All roads soon will lead to the Cartago basilica

A few early birds can be seen making the pilgrimage to Cartago. The few will become a crowd and then a flood, culminating in the Aug. 2 celebration there.

This is the pilgrimage to Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles, the patroness of the country, at the Cartago basilica. Aug. 2, a Tuesday, is a national holiday.

Expats always are surprised at the number of the faithful, more than a million over a few weeks. The distance from downtown San José is just 22 kilometers, about 14 miles.

Some of the faithful, young and old, walk from all corners of Costa Rica and some from foreign lands.

This is the 381st year since a girl found a small, black statue representing the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus Christ sitting on a rock. The statue returned miraculously to that location, suggesting to local priests that a church should be built there, to honor the Lady of the Angels.

The statue today is above the basilica altar draped in one of the many elaborate pieces of clothing the faithful have made. The tradition is to enter and traverse the central aisle of the basilica on knees.

The priests at the Santuario Nacional Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles plan to announce the schedule for the 12-day fiesta Friday. This year, a crew has opened up access to the rock on which the statue was found, and pilgrims may touch it, an announcement said. The

Basilica of  Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles

Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles

official veneration is from July 23 to Aug. 3.

The Catholic Church has noted that 20 Latin countries have adopted Mary, the mother of Christ, as their patroness. Of them, at least eight are associated with some miracle associated with the discovery of a statue or similar.

Such miracles are not confined to the Colonial era. Eternal Word Television Network has listed at least 30 appearances of the Virgin Mary in the 20th century alone.

Even the  Ngöbe in northern Panamá have had a visit in 1961 from the Virgin Mary, and that tradition has become the Mama Tada cult.

In keeping with the matriarchal Mother Earth religions of the natives, The Catholic Church early on promoted the Virgin Mary as an object of veneration.

But there are non-Christian figures, too. Hugo Chavéz in Venezuela promoted María Lionza, the forest maiden pictured sitting on a tapir, as a way to generate national unity. That cult dates from the Colonial period, too.

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