanacaste.
Perhaps 2 million persons will make the hike.
The Cuerpo de Bomberos began the effort for pilgrims at the stations in Paraíso, Pacayas and Cartago this weekend. Other fire stations will be opened for pilgrims as the numbers increase.
A report from the fire fighters noted that planning has been going on for months among representatives of the Municipalidad de Cartago, the Ministerio de Salud, the Policía Municipal, the Fuerza Pública, the Junta Administradora de Servicios Eléctricos de Cartago, the Cruz Roja, the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, the Policía de Tránsito, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and officials at the basilica.
The center of all this attention is the small statue that seems to represent the Virgin Mary and her infant son, Jesus. Mary is Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, the patroness of the country. Worshippers have been visiting since the middle of the 17th century when a church was constructed. Most seek special favors that they will ask the Virgin to put before God in their name.
For the emergency teams the alert does not end Aug.2, the feast day of the Virgin, when Mass is completed and the pilgrims begin to leave. The following day, Aug. 3, priests and other workers at the basilica take the statue out into the streets of Cartago for a long and well-attended procession.
For many Costa Ricans, the statue is not a symbol but the actual incarnation of the virgin.
For Cartago and the Roman Catholic Church, the annual pilgrimage is a financial boon.