Our love for Mary reaches back through the centuries to the early Church. Our Catholic tradition is filled with devotions to Mary: the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of the Rosary, Mary Helper of Christians, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc. We could go on. But Australian Catholics magazine thought we’d explore some lesser known Marian devotions that we don’t hear as much about.
Our Lady of Aparecida Brasil
The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in São Paulo, Brazil is a must see stop for all Marian devotees. It’s actually the largest Marian shrine in the world, and home to Our Lady of Aparecida, a small black statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
It all began with a bit of job pressure. The governor was coming and the town was hosting a banquet in his honour. They needed fish – and lots of it. Three fishermen were given the job, but they were having no luck. So just as any good Catholics do, they prayed. The fishermen asked Our lady of the Immaculate Conception to help them with their catch. But before Mary answered their prayers, the fishermen first caught a statue of Mary in two pieces (the body and the head). Not exactly what they were hoping to catch, but the fisherman didn’t give up.
As the legend goes, they cast their nets again and Mary didn’t let them down. The fishermen’s catch was abundant. But the three fisherman didn’t forget the statue of Mary. They brought her home, fixed her up and told everybody what happened. The longer they looked at the statue, they realised it was a Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Coincidence? They didn’t think so.
People began to come from all over to see the statue and pray for Mary’s help. The fishermen named her Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida (Our Lady of the Conception Appeared), but everybody calls her Our Lady of Aparecida. Our Lady of Aparecida is so popular in Brazil they made her feast day a national public holiday (12 October).
Our Lady of China
Devotion to Our lady of China is especially important to Chinese Catholics, as it is illegal to be Roman Catholic in China. Despite government crackdowns, many pilgrims come each year to her shrine in the small town of Donglu. They ask for the intercession of Our Lady of China and Mary, helper of Christians for personal intentions, but also religious freedom. Devotion began at the turn of the 20th century during the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-foreigner uprising caused by a growing Christian presence in certain Chinese provinces. During rebellions soldiers came to the village of Donglu, a vulnerable Christian community founded by Vincentian fathers. In reports Mother Mary appeared accompanied by a horseman, who charged the soldiers. The horseman, believed to be St Michael the Archangel, frightened the soldiers away and saved Donglu.
After the village was spared, a painting was commissioned of Mary with child Jesus dressed in traditional Chinese imperial clothing. This painting became the official image of Our Lady of China and is now thought to be protected by the underground Catholic Church in China. In 1928 Pope Pius XI dedicated Chinese people to Our Lady of China and in 1941 Pope Pius XII officially added her feast day (the day before Mother’s day) to the Church’s calendar. Even recently bishops and priests have been arrested and religious items confiscated from the shrine. Donglu pilgrims continue to arrive in droves during Our Lady of China's feast day praying for a miracle.
Our Lady of Shongweni, South Africa
In South Africa, there is a small town of Ntshongweni where thousands of Catholics flock every year to participate in local Catholic church pilgrimage. A young French priest, Fr Wagner was creator and organiser of the pilgrimage in the 1950s. In 1934, he was assigned to Ntshongweni and within a few years, he built a church and school. When World War II broke out he went to fight for the French Army. In a battle that left Allied forces decimated, Fr Wagner, one of the few left alive, pretended to be dead and hid beneath the lifeless troops. He prayed to the Virgin Mary that if through her intercession he would live, he would hold an annual pilgrimage in her and Jesus’ honour.
Mary answered Fr Wagner’s prayer and so after he returned to Ntshogweni, he kept his promise. In 1953 on 31 May, the feast day of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first Ntshongweni Pilgrimage was held. Locals came from all over. The procession began at a nearby town, and a statue of Our Lady the Mediatrix of Grace was carried to the church in Ntshongweni. Since foreigners struggled to pronounce Ntshogweni it was shortened to Shongweni. Now, every year at the end of May, you’ll find thousands of South Africans, from as far away as Johannesburg, come to this small parish to honour Our Lady of Shongweni.