Our Lady of Aparecida
In Brazil, the city of Aparecida do Norte is located in the state of Sao Paulo. It is known in the entire world as the main national Marian shrine where pilgrims from all Latin America arrive to venerate the Basilica of the Immaculate Virgin, Our Lady of Aparecida, the patroness of Brazil. The Holy Father Pope Francis will visit the shrine as a pilgrim on Wednesday, July 24, during his trip to the World Youth Days.
It was 1554 when a group of Jesuits led by Father Jose de Anchieta arrived in São Paulo with a wish to convey the treasures of Christian faith to the indigenous tribes of Tupi and Guarani. They founded São Paulo that became an important centre of evangelization. Missionaries were teaching with a great fervour and devotion to the Virgin Mary, emphasizing her role as a Mother of God and her work for salvation. Each afternoon they held teachings of Catechesis and prayers of Rosary. In many villages and towns the communities for prayers of Rosary and Novenas spread out.
This way the 1717 arrived. The governor of São Paulo Don Pedro de Almeida was traveling to the state of Minas Gerais and had to go through the small town Guaratinguetá in the valley of Paraiba. The local people were preparing to receive the important guests of governor and his delegation and asked local fishermen to bring a lot of fresh fishes.
The fishermen, including Domingo Martins Alves and Juan Felipe Pedroso, took their canoes and went down the Paraiba river to fish. They cast their nets, but their firs attempts were rather fruitless, so they decided to move six kilometres down the river, near the village Porto Itaguacu.
The net of Joao Alves became heavier at some moment; he was satisfied and started to pull the net. What appeared was however not a fish, but it looked like a statue of Our Lady of the Conception. First moment it was hard to tell exactly, because the statue was covered in mud and the head couldn’t be seen. But in a moment fishermen released the statue from the net and the head of the Virgin was found. It was black Madonna. The three men realized it was a sign from above. They put back their nets in water and soon they were filled with fish.
For about fifteen years the Holy Virgin remained in the house of Felipe Pedroso, attracting the attention of neighbors who gathered in front of it every day to pray the rosary. Thus the cult of Our Lady of Aparecida, later the patron saint of Brazil, started to spread around. Every year the devotion to her brings huge crowds of faithful to the sanctuary of São Paulo. The numbers of pilgrims are really impressive; ten million visitors in year 2010 made it the second most visited Christian shrine in the world after Lourdes.
In 1733 Predroso gave the precious statue to his son, who built a small chapel in Itaguacu to exhibit the holy statue of Our Lady of Aparecida for public veneration. The message gradually spread among the nation near and far and according to many of the faithful the veneration of it has manifested many graces and miracles upon believers.
Soon the small chapel near the river could no longer accommodate all pilgrims who came to see Virgin Mary also from distant places. For this reason the vicar of the parish of Guaratingueta commissioned the construction of a larger chapel in Morro dos Coqueiros, which was inaugurated on June 26, 1745, with the name of Our Lady of Aparecida.
The river of faithful to Our Lady of Aparecida never ended, but rather slowly increased. In Brazil many churches and chapels were dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, adored as Mother and Patroness. Two new buildings were opened in 1885 and in 1888. Finally in 1904 the image was solemnly crowned and four years later the temple turned into a small basilica.
On June 16, 1930 the Pope Pius XI declared Our Lady Aparecida the patroness of Brazil and elaborated the plan to build a new Basilica that we know today. Constructional works actually started only in 1946 and later it was consecrated by John Paul II on July 4, 1980.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida is truly gigantic with a 100 feet high bell tower, the cupola 70 meters in diameter, the main building is built in a form of Greek cross – 173 meters long and 168 meters wide with a total area of 18,000 square meters and the capacity to accommodate up to 46 thousand faithful. For its proportions the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida is second largest in the world, next only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Hailed as the patroness of Brazil, Our Lady of Aparecida will be venerated most by pilgrims on national feast day on 7th September.
As a religious symbol of the nation, the Virgin of Aparecida has always received a special attention of Roman Popes. To commemorate the 250 years anniversary of discovery of the statue in the river, Paul VI sent a golden rose that was placed at the foot of her throne. John Paul II travelled several times to pray there, during his four trips to Brazil. Benedict XVI paid a visit to the Shrine on 12th and 13th May, 2007 to open the V Conference of Latin American Bishops that led to formulation of historical document regarding the Lady of Aparecida, which was elaborated under guidance of Cardinal Bergoglio.
Now Pope Francis is dedicating to Our Lady of Aparecida the longest time in his trip to Brazil for the World Youth Day. The auspicious day will be Wednesday, July 24, the day, which according to a plan prepared by Benedict XVI had to be a resting day. The Holy Father, whose great devotion to Virgin Mary is not a secret, have decided to spend this day in prayers in front of the statue of patron saint of Brazil and will pray to Our Lady of Aparecida for the blessings for the young people and pilgrims to the World Youth Day.
The feast day of Our Lady of Aparecida is October 12 and it is also a public holiday in Brazil.
Prayer of Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Aparecida, July 4, 1980
Our Lady of Aparecida!
At this time so solemn, so great, I want to open before you, O Mother, the heart of these people, among whom you have decided to dwell in a so special way [...].
I wish to open before you the heart of the Church and the heart of the world to which this Church was sent by your Son.
Also want to open up my heart [...].
I greet you and say "Hail!"
In this sanctuary, where the Church of Brazil loves you, worships you and invokes you as Aparecida.
As revealed to it and venerated in a particular way!
As its Mother and Patroness! [...]
s a model of all the souls who have true wisdom and at the same time, the simplicity of the child and that inner confidence which transcends all weakness and all suffering! [...]
Do not stop, O Virgin Aparecida, to manifest with your very presence in this world that love is stronger than death, more powerful than sin!
Do not stop to show us God, who loved the world so much that sacrificed his only Son that no one is lost, but have eternal life!