Brazilians Celebrate Its Patron Saint, Nossa Senhora Aparecida
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Approximately 100 miles north of São Paulo in Brazil lies the town of Aparecida, home to the Basílica do Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the second largest basilica in the world. Only Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is larger.
And today on October 12th, a national holiday in Brazil, thousands of devotees are traveling to the Brazilian town to pay homage to Our Lady of Aparecida (“Our Lady Who Appeared”), the country’s patron saint.
The Marian shrine is Brazil’s version of Lourdes. In her physical form, Our Lady of Aparecida is a dark-skinned, clay statue of the Virgin Mary measuring less than three feet tall. Some refer to her as the “black Virgin” because of her dark coloration.
According to one account, three fishermen hauled in the statue from the bottom of the Paraiba River in 1717. They weren’t catching any fish that day and so prayed to Virgin Mary. Soon after the statue drifted into their nets, bounties of fish followed in her wake, nearly capsizing the men’s boat. Ever since, the statue has been associated with miracles.
It’s notable that Brazil, whose population includes more than 75 million people of African descent, has a black Madonna as its patron saint. One of the many miracles associated with Nossa Senhora Aparecida, as Brazilians call her, is the liberation of a fugitive slave. Some Afro-Brazilians syncretize the saint with three female Yoruba orishas: Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya — all of whom are associated with water.
And in a modern era of technological miracles, Nossa Senhora Aparecida now has her very own Twitter feed, which you can follow (in Portuguese).
The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins
by Onleilove Alston, guest contributor
A statuette of the Virgin Mary in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (photo: Michael O’Donnell/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
This Advent I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower:
"Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!
And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”
In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.
John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for God’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.
When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.
In my tradition as a Protestant Christian, Advent is a season of waiting, but this Advent season I am not waiting for Christ. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other.
This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Christ’s name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.
Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This Advent I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.
Onleilove Alston is a native New Yorker and a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. She lives in a Christian intentional community in Harlem and is a contributing writer for Sojourners.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.