Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, as Pope John Paul II reminded us during the centenary celebrations for the crowning of Our Lady of Apparecida in 2004 (1).
It was Pope Pius X who solemnly crowned the Virgin Mary as “Queen of Brazil” in 1904. But the story of devotion to Mary in Brazil began in the 16th century, when the fleet of the Portuguese admiral, Pedro Alvarez Cabral (1467-1520) landed in April 1500 on the coast of the as yet unknown land that was first called “Vera Cruz Island” before acquiring its present name “Brazil” (from the word “pau-brasil” or “ember- wood” from the fiery colors of the tree-trunks).
Brazil was born in the arms of Mary
After placing itself under Mary’s maternal protection, and attending Mass at a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Bethlehem, the Portuguese fleet, commanded by Pedro Alvarez Cabral left, early in 1500, for the discovery of distant lands beyond the Atlantic. And it was the Virgin Mary again, with the dedication of “Our Lady of Hope”, who was the first to tread Brazilian soil, thanks to Pedro Alvares Cabral who, on his arrival, arranged for the first Mass to be celebrated before the statue of the Virgin that we had brought with him to this new land. This is why Brazilians like to say that “Brazil was born in the arms of Mary”.
And indeed, all the villages and ports of this new country began with a tiny church that was usually dedicated to Mary. In fact, the whole Brazilian coast is dedicated to the Virgin! For example, “Our Lady of the Seas” was consecrated at Paraiba in 1584; there are still a number of remains of other churches dedicated to the Virgin, dating from this pioneering era. The largest shrine to Mary ever known, erected in Brazil, was to “Our Lady of Mercies” at Bahia (or Baia), following the apparition of the Virgin Mary in the 1530s to a young Indian girl married to a Portuguese.
The much-loved Queen of the Brazilian people
We should also mention (near Sao Paolo) the shrine to “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception” at Itanhaen, certainly the first to Mary with this dedication in the area, or again, in the “Espirito Santo” region, the shrine dedicated to “Our Lady of Victories” or the one dedicated to “Our Lady of Help” at Porto Seguro. In the Para province is the important shrine to “Our Lady of Nazareth” with its large Basilica and its huge hall of votive offerings in thanks for the countless mercies and miracles that Mary has obtained.
But without doubt the greatest evidence in Brazil of devotion to Mary, in her Immaculate Conception, remains the shrine built in honor of the “Immaculate Virgin of Apparecida” on the banks of the River Parahiba, in the State of Sao Paolo (2). Here, before the Virgin of Apparecida in 1946, Brazil rededicated itself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It should also be mentioned that, since the 1940s, Brazil has always been at the forefront of the Marian movement across the world. Marian Congregations continue to blossom there; today, there are more than 3,000 that bring together a huge number of young people who are referred to as “Marianos”!
Indeed, Mary really is the much-loved Queen of the Brazilian people.
(1) Read: Our Lady of Apparecida, Queen of Brazil
(2) Read : Brazil: Our Lady of Apparecida
Mary of Nazareth Team