Police begin their protection of pilgrims Saturday all over the country

Some 800 Fuerza Pública officers will begin their efforts Saturday to guard pilgrims on the way to Cartago.

Since many pilgrims walk a great distance, police will be on duty in Guanacaste,  Puntarenas, Limón and the southern zone, as well as locations in the Central Valley.

A concern, of course, is the Turriabla volcano that spewed ash twice over the weekend. The path from the west to the  Basílica de Los Ángeles in Cartago passes through the usual direction of ash emissions. Saturday the ash fell in Montes de Oca and other points east and north of the capital.

The pilgrimage has its climax the morning of Aug. 2 when a 9 a.m. Mass is offered in honor of the country’s patroness, Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles, at the basilica. The ceremony has a political dimension because most of the elected officials attend.

Typically religious leaders who speak are critical of the government for not doing enough for the poor, or they stress the position of the church on current political issues.

Police also will be guarding pilgrims the night before. There are

activities overnight in the plaza of the basilica. Church leaders call it the Fiesta Nacional a la Reina de Los Ángeles.

They promise folk dances, fireworks, singing and, of course, prayers.

Many of the faithful leave Cartago by bus or train after the morning Mass, but activities continue there through the next day.

The object of adoration is the small, black statue of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus found at the site 381 years ago.

A big day for the pilgrims is Aug. 1 when police will be guarding primarily the route from San José to Cartago. That includes major streets from the  Catedral Metropolitana in San José, to Los Yoses, to San Pedro de Montes de Oca, to Curridabat, to La Unión, to Ochomogo, to Taras and then to Cartago itself.

To avoid the crush of more than a million pilgrims, some trek to Cartago during the last week of July, which is why police will be on duty starting Saturday. They will be joined by traffic officers, judicial investigators and representatives from a host of other government agencies. Cruz Roja will maintain a number of aid stations.

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