Published: Sunday, 19th July 2009
Most of us, when asked about authentic Marian apparitions, conclude that Our Lady has somehow confined Herself to Europe, and then until recent times, however, the opposite is true. Our Lady as “Mother of humanity” is not confined territorially to one country or another, nor indeed one continent or another, nor can we say to one time or another, rather as Ronald Knox would say, “She was always in the right place at the right time.”
One also finds Marian shrines tend to be small and often times remote but in this case, this Shrine of Aparecida in Brazil tends to rank as one of the wonders of the world. Not only is this Shrine the largest Marian shrine in the world, attracting over 12 million pilgrims per year, but the Basilica is the second largest church in the world, after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Brazil was discovered on the 26th of January in 1500 A. D. by Vincente Yanez Pinoz, who was Spanish, and a companion of Columbus. It is the world’s largest Catholic country, with a population of 20 million, of which 95% are Catholic. Not only is it the dominant country of Latin America, but in land mass, it is actually bigger than the United States, being some 2,500 miles long and 2,650 miles wide, a total of some 3.218,130 sq.miles. Brazil borders every country of south America except for Chile, and as most people will know, it is most famous for having the longest river in the world, the 2,500 mile Amazon, which starts in the Amazon jungle of Peru and makes it way to the Atlantic.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is to be found in the State of São Paulo, and which boasts of two Basilicas, one old, and the other new, both dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida (which means in Portuguese “appeared”). The old Basilica, better known as Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida, which was built between 1760 and 1770 (restored 1824 to 1834) and which was established as a minor Basilica by Pope Saint Pius X in 1908.
The “new Basilica” of Our Lady of Aparecida was begun in 1955 by Benedito Calixto who was the architect – and is built in the shape of the Greek cross – being 567 feet long (188m) and 551 feet wide (183m) and the dome reaches to 230 feet with the steeple rising to 334 feet. This church can and does hold up to 45,000 people – its car park alone can cope with 4,000 buses, and over 6,000 cars.
Pope John Paul II consecrated the building on July 4th 1980, elevating it to the title of Basilica. It is now the National Marian Shrine in Brazil, and one of the most important Marian shrines of the world. Pope John Paul II was also the first Pope to visit Brazil.
Pope Benedict XVI went on pilgrimage to this Shrine of Aparecida in May 13th 2007 during his apostolic trip to Brazil, for the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Pope Pius XI declared Our Lady of Aparecida to be the “Patron Saint” of Brazil in 1929. In fact the name Aparecida has become so important in Brazilian culture that 13 other towns have taken the name “Aparecida” before the name of the town, for example Aparecida do Salto (Sp). By 1992, there were 296 parishes dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida and five cathedrals with the same title.
The population of Aparecida is only 35,000, so one can imagine what the influx of 12 million pilgrims per year will have on such a small place. (Most would be day pilgrims) It lies 168km northeast of São Paulo and 240km southwest of Rio de Janeiro. The feast day is the 12th October, a day before, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima on the 13th.
The Sanctuary is so big that it has its own radio and TV stations, which broadcast all the services throughout Brazil and over the internet (www.santuarionacional.com).
The history of the Our Lady of Aparecida (“Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception who appeared”) begins in 1717. The news that the Governor of the State of São Paulo would be passing through the village of Guaratinguetá (now the town of Aparecida) arrived. The local authorities sent three fishermen, Domingos Garcia, Filipe Pedroso and João Alves, down to the river Paraiba to get fresh fish for the Governor (Dom Pedro de Almeida e Portugal).
The fishermen were unsuccessful in catching any fish and tried many times up and down the river. Eventually reaching a place called Porto Itaguaçu. João Alves was the man who threw the net into the river at this place and brought back a headless statue of Our Lady. He threw his net again and this time found the head of the statue, which he embraced. Then suddenly a huge school of fish arrived to the surprise of all three. Their nets were full to overflowing. They then realised that they had not only found a great treasure, but a true friend.
We do not know why the statue was at the bottom of the river, but we do know who made it. A certain religious by the name of Friar Agostino de Jesus was an Augustinan Friar from Sao Paulo, and he was known, all over Brazil, for his wonderful sculptures. This image, however, was less than three feet tall and was made around 1650. Having been underwater for years became brown in colour with all the paint having been washed off. It is covered now in a rich robe which only allows the hands and face to be seen and the imperial crown was added in 1904. It would seem that Our Lady was happy that her image was venerated in the first instance and ever since, and that is why there are so many graces received by those who venerate Her.
Filipe Pedroso brought the statue home with him and repaired it. Over the next 15 years or so, he and his family venerated the sacred image, reciting many rosaries, hymns and prayers before it. Friends and neighbours joined in, and over the years a huge devotion grew up around this particular statue of Our Lady. Many miracles were granted to those who devoutly prayed before this statue.
The fame of the extraordinary powers of Our Lady spread throughout Brazil and soon a chapel was built in the home, but the faithful flocked by the thousands, and the Pedroso family could no longer cope, as pilgrims came day and night.
