The Arenal Area Magazine

Today the country's center is a Cartago church plaza


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica President Ms. Chinchilla mingles with other pilgrims.

A flood of pilgrims filled the streets and highways Sunday, and all were hiking in the direction of Cartago.

Sunday was the eve of the feast day of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, the patroness of the country. An estimated 2 million persons were involved in the pilgrimage. That’s nearly half the population of the country.

Among those on the move was President Laura Chinchilla, who paid a late afternoon visit to the basilica in Cartago and prayed for a few minutes before the Virgen, ensconced in a gold enclosure high on the main altar of the church. She said later that her petitions to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, were to reduce violence in the country and for the speedy recovery of her husband, who broke a hip last month. He is recovering at home.

Ms. Chinchilla brought along her own security, but that was not lacking for other pilgrims. Major intersections were staffed by the Policía de Tránsito and Fuerza Pública officers in pairs about every 300 yards along the principal routes.

Despite the pilgrimage or romería as it is called in Spanish, commercial centers and home construction stores were crowded with shoppers Sunday. Today is a legal holiday as many weary pilgrims make their way home from Cartago after attending morning Mass.

Pilgrims came in every size and description. Some dressed as biblical apostles. One walked the distance in bare feet. Mothers and fathers pushed carriages or strollers. A few arrived at the plaza of the church in wheelchairs or with walkers.

The pilgrimage was a boon for vendors. They sold everything from oversized rosary beads to plastic ponchos. The pilgrims needed the ponchos later in the afternoon when thunderstorms swept through the Central Valley. More are predicted for today.

Despite the downpours most seemed in good spirits.

Although not all the pilgrims attend church every Sunday, the hike from their hometown to Cartago borders on the obligatory. Some use it to display their vices. Saturday an unsteady man carrying a can of Imperial beer was among a group heading early to Cartago. It’s unlikely he made the whole 24 kilometers from San José. The Fuerza Pública reported just two arrests, both for drunken behavior.

As one Costa Rica woman said, the pilgrimage to Cartago is a cultural event. One need not be
Chinchilla on romeria
Casa Presidencial photo
Ms. Chinchilla mingles with other pilgrims.

particularly religious to appreciate the party atmosphere of the hike and the overnight gathering in the church plaza.

The Virgin of the Angels is the Costa Rican equivalent of the Virgin of Guadalupe in México. Both authored miracles so that a church is built in their name.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is well-known all over the Spanish-speaking world. It was in Costa Rica in 1635, the story goes, that a boy found the black stone that would become the Virgen de los Ángeles. He took it home but later found that the stone magically returned to the location near a spring. A helpful priest interpreted this as a divine command to build a church. The spring was integrated into the church compound, and visitors through the year fill containers with its waters.

Inside the church an entire room is dedicated to gifts and clothing presented to the small black statue.

Over the center aisle of the church hangs instructions for the faithful to enter on their knees. They do.

Knees notwithstanding, the pilgrimage is not without pain. The Cruz Roja reported at 9 p.m. attending nearly 4,600 persons who overdid the hiking or got too much sun. There were some 21 aid stations along the various routes to Cartago. Some 29 persons had to go to hospitals, the Cruz Roja said.

The pilgrimage is such a major event that the two leading television stations devoted nearly the entire Sunday broadcast to covering the trek. Repretel, one of the networks, used less popular channel 13, to carry hourly coverage throughout the day.

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