Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, a seminarian with the US Province, is currently doing his ministerial year in Brazil. Recently he wrote about the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida, Queen and Patron of Brazil. Juancho writes:
Growing up in Colombia I learned from my parents about the devotion to Maria Auxiliadora ( Mary our Helper), praying the rosary and attending every Tuesday the Mass celebrated specially for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. So I can say that in my life the Devotion to the Virgin Mary is very strong and important in my vocation.
After I moved to the United States I came to develop another important devotion to the Virgin Mary and this time in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I had the opportunity to appreciate this devotion that is mostly strong among Mexican people, that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe grew stronger in my heart. When I witnessed the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our parish in Houston and at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plains, Il., I had to opportunity to see how this devotion is manifested in many different expressions of reverence.
On October 12 people in Brazil celebrated the feast of “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” (Our Lady of Aparecida). During the entire month of October many people make their way to visit the Basilica of Nossa Senhora Aparecida in the city of Aparecida, many of them walking miles to go there. People from all over Brazil come to visit the shrine, or as many are referred to: “na casa de mae” (the house of our mother). I was amazed by the number of people whom I saw walking the highways in direction to Aparecida.
What is different about this devotion compared to others to the Virgin Mary is that it did not begin with an apparition of the Blessed Mother as with Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego or Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to the three little shepherds.
The image of Our Lady of Conception that would be later best known as “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” was found by three fishermen in the waters of the river Paraíba. After trowing their nets in the water without any success, feeling hopeless they prayed to the Virgin Mary and threw their nets one more time. Instead of catching a fish they caught a statue of Our Lady of Conception without her head. Amazed at their finding they tossed their nets one more time. They caught something once again but instead of fish it was the head of the statue that they pulled up in the previous casting. They saw it as a miracle and prayed before throwing their nets one more time. This time they caught so many fish that their nets were about to break and they were afraid that their boats were going to sink because of the weight of the fish.
As they returned to their town they told the story of what had happened. This is how the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida started to become one of the most important devotions in Brazil and today she is recognized as the Queen and Patron of Brazil.
I have witnessed this amazing devotion of the Catholic community in Brazil. I had the opportunity to be at the Basilica for the closing ceremony with thousands of people who came to pray and celebrate the Feast Day of Mae (mother). For me it was just an amazing experience because this year marks 300 years since the encounter of Our Lady of Aparecida.
And if that wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity while here to assist at the concert of Andre Bocelli, one of my favortites singers!
It has been good to experience this new devotion and learn more about Brazilian spirituality. Every time that I visit the Basilica I also experience a deep emotion and joy to visit the house of Mae.