Do you recognize this image of Our Lady? Nossa Senhora da Conçeição Aparecida, the ¨Queen and Principal Patroness of Brazil.¨ The Portuguese name has the sense, ¨Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, who has appeared,¨ referring to the origin of the devotion.
In 1717 three men fishing in the Paraiba river, about 100 miles east of São Paulo, prayed for the Lord´s blessing on their catch. Subsequently they fished the body of a black image of Our Lady, maybe a foot tall. On the next throw of their net they fished the head. The third cast of the net resulted in a miraculously large catch! This began the long and miracle-filled history of this devotion which has become one of the most important avocations of Our Lady in the World.
The Basilica which enshrines the image is second in size only to Saint Peter´s in Rome and on any normal weekend about 80,000 – 100,000 people arrive, from all over Brazil. They come in pilgrimage. They come to visit their Mother who loves them and whom they love.
I´ll be in Brazil all this month. No: not for Carnaval! Rather we hope this year for some significant growth of our mission here. World Youth Day will be celebrated in Rio in July!
Whenever I return to Latin America I am struck once more by a love of Mary that helps people know who they are. Each country and usually each village has it´s Virgen. In our families, it is usually the mother who in some way embodies the family and holds it together. Even more so for the Church, God´s Family!
The biblical allusions to the miraculous catch (Luke 5:1-11) in this ¨apparition¨ are obvious. Nossa Senhora Aparecida, rogai por nós! Our Lady of Aparecida, pray for us as we cast the nets for Christ today!