In 1734, they gave the statue to the local parish priest and by 1745 the local church was already a place of pilgrimage, so much so that by 1834 construction of a new church was begun and which was to be elevated to a monor Basilica soon after.
This Marian devotion is not only a sign of the Virgin’s “special protection,” but also the call of a mother who asks her children for their freely-given consent, renewed daily. Love and devotion to Mary is a characteristic trait of Brazilian popular piety.
“Our lady, it is certain, on the one hand is always beside God, where she pleads our cause with such immense power that she has been called “supplicant omnipotence,” and on the other hand, Mary is in fact one of our race, a true daughter of Eve, who as a poor and humble woman fully shared our lot” (Paul VI Marialis Cultus n.56).
“Happy the people whose Lord is God, and whose Queen is the Mother of God” (Pope Pius XII).
The Shrine of Aparecida is now part of the Catholic culture of Brazil, where the devotional life of many is formed. Here, many learn to pray for the first time. Here also, pilgrims are taught the fundamentals of the faith that saves, which consists of a real love for Jesus, His Church and our fellow man. Here at this Shrine also, one is entrusted to Our Lady, asking her for many different graces and blessings, in return for a personal consecration to her. From here, grace upon grace flows out upon all who ask.
At the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Rue Du Bac, in Paris, Saint Catherine Laboure asked Our Lady about the coloured rays of light eminating from her hands, She replies “they are the graces that nobody asks for.” In Aparecida, these graces are indeed asked for and freely given, just like the fishermen who found the statue, the fish were freely given but in abundance.
The holy sacrifice of the mass is celebrated here with great solemnity, as are all the ceremonies. There is a 24 hour broadcast of these ceremonies over the airways, radio and television to all of Brazil and via the internet to Brazilians who now live in all four corners of the world.
Although there were no words spoken, nor apparition seen here, nevertheless, the extraordinary number of miracles which are recorded attest to the fact that Our Lady wanted this Shrine built in her honour. How many times, for example, in other apparitions around the world, did She say “tell the priests to build a chapel here.” So in an almost spontanous way, people knew that to venerate Mary in a devotional way, through the Rosary in particular meant that She recipricated by the outpouring of great graces, not just once or twice, but everytime, man has recourse to Her Maternal intercession. We often read in scripture, how She went with “haste” to visit Elizabeth. This means she went immediately. When we invoke Her, then the response is always with haste.
The most surprising thing about the 500 year Catholic history of Brazil is that there are only two canonised saints. No doubt, many of the inhabitants of Brazil have found their way to Heaven over that time, but the Church has only canonically defined that two of them are enjoying the Beatific Vision of the Most Blessed Trinity.
The first of these is Saint Anthony de Saint Anne Galvao OFM, who was affectionaly known as Frei Galvao, (Friar Galvao) He has just recently been canonised by his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on May 11, 2007. (Pope John Paul II, the Great had him beatified in 1998). He was a great devotee of the Marian Shrine of Aparecida and he was born next to this Shrine.
Friar Galvao, himself, was born into a wealthy family, which were very well-to-do and who had a high socio-economic influence, in Brazil.
He was also known for his piety and virtue, for his availability to everyone who sought him. According to Pope Benedict XVI, Frei Galvão was constantly adoring the Eucharist. It is from here that he drew his strength to be of continuous service to other people. "He was renowned as a counsellor, he was a bearer of peace to souls and families, and a dispenser of charity especially towards the poor and the sick. He was greatly sought out as a confessor, because he was zealous, wise and prudent. It is characteristic of those who truly love that they do not want the Beloved to be offended; the conversion of sinners was therefore the great passion of our saint."
One of Frei Galvão's famous expressions was:"Pray that the Lord our God will raise sinners with His mighty arm from the wretched depths of the sins in which they find themselves.”
He was also said to have affirmed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception long before it was proclaimed a dogma.
The other saint, was Saint Paulina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus who was canonised by Pope John Paul II the Great, on the 19th of May 2002. She had arrived from Italy where she was born and eventually, founded a new congregation of religious sisters called, the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Her congregation helped with orphans, slaves, and all the others whom society rejected, she loved them, fed them, educated them and did what the beatitudes called her to do.
Later in her life however, Saint Paulina's right arm had to be amputated as a result of her diabetes. Despite this, she continued to work, helping to clean the convent and sewing vestments and altar cloths. She is recognised today as the Patroness of Diabetics. This great Saint, who is much invoked in Brazil, spent many long hours in prayer at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, from where she received extraordinary graces, not only to found a new community of religious, despite all the odds, but as we know now, those graces, helped her become a Saint, recognised by the entire Church. Her spiritual testimoney can be summed up with her own words “Be humble. Trust always and a great deal in divine Providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead!”
His Holiness Pope Pius XII placed Brazil under the special protection of the Virgin of Aparecida.
Pilgrims who intend to visit this wonderful shrine would need to fly to Sao Paolo Airport and let the shrine authrorities know of your coming,in order to arrange accommodation. The website is www.santuarionacional.com
This feature is categorised under Marian Shrines