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Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil)

Our Lady of Aparecida is a Catholic title given to the Virgin Mary in Brazil, and it is associated with a reported apparition that occurred in the early 18th century.

According to tradition, three fishermen were out on the Paraíba River in the state of São Paulo when they caught a small statue of the Virgin Mary in their net. They tried to throw the statue back into the river, but each time they did, the net became heavier until they realized that the statue wanted to be kept. They then took the statue home with them, where it became an object of veneration for the local community.

Over time, the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida spread throughout Brazil, and a chapel was built to house the statue. The statue itself was later replaced by a larger and more elaborate one, which is still venerated today.

The devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida is seen as a symbol of Brazilian national identity and Catholic faith, particularly among the poor and marginalized. The shrine attracts millions of pilgrims each year, many of whom attribute miracles and healings to Mary's intercession.

Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine in 2007, where he prayed before the statue and reaffirmed the importance of the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazilian Catholicism.

 

In 2013, Pope Francis visited the shrine during World Youth Day celebrations, where he again emphasized the importance of Mary in the lives of Brazilian Catholics.

Today, Our Lady of Aparecida is considered the patroness of Brazil and is venerated as a symbol of hope, faith, and resilience in the face of adversity.

The year was 1717. Brazil was still a Portuguese colony and the faith of the people along the Paraiba River was wavering. Long days of fruitless work wore down the humble fishermen who increasingly turned from the Church seeking hope through spiritism and witchcraft instead. 

Three weathered fishermen set out on the river that October day hoping their fortune and faith would finally turn. Hours passed and their nets came up empty again and again. But they persisted through the afternoon routinely casting and dragging their nets through the muddy waters with little expectation.

As they prepared for one final sweep before heading home disheartened, the fishermen plunged their nets and felt unexpected weight. Rather than fish, they hauled up a surprising catch - a small dull clay statue of the Virgin Mary missing its head. One cast later they caught the little figurine's severed head wrapped in the net. 

They knelt reverently before their curious discovery there on the boat, took the terracotta pieces home and cleaned the statue of its coating of mud and rust. The humble recovered artifact seemed to radiate spiritual warmth that affected the downhearted community. 

News of the statue's finding stirred the village's dormant devotion. In a revival of sagging spirits and religious zeal, pilgrims began arriving, processions formed, prayers lifted and miracles of healing were reported associated with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception statue.  

The clay image was scarcely 16 inches tall depicting Mary in long robes with her hands joined in reverent prayer. Yet all who looked upon the serene and youthful face of Aparecida sensed an inner beauty, tenderness and flickering divine presence.  

As word circulated through Brazil and beyond, ever increasing waves of pilgrims descended on the tiny Aparecida village to see the heaven-sent effigy of Mary. Crowds arrived pleading for blessings, cures or to simply behold the little statue itself, which was said to possess miracle-making qualities. 

Fame and visitations steadily grew over nearly two centuries until eventually a towering basilica was erected for Our Lady of Aparecida and her relic statue on the very spot of its discovery in 1717. As multitudes continued flocking to the shrine, Aparecida soon eclipsed Europe's Lourdes and Fatima to become the world's largest Marian pilgrimage center. 

In 1930, the Vatican granted Aparecida a Minor Basilica title cementing its status as a Catholic spiritual hub. As veneration increased, tales of protection, affection and wonder continued to accumulate around the recovered clay icon. 

Being the patroness of Brazil, her statue is paraded through the crowds not only in Aparecida but also during official State visits in Rio di Janeiro as well. The devotion took on an even deeper dimension when in 1980 John Paul II knelt to her image and dedicated an entire South American nation into her saintly custody in Brazilia.  

Most pivotal was the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina as Supreme Pontiff in 2013. Appearing on the balcony in Rome, he revealed his chosen name in honor of beloved St. Francis of Assisi. Then Pope Francis held up an image of his personal inspiration for the tasks ahead - the tiny clay statue of little Aparecida - Our Lady who appears and gives hope to the hopeless if we but seek her divine Son.

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