John Paul II encouraged pastors to form the faithful in such a way that popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary will lead to an encounter with God.
The Pope gave this instruction in a message sent to Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of the National Shrine of Aparecida, and to the other bishops, priests, religious and laity of Brazil, on the occasion of the centenary of the coronation of Our Lady Aparecida as queen and patroness of that country.
The message, published today by the Vatican press office, was read Wednesday during the solemn Mass at the shrine, presided over by the Pope’s special envoy, Cardinal Eugênio de Araújo Sales, retired archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.
The Holy Father addressed the bishops in a special way, to emphasize the importance of “assuming with a real pastoral spirit the very ancient Marian devotion of your people.”
“For this devotion to be a way of encounter, in faith, with God in Jesus Christ, much depends on the example of pastors and pastoral agents,” he said.
John Paul II encouraged pastors to help the Brazilian faithful “to live their Marian devotion as a clear and courageous testimony of love of Christ, which will manifest the personal and communitarian identity of Catholics, against the danger of secularism and consumerism and, at the same time, foster in families the practice of Christian virtues.”
“This devotion will help to consolidate the bonds of communion with pastors of the Church of Christ, addressing the disintegration of the faith, so many times fomented by the proselytism of sects,” the Pope said.
This Marian devotion of Brazilians dates back to 1717, when three fishermen found in their nets a broken terracotta figure of the Virgin of the Conception, of just 36 centimeters (14 inches).
One of the fishermen took the image home and placed it on a small altar. A few years later an oratory was established. On May 5, 1743, a church began to be built. It was inaugurated on July 26, 1745, in which the Blessed Virgin was venerated under the name Our Lady Aparecida.
The village of Our Lady Aparecida is a few kilometers from Guaratingueta, a village of the state of Sao Paulo.
The Blessed Virgin is portrayed as dark, and dressed in a thick embroidered mantle, her hands on her chest in a praying position.
Pope Pius X crowned Our Lady Aparecida queen of Brazil in 1904. On July 4, 1980, when visiting the shrine, John Paul II entrusted Brazil to Mary.
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