Tens of thousands of faithful defied the pandemic and made a pilgrimage to the huge basilica of Aparecida, in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, where many arrived after marching for several days to participate in the Tuesday celebrations of Our Lady of the Aparecida Conception, the holy patron saint of Brazil.

In a normal year, the cathedral can receive up to 35,000 people. But because the pandemic still causes more than 400 deaths a day in Brazil, the capacity had to be reduced for the second year in a row.

“It’s difficult, you know. You have to have faith that everything will be fine, ”said Daiane Santos Barbosa, her voice still agitated after walking more than 96.5 kilometers (60 miles). “The reward is to get here,” he added as he turned to the great cathedral behind him.

Barbosa, from the neighboring state of Rio de Janeiro, wanted to attend one of the day’s masses inside the enclosure. Various services were held, each with a maximum of 2,500 people, up from 1,000 last year.

The celebration of Our Lady of Aparecida is one of the most important days for Catholics in Brazil, where it is also a bank holiday. It is no coincidence that 90 years ago, the authorities in Rio de Janeiro chose this day to inaugurate the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the iconic monument that overlooks the city.

Another pilgrim from Rio de Janeiro said that she and several others came despite the coronavirus to pray after many months of a pandemic and a worsening economic crisis.

“Although the pandemic continues, people put aside this issue of the disease to experience some peace,” said Joice do Carmo. “We have lost many people. I lost an aunt because of this, but others in my family are still here and this is a way to be grateful ”.

Almost 45% of the population is fully vaccinated in Brazil, and the percentage of partially inoculated Brazilians exceeds that of the United States or Germany, according to the research website Our World in Data.

On a surprise visit, President Jair Bolsonaro attended Tuesday’s celebrations. The president was cheered and booed as he walked through the crowd. Many blame Bolsonaro and his government for some of the 600,000 deaths that COVID-19 has caused in Brazil since the start of the pandemic.

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