Monday, August 03, 2009

Undeterred by flu warning, Catholics march to Cartago

(Photo:Mario Rojas/La Nacion)By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff

The flu couldn't keep thousands of people from marching from San Jose eastward to the old capital of Cartago this weekend.

Despite the Health Ministry's call for people to refrain from making the journey and the Catholic Church's closure of the Cartago basilic, Costa Ricans filled the streets on a pilgrimage that's drawn walkers for more than 227 years. Depending on where they begin their journey, Ticos walk from several hours to several days at this time of year to pay homage to a statuette of the Virgen de los Angeles, the patron saint of Costa Rica, on Aug. 2.

As presidential candidate Laura Chinchilla recently told the daily La Nacion, “Costa Ricans' faith is stronger than the pandemic.”

But for those who didn't want to take the risk – at a time when the A(H1N1) flu virus is at its height – a group of software developers created a virtual Romeria (holy pilgrimage) at http://www.romeriavirtual.com/.

“The Romeria has been something that has gone on for many years. People are accustomed to marching,” said Esteban Cairol, a creator of the Web site and a spokesman for the Archdiocese. “When we heard the Romeria might be suspended, we started to think of ideas of a secure way people could still participate and in which they would get that sense of a community.”

As of Sunday evening, 12,590 people had gone on their site and uploaded a picture of themselves to one of the marchers walking across their computer screen. Some chose characters who walked on their knees, some danced across the screen doing the moonwalk and most everyone added personal messages to their character.

According the latest numbers from the Health Ministry, 22 people have died in Costa Rica of medical complications resulting from the A(H1N1) virus. The ministry has confirmed roughly 718 cases nationwide.

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