About 2 million Costa Rican believers - almost half the population - have traveled from all over the country to the Basilica de los Angeles, the sanctuary of the Virgin of the Angels, to express their thanks for her blessings and to ask for favors and miracles.

Most of the pilgrims will arrive at the Basilica on Monday, including President Laura Chinchilla, while on Tuesday, a holiday in Costa Rica, assorted celebrations will be held in honor of the Virgin of the Angels.

However, the pilgrimage began days and even weeks ago, with some people walking hundreds of kilometers from the farthest reaches of the Central American country.

At the Basilica, which is located in Cartago, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of San Jose, one can observe everyone from children to the elderly entering the church on their knees, as well as other people who made their pilgrimage on bicycles and even on horseback.

One of the most frequently described cases by the media is that of 71-year-old farmer Miguel Bonilla, who said that thanks to the intercession of the Virgin Mary when he was 7 he recovered his sight after becoming blind three years earlier.

In a Mass celebrated on Monday, Monsignor Jose Francisco Ulloa adhered to the tradition of changing the clothing on the image of the Virgin, with this year's outfit having been selected in a competition in which dozens of the faithful participated.

The prelate also announced that Pope Benedict XVI had sent as a gift for the Virgin of the Angels a golden necklace that will be placed around the statue's neck on Tuesday.

Religious tradition holds that on Aug. 2, 1635, an image 18 centimeters (7 inches) high of a brown-skinned mother with a male child in her arms and sculpted of jade appeared on top of a large stone to the Indian girl Juana Pereira.

The girl took the little statuette to her home on several occasions, but it purportedly continued to reappear on top of the same stone, a situation that was taken as a divine sign by the local priests, who decided to build a church on the site that is now the Basilica de los Angeles.

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