Violation of Copa’s Dark Virgin

Copa's Dark VirginOn April 22 just as the sun climbed over the eastern mountains, the Copacabana Cathedral bells rang frantically for nearly an hour, signaling a major crisis and summoning the entire town.

Overnight, thieves had broken into the 430-year-old cathedral’s Chapel of the Dark Virgin of the Lake, Copa’s patron saint. They stole the Virgin’s golden crown and a gold crescent moon, each weighing over 3 kilos (about 6.6 pounds). They took her velvet gown, adorned with sacred ornaments and precious jewels, along with gold- crowned Baby Jesus. Initial estimates pegged the loss at over $1 million USD, then over $2 million; the latest: over $20 million. Cathedral congregants are holding round-the-clock vigils to pray for the return of the stolen items, and forgiveness of the thieves. Townspeople often cry when they talk of the sacrilege. Many have closed their businesses in mourning. Last week Copa’s ten zona (zone) presidents called for mandatory overnight vigils inside the cathedral – every household had to muster at least one adult, or pay a 200 Boliviano fine (about $30, or roughly a week’s average income). At 7:30 p.m. last Thursday, carrying lanterns and candles and led by our zona’s green and yellow banner and the Virgin’s burgundy and gold standard, we and about 250 of our neighbors formally marched to the town’s central plaza. We circled the plaza singing Ave Maria, stopping at each corner to chant Hail Marys, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed.

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