Our Lady of Aparecida

May 11: Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil

One morning in 1717, three fishermen in Brazil poled their boat into the Parahyba River which flowed along the outskirts of their village. 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 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. In 1904 by order of the Holy Father, the image was solemnly crowned. 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.

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.

*from The Woman in Orbit

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