Million Costa Ricans Ask Virgin for End to Violence

CARTAGO, Costa Rica (Reuters) - A million people gathered in
Costa Rica's holy city of Cartago to ask the Virgin Mary for an
end to a crime wave that has traumatized the normally peaceful
Central American nation.    
A long line of pilgrims, many wearing white ribbons on their
lapels as a symbol of peace, trekked 19 miles from the capital
to a shrine in Cartago in an endless column to commemorate the
365th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin de los
Angeles, Costa Rica's patron saint.    
Some pleaded for favors in the shrine where an image of the
dark-skinned Virgin, carrying a baby, is kept. According to
lore, the image appeared to an Indian woman Juana Pereira, on
Aug. 2 1635.    
Some asked the Virgin to bless Costa Rica's soccer squad in
the preliminary rounds of the 2002 World Cup.    
But, according to surveys carried out by local radio, most
of the estimated one million Costa Ricans attending the
religious event appealed to the Virgin to end a crime wave that
has seen kidnappings soar 500 percent in the past six months.    
"I hope all of us will use this celebration of the Virgin
to pray for peace in Costa Rica, an end to the violence, and
that each one of us learns to live up to his responsibilities,"
President Miguel Angel Rodriguez said as he walked with the
Long used to regarding itself as the Switzerland of Latin
America, and relatively safe by regional standards, the nation
of 4 million people has been stunned by recent violence.    
Earlier this month, one of Costa Rica's top crime officials
said violence was getting out of control.    
Investigative police chief Linneth Saborio said police did
not have the resources to investigate the rising number of
crimes in the country, a favorite destination for tourists
seeking rain forest and eco-adventure.    
Costa Rican crime hit international headlines in March when
two U.S. women were murdered near the Caribbean port of Puerto
Viejo. A teenage boy is in custody.    
Last month, three Costa Ricans were beaten to death by
suspected Nicaraguans near the two countries' border and a few
days later, police traded shots with a band of kidnappers. A
hostage was killed and three police officers injured.    
At the shrine in Cartago, the head of Costa Rica's Roman
Catholic Church called on the people to heed the word of God.    
"Then we'll see the kidnappings and violence vanish like
magic," said Monsignor Roman Arrieta.

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