How to Grow Your Own Devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida
Legendary tales passed down in Brazil, where Our Lady of Aparecida is patroness, reveal that a group of fishermen miraculously caught an abundance of fish after invoking the Blessed Mother for help in their work. A clay statue bearing the image of Mary as the Immaculate Conception is housed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her feast is celebrated on October 12 worldwide, and her name under this title means Our Lady Revealed.
In 1717, three fishermen – Domingos Garcia, Joao Alves, and Filipe Pedroso headed to the Paraiba river valley to fish in honor of the holiday associated with Dom Pedro de Almeida, who was the governor of Sao Paulo. The three men prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception for a successful endeavor as they cast their nets into the waters. Immediately, they brought up a headless statue – the now famous clay image – of Mary, then found her head, and instantly filled their nets with a plethora of fish.
The men cleaned the statue and repaired it, then attributed their miraculous catch after a strain of bad luck while fishing to a name they gave Mary – Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Aparecida, which translates into English as Our Lady of the Conception who appeared.
After the restoration of the statue, devotion to Mary under this title grew rapidly in the region, and eventually a chapel was built to house her in 1745. Notably, the restored version of the clay statue was a Black Madonna, which drew many Afro-Brazilians to pray for her intercession. Our Lady of Aparecida is thus associated with a miracle in which an enslaved young man was freed from captivity. By 1955, the chapel expanded into a new basilica and was given pontifical approbation in 1980.
The clay image of Our Lady is said to be the work of a craftsman monk named Frei Agostinho de Jesus from Sao Paulo, who created statues from clay. It was likely made around 1650 and subsequently lost or misplaced, as it had endured some underwater damage until its discovery decades later.
Our Lady of Aparecida is dark brown, cloaked in a dark blue robe that is embellished with the flags of Brazil and the Vatican City State with golden clasps. In 1904, she was given a golden crown. She was declared by Pope Leo XII as patroness of Brazil in 1826.
Pope St. John Paul II was the first pope to consecrate the shrine with the title of basilica in 1980, and Pope Francis installed a replica of Our Lady of Aparecida in the Vatican Gardens in 2016.
Unfortunately, Mary’s presence under this title and devotion have caused division and polarization among mainstream Protestants and Catholics in Brazil. In 1978, a fundamentalist Protestant who opposed the devotion to a “graven image” stole the clay statue following Mass one Sunday. He was caught but dropped the statue, and it shattered. Fortunately, skilled local artisans were able to restore it to its near-original beauty. On a subsequent occasion on her feast day in 1995, a protest called “kicking of the saint” led by televangelist Sergio Von Helder ensued, and he kicked an image of Mary while saying “she cannot do anything for you.” This act was later denounced and considered an outrageous portrayal of religious discrimination against the Catholics in Brazil.
Today, Mary under the title of Our Lady of Aparecida is a sacred, cultural, and political symbol for the people of Brazil, particularly for Black Brazilians1.
In Pope Francis’ address to the participants at World Youth Day in 2013, he explained how being in the presence of Our Lady of Aparecida brought the bishops and the people they shepherded under her tutelage and protection. A sense of unity and strength became palpable to him, and he was inspired to speak about how devotion to her could bring about a greater sense of hope, openness to God, and living in joy2.
In turn, he wrote the following prayer to her that each of us can use to develop a greater devotion to Mary and her favors under this title:
“Mother Aparecida, just as you one day, today I feel,
before you and before my God,
He proposes for our life a mission whose outline and limitations are unknown,
with demands we can barely glimpse. But in our faith that for God nothing is impossible, you, Mother, did not doubt and I cannot doubt either.
‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’
In the same way Mother, as you, I embrace my mission,
I place my life in your hands, so that we may go, you Mother and your Son,
To walk together, to grow together, to struggle together, to conquer as always together;
Journeying, you and your Son.
‘Woman behold your son, son behold your mother.’
Mother Aparecida, one day you took your Son to the temple to consecrate Him to the Father,
So that He may be completely available for His mission,
Take me to the same Father; consecrate me to Him with all that I am
And with all that I have, here I am, send me.
Mother of Aparecida, I place in your hands,
So that you may elevate to the Father, our youth,
Our youth, our World Youth Day,
How much strength, how much life, how much dynamism which blooms and explodes
And that can be at the service of life and of humanity.
Father, embrace and sanctify your youth.
Finally Mother, we ask you to remain here always,
Embracing your pilgrim sons and daughters,
But also come with us, be always at our side and accompany us in our mission,
with the large family of faithful, especially those of us who carry the most heavy crosses
sustain our hope and our faith; ‘be faithful until death and you will receive the crown of life.’
Knowing that God imparts specific graces to us through Mary under different titles, as we invoke Our Lady of Aparecida, we can ask her for greater unity among all peoples of different races and creeds, and peace in our hearts, homes, and communities.
Works Cited 1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Aparecida 2. https://www.piercedhearts.org/hearts_jesus_mary/apparitions/aparecida.html