By Fernando Gimeno
Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador, Ape 9 (EFE).- Under a pitch-dark night, thousands of people defied rain and the controversial ban by a judge to carry out the Walk of Faith, a 40-kms-long night pilgrimage in the Andes mountains in Ecuador.
Since the pilgrimage started being held around 30 years ago, only the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the faithful from walking every year from the city of Ambato to Baños de Agua Santa to pray to the Virgin of Rosario.
With restrictions on public gatherings being lifted in the country a few weeks ago, the devotees had been eagerly looking forward to walking to their church to make new wishes or be thankful for them being granted.
Therefore, an order issued by a judge from the neigboring Pastaza province just four hours before the mass in Ambato, suspending the pilgrimage as a preventive measure over a dispute, was partially ignored by the locals.
The order came on the complaint of a group of citizens who have objected to the Walk of Faith cutting off the main highway that connects Pastaza with central Ecuador, including capital Quito.
“There was no way to immediately appeal (the decision),” priest Fabricio Davila of the Ambato diocese told EFE, even as he was getting ready to take part in the homily, while provincial and local authorities tried to implement the judicial order.
However, by then many pilgrims had already started off on the route, while many others, unaware of the court order, began the annual procession as planned.
A few hours later, the highway was blocked by throngs of people walking in small groups of friends and family on both sides, with authorities and police lacking sufficient resources to block them, especially after the town of Pelileo, situated midway between Ambato and Baños.
However, the order led to the size of the procession being reduced to less than 25,000 people by the early hours of Saturday as it reached its destination, down from the diocese’s estimate of around 40,000.
The walk was also hampered by heavy rains that began around midnight, but most of the participants braved the weather to continue to move forward for getting a glimpse of the Virgin.
The path, which has the majestic Mt Tungurahua volcano as its backdrop, had enthusiastic participants from all age groups.
“This is the fourth time that I have come,” Diego Suarez, who had walked for five hours from Pelileo to thank the Virgin for his good health during the pandemic, told EFE.
One has to walk through a slope measuring nearly 1.6 kms during the procession, most of it downward as one descends around 1,200 meters, but followed by a last leg which is a true test of faith with a steep climb of around 360 meters.
Many of the pilgrims could be seen resting on this stretch after developing cramps and nursing pains and aches, having reached the limits of their strength.
Near the shrine, the surroundings were lit up by hundreds of candles lit by each of the pilgrims, symbolizing the blessings they asked for from the Virgin, as part of tradition that has continued unabated after the pandemic. EFE