The river Paraiba runs for some 700 miles, starting in the interior of São Paulo, wending its way along the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro (where it sometimes forms the border with the state of Minas Gerais) and finally cutting down through the diocese of Campos on its way to the sea. In the same river in 1717, three fisherman ‘caught’ a broken clay statue of Our Lady in their fishing nets. After a long day with a poor catch, they were surprised by the find of a statue, and even more surprised when their nets suddenly began to fill with fish. Devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida and her miraculous interventions spread from town to town, and in 1930 Pope Pius XI declared her Queen and Principal Patron of Brazil. Her feast day, October 12, is a national holiday, and the enormous modern sanctuary near the place where the image was found can hold 45,000 people and attracts millions of pilgrims each year.
In a twist which Catholics from the northern hemisphere might find unusual, even non-Catholics will make the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady in Aparecida to beg her intercession. So central is she to Brazilian Catholic culture that in the 1970s a protestant man snatched the original image from its high, glass-fronted niche and smashed it into smithereens. The image was tenderly restored in São Paulo and transported back to the sanctuary. The woman who had done the restoration said she’d never seen anything like the greeting that Our Lady of Aparecida got on her return, with thousands of people lining the highway to greet the procession, and truckers pulling over, getting out of their vehicles and kneeling in prayer to honor her.
In the diocese of Campos there are many annual processions in her honor, one of the largest being to a little sanctuary a few miles from the town of Bom Jesus. The walk is long, but thousands turn out. Some start in Bom Jesus the night before, and are tended to by residents along the way who offer prayers, snacks, bathrooms, or a place to roll up in ones blanket and get a few hours sleep. Others join in several miles from the sanctuary, in a neighboring village, or closer, if infirmities prevent much walking. When they reach the sanctuary in “Little Aparecida” an outdoor Mass is held, with thousands of people filling the grassy lawn in front of the chapel and overflowing onto the dirt road.
I, too, have fallen in love with Our Lady of Aparecida and gone to the national sanctuary to ask her intercession and, later, to give thanks for her help. The Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney organizes an annual pilgrimage, too, bringing the beauty of the traditional Holy Mass to a slightly tumble-down modern chapel built on the edge of the river bank just where the original image was found. That said, the main church of the sanctuary, built on a vast scale to accomodate tens of thousands, is fascinating in its own right. Liturgy and style are very modern, to say the least, but the piety of the thousands of faithful who come to pray is palpable, and the holiness of the place touches ones heart and life.
We commend this project, Friends of Campos, to the fierce protection and tender care of Our Lady of Aparecida.
Friends of Campos, Inc.
Friends of Campos, Inc. is a US-based not-for-profit (501c3) which supports the social and educational projects of the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, most of which are located around the diocese of Campos dos Goytacazes in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.