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On Oct. 12, 1717, three Brazilian fishermen set out on the waters of the Paraiba River, which ran through their village. They were charged with providing the fish for the banquet that would be take place a few days later in the village of Guarantinguetá on the occasion of the visit of the Count of Assumar, Don Pedro de Almeida, Governor of the Province of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, as he traveled to the town of Vila Rica.
The three fishermen – Domingos Garcia, Filipe Pedroso, and João Alves – had no luck that morning; they had been fishing for hours without catching anything. They had almost given up when João Alves decided to give it one more try. He cast his net into the river and slowly began to draw it in. There was something there, but it wasn’t a fish — it seemed to be a piece of wood. When they pulled it out of the net, they saw that it was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the head missing.
João cast his net into the waters once more, and pulling it in, he found another piece of wood which proved to be the statue’s head. As if in response to strange instinct, he cast his net a third time into the river. When he tried to pull it in, he found it was full of fish. Now his companions cast their nets as well, and likewise found themselves overwhelmed with an abundance of fish.
Over the course of the next few days, the three fishermen cleaned and re-assembled the statue, and Filipe Pedroso placed it in his humble abode. Soon after, news of the miraculous catch spread to the neighboring villages, and day-by-day more of their countrymen came to honor the Blessed Virgin and pray the Rosary. They gave her the name “Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida,” that is, Our Lady of the Appeared Conception. As time went on, the crowds became so large that there was no longer room in the little hut. A small chapel was built, and later, in 1737, a larger one. Soon witnesses began to tell of many graces that were received from Our Lady, and of the many miracles that took place at the sanctuary.
In 1846, work began on a new church, which was completed in 1888. In 1904, the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida was crowned by order of Pope St Pius X. In 1930, Pope Pius XI declared Our Lady of Aparecida to be the Patroness of Brazil.
Pope St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit the Sanctuary of Aparecida, during his apostolic visit to Brazil in 1980. During his visit, he said, “What were the ancient pilgrims seeking? What are the pilgrims of today seeking? Precisely what they were seeking on the day, more or less distant, of Baptism: faith and the means of nourishing it. They seek the Sacraments of the Church, particularly Reconciliation with God and Eucharistic nourishment. And they set off again strengthened and grateful to Our Lady the Mother of God and ours.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the shrine on July 24, 2013, and entrusted his pontificate as well as the World Youth Day to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.