In 2009, at the height of the H1N1 flu virus epidemic, Costa Rica’s Minister of Health decided to ban a 228 year old tradition for the first time ever. This tradition is an annual pilgrimage involving more than 1 million pilgrims who walk to the Basilica Virgen de Los Angeles, a church outside of the capital, San Jose.

Since Catholics there were then not able to participate in the 2009 gathering due to these public health concerns, some of them turned to the web to carry on the tradition using a “Virtual Pilgrimage”. It was led up by the radio station there, Radio Fides, and their ad agency. The interactive website they created is a really neat idea and the ad for it actually won the top award at the Volcan Ad Festival. It had 17,000 pilgrims participate in 6 days.

Check out the video ad for it below:

Of course, a virtual pilgrimage will never replace actually going on the pilgrimage in person. But when the government bans it for a year, this was a nice touch to keep the tradition going and it allowed people to still spiritually and symbolically participate. It is impressive that it has been recognized by the professional advertising community and also won an award for how well it was implemented.

We are seeing more and more of these virtual pilgrimages as complements to so many of the wonderful pilgrimages Catholics take all over the world. There was even one for the March for Life here in the USA earlier this year where over 70,000 people participated online. The site is no longer up but you can see some screen-shots from it here.

Virtual pilgrimages are a great way to let people, who are unable to attend in person, still be a part of the effort in some way. They build awareness of the pilgrimage and help promote it. And they can often do some creative things that could not be done in the “real-life” pilgrimage.

Check out the website for Costa Rica’s virtual pilgrimage here. Very creative.