Lent starts in Panama with the pilgrimage to Atalaya
by Eric Jackson, photos from Twitter
Since 1790 many of Panama’s devout Catholics have been making pilgrimages to the small town of Atalaya, in Veraguas a few miles southeast of Santiago. The -statue of Jesus in that town’s chapel had been there since 1730 and the annual mega-event began to take its modern force in 1912.
Some folks from far away began walking, often in purple robes, while others were celebrating Carnival. Others are walking now and some, coming by whatever means of transportation, are already there. The big events are on this coming weekend, with a procession and a Sunday mass that typically attracts about 200,000 people but may be larger this year.
Larger? First because in a way it’s part of the run-up to Catholic Church’s January 2019 World Youth Festival that will take place in Panama. Second because a lot of conservative Catholics are inflamed about the possibilities of sex education in the schools and same-sex marriages. (Those hot button issues not only pit them against folks who are for those things, but also intensify the rivalry with Evangelicals who have been winning converts at the Catholic Church’s expense for many years and are now in the process of launching their own religious right political party.)
In any case, the Transito cops’ big mobilization for Carnival may be over, but many of them are working along with the bomberos, the SINAPROC disaster relief agency and local officials to make the pilgrimage, procession and crush at the Basilica Menor de Atalaya safe for all. There has already been at least one person run over en route to Atalaya this year.