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Pilgrims on bleedings hands and knees, wearing sack cloth


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2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
Some crawled for miles on their bleeding hands and knees. Others dragged cinderblocks and stones along the asphalt. Many arrived at the chapel exhausted and bleeding after excruciating treks barefoot, on their knees, or even dragging themselves along the ground. Many wore the traditional sackcloth of penitence. Observers said there were more young people than usual.
Thousands of Cubans made the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Lazarus on Wednesday, paying tribute, fulfilling vows and seeking favors from the crippled icon known on the island as the miraculous saint. It's traditionally one of communist Cuba's most important religious events, but this year the pilgrimage carried a special urgency. Cuba is reeling after three major late-summer hurricanes destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and sparked continuing food shortages in a country already struggling to feed itself.
"You can see the pain in the eyes of people left without homes and without food," said Catholic nun Anabel Palacios, a member of the Daughters of Charity order. "You see the pain of families separated by migration. Nearly every family has relatives who have left."
The faithful began arriving Tuesday night at the chapel housing a giant statue of St. Lazarus in the dusty village of El Rincon, an agricultural hamlet a 40-minute drive outside Cuba's capital. People started streaming into the church at midnight as the saint's feast day began, bearing flowers and offerings.
The religious outpouring reflected the latent spirituality of many Cubans after nearly five decades of communist rule that for a long time marginalized religion. Open displays of faith were long considered "counter-revolutionary." In 1998, the late Pope John Paul II visited the St. Lazarus shrine during his historic visit to Cuba.
"This is a day in which Cubans can express themselves freely," Palacios said. "No one can control this. It is spontaneous. The state has never been able to stop this."
The day is especially significant because it brings together Catholics and believers of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, who recognize St. Lazarus as Babalu-Aye.
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