'Bless that woman': Hondurans look to tiny icon, and a new president, for hope
Thousands of Honduran believers descended on their country's most famous religious icon Thursday, praying for an end to the Catholic nation's crippling poverty and success for their newly elected leftist leader.
Accompanied by new president Xiomara Castro, the devotees flocked to the Virgen de Suyapa basilica to mark an annual celebration of the wooden statuette of the mother of Christ.
February 3 marks the date of the 1747 discovery of the 6.55 cm statue -- the Patroness of Honduras -- by a peasant on El Piliguin mountain near the capital.
"The virgin is going to bless that woman who sits in the presidency," worshiper Maura Isabel said of Honduras' new leader, who has promised profound social reforms to lift the country out of poverty after over a decade of right-wing rule. "God wants her to know how to govern us."
Castro replaced right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who left power dogged by allegations of drug trafficking and corruption in a country where at least 60 percent of the 10 million inhabitants live in poverty.
Her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a coup d'etat in 2009.
"God grant that (Castro) knows how to govern us -- above all that she goes to remote places where there is no help from anyone," said Maura Isabel Lopez, an indigenous mother of a police officer and two soldiers -- dangerous work in a country plagued by murderous gangs that control drug trafficking.
Elected in November, Castro faces an uphill struggle to reform a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world from which thousands of its citizens have fled to the United States.
"We ask you with the words of Pope Francis: I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez said in the homily of the mass attended by the president.
"It is imperative that the rulers and financial powers raise their eyes and broaden their perspectives."