Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil
In the year 1717, Dom Pedro de Almeida, the Count of Assumar, and the Governor of the Province were soon to be passing through the region near Guaratinqueta, which is a village in the Parahyba River Valley. The people of the city decided to hold a feast in their honor. Three fishermen, Filipe Pedroso, Domingos Garcia, and Joao Alves, poled their boat into the Parahyba River which flowed along the outskirts of their village.
The fishermen prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that they would have a good catch. Sadly, their luck was bad; for hours they cast their nets but caught no fish. They decided to give up for the day; then for some reason, they wanted to make one more try. Alves threw out his net and slowly pulled it in. There was something in it – not a fish, but something that looked like a chunk of wood. When he lifted it from the net, it turned out to be a headless statue of the Blessed Virgin.
The fisherman cast his net into the water again. When he pulled it into his boat, he found that this time it held a roundish piece of wood – the head from the very same statue. He picked up both pieces and found that they fitted perfectly together.
Obeying an impulse, Alves lowered his net one more time. When Alves began to pull the net back in, he found he could hardly lift the net because it was bulging with fish. His companions threw out their nets and they had the same luck. A few more casts and their boats were filled with fish.
The next day they fastened the head to the body of the statue, cleaned it, and found it was a black version of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. One of them set it up in his humble dwelling. The story of the statue and the immense catch of fish spread and every evening people came to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin. They gave it the name Aparecida, “She who appeared.” Soon a little chapel was erected – the crowds were too big for the humble cottage; then a larger chapel was built. Our Lady well repaid those who honored her, for numerous cures and even extraordinary miracles took place at her shrine.
In 1846, work began on the construction of a new church, completed in 1888, and the statue was transferred to it. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in 1904, by order of the Holy Father St. Pope Pius X, the image was solemnly crowned. This was done to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In 1909 the church was raised to the level of a minor basilica; in 1930 Pope Pius XI promoted it to a Basilica and officially declared Our Lady of Aparecida the Patroness of Brazil.
The popularity of Our Lady of Aparecida continued to grow, and in the mid-20th century a much larger church was begun to house the image. The present Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is the second largest Basilica in the world, and can hold up to 45,000 people. Consecrated in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, it is the largest Marian shrine in the world, and a basilica second only to St. Peter’s in Rome.
Our Lady of Aparecida has been specifically targeted on several occasions by the Protestants in Brazil, as on May 16, 1978, a Protestant attempted to steal the statue, taking it from its niche and casting it on the ground when he was stopped by guards and parishioners. Since the statue is made of clay, it was smashed into many pieces and took a great effort on the part of talented artisans to repair.