May 18, 2007

Go and Make Disciples / Charles Gardner

Pilgrimage in Brazil and other holy places

This month, Pope Benedict XVI journeyed to Brazil, a country of 134 million Catholics, which represents 83.5 percent of its population.

Part of the Holy Father’s visit included a pilgrimage to the town of Aparecida, which lies in the province of Sao Paolo. It is known as the most important Marian shrine in the country, the point where pilgrims from all over the world converge. Our Lady of Aparecida is the patron saint of Brazil.

A pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great spiritual and moral significance. It is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. It is a sacred journey, especially one undertaken as a way to pay homage.

It all began in 1400 when three fishermen, Domingos Garcia, Filipe Pedroso and João Alves, were sent out by the local authorities to find fish in the Paraíba River. They went down the river and found nothing. After many unsuccessful attempts, they arrived at a place called Porto Itaguaçu.

Alves threw his net into the water and brought out a statue of Our Lady of Conception, but the head was missing. He threw his net in again, and soon reeled in the head of the statue.

After that, according to the legend, the fish arrived in abundance for the three humble fishermen, and their nets were full. Thus began their pilgrimage of faith.

This sacred location became a place to revisit, and recall our stories and experiences of faith. For some, a pilgrim’s destination becomes a place to remember the faithfulness of others.

Some of the most important pilgrim destinations include Jerusalem, site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and Rome, site of the deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul and other early martyrs as well as the headquarters of the Catholic Church.

Many pilgrims travel to Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, Turkey, and former capital of the Byzantine Empire and see of the ancient patriarchs. Lourdes in France is a popular pilgrim destination where apparitions of the Virgin Mary appeared, and the Way of St. James in Santiago de Compostela is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the Apostle, St. James the Great, are said to be buried.

Aparecida remained an unassuming village with a small community of Redemptionist missionaries. They arrived from the province of Munich in Germany and took on the responsibility for the shrine, making it the first Redemptionist parish in Latin America.

Construction of the shrine by the Redemptorists began in 1737, and it was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and our Holy Mother, patron saint of mothers-to-be and newborns, rivers and the sea, gold, honey and beauty. It is now the second most visited Marian shrine in the world.

Aparecida is also the second largest basilica in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It can hold up to 45,000 worshippers.

During his life in Nazareth, Jesus honored the Virgin Mary and Joseph when he learned how to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Lead us, Lord, to be aware of the importance of pilgrimage for faithful Catholics everywhere.

Lead us to understand that we too have to “attend to our Father’s business” (Lk 2:41-52).

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at †

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