Known in Brazil as Our Lady of Aparecida, this is the most important Marian shrine in the country and home to one of the largest Basilicas in the world. Millions of pilgrims come here each year to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the Feast Day of October 12 it has been estimated that up to one million pilgrims come on just that one day.
The story begins in 1717 when three local fisherman, to honor a count who would be passing through their region, decided to hold a feast in his honor. These three were known to ask the intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception on a regular basis, and they would need help today.
After fishing for most of the night they caught little, but toward the end of the day they were surprised to haul up a headless statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Another cast of the nets brought up the head of the statue, which turned out to be dark brown in color. They recognized it to be Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was said to become so heavy that they were barely able to lift it. They asked Our Lady for help as they returned to casting their nets and brought up so many fish that their boat almost collapsed (does this sound familiar?).
The statue was brought to the house of one of the fisherman and then in 1732 taken to a shrine built nearby for that purpose. The origin of the statue is known, however, since it was the work of a Carioca Monk from San Paulo who was known for his sculpture. It was not known how the statue ended up in the river and survived so many years.
She was proclaimed patron saint of Brazil in 1930 and is now housed in a Minor Basilica that is the second largest Church in the world, second only to Saint Peter’s and can reportedly hold up to 45,000 people.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine and blessed it during his visit. In 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI visited, he gave the Basilica the Golden Rose. Another special visitor to Aparecida was Pope Francis in 2014, during his visit for World Youth Day in Brazil.
There have been several controversial moments in the statue’s history. To understand, you have to realize that although Brazil is overwhelmingly Catholic, Protestant denominations (notably Pentecostal) have made in-roads in recent years. In 1978 a protestant attempted to run off with the statue, but was caught by guards and church-goers. Unfortunately he dropped the statue and it was broken in to many pieces. The clay statue was eventually put back together, thanks to the pains-taking work of local artisans.
Then on October 12, 1995 (the feast day) a Televangelist from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God kicked a replica of the statue several times during a late-night television show, an event that roused up the local populace like nothing before. The televangelist was later transferred out of the country.