San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Annual Pilgrimage Under Way

STATUES are apparently good for more than just adding aestheticpleasure to a park, immortalizing a great hero or representinga memorable event. A 20-centimeter black statue single-handedlyended racial segregation in Cartago, east of San José, in 1635, andstill calls millions of people to participate in a pilgrimage toCartago each year.Although the legend has slightly varying versions, all accountsagree that on Aug. 2, 1635, Juana Pereira, a young girl of color,found a statue of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary on top of a rock, 10blocks east of the city center. She took the statue and hid it in herhome. When she went to check on La Negrita (little black woman),as the statue is still affectionately called, it was gone, and later reappearedwhere it had originally been found. She took the statue tothe local priest and, twice, it reappeared where it had first beenrevealed to Pereira. The priest interpreted the occurrences to have atwofold meaning: Cartago should be integrated, and a churchshould be built on the site where the black Madonna kept appearingand had apparently already made her home.Today the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Our Ladyof the Angels Basilica) in Cartago houses the rock on which the statuewas found inside a crypt, while the statue itself sits high above thealtar. While the church receives visitors year-round, it has becomethe destination of an enormous annual pilgrimage on the feast day ofOur Lady of the Angels, Aug. 2, and the surrounding days.More than one million believers and curious tourists travel onfoot and, occasionally, on their knees to the basilica in Cartagofrom all over Costa Rica, Central America and the world. The pilgrimsarrive at the Basilica to pay their respects to and honor theVirgin Mary.According to Father Jorge Solorano, a priest at the basilica, agroup of people from Coto Brus, in Southern Costa Rica, currentlyon their way to Cartago, started their two-week pilgrimage beforeJuly 20.“The people who come (to the basilica) are very sincere,”observed Solorano. “They feel they have achieved something veryimportant by arriving here.”He added that the pilgrims come with “confidence” that theirprayers will be answered and that they will be touched by the healingpowers of La Negrita. The church receives innumerable year roundtestimonies of answered petitions, prayers and miracles consideredto be blessings of the Virgin Mary. In the past two monthsalone, the church has received more than 200 such testimonies,Solorano told The Tico Times.Each year the pilgrimage is given a theme; this year, it is “Yesto Life.” The theme speaks specifically against domestic violence,violence against children and all forms of exploitation.“Values, principles and morals have been dropped or silencedfor political or economic reasons, or because of pure indifference.We chose this phrase to express the need for Christians to thinkabout violation of life,” Solorano explained on behalf of the church.The church welcomes all who want to participate in the pilgrimage.“(The pilgrimage) is the event in Costa Rica that, despite politicaland economic crises, has always united the nation, since 1635,”Solorano said. “Costa Rica has passed through many stages, butthis small image has always been a point of unity for the childrenof this nation.”

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