This week people across the states will celebrate Thanksgiving. Originally this day was created with the pilgrims that crossed the Atlantic and arrived safely on the shores of a new land of opportunities. They would not have survived in that new land without the generosity and guidance of the Native Americans that were there. And so we celebrate Thanksgiving as those pilgrims did, giving thanks for the people, opportunities, and blessing that are so present in our lives.
And while Thanksgiving has changed to include things like football games, parades, shopping, and an abundant number of pies- at the heart of this day is the reminder to be grateful for all we have. In thinking about gratitude and giving thanks, my mind keeps going back to Brazil when I had a profound lesson in gratitude when I got to visit the Cathedral Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.
The basilica is the second largest Catholic church in the world, coming second to St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. Built in the Romanesque Revival style with a towering domes and arches all around the building. The interior is spacious, enough to hold 30,000 people, and is full of brightly colored murals and tiles everywhere.
The clock tower is home to church offices, including a special office for the Pope when he comes to visit. At the very top is an observatory where visitors can look out over the valley and the river.
The river seen from the observatory was where the statue of the Virgin Mary was found. It was 1717 and the small communities that lived around the river in the Aparecida valley were struggling as it seemed there were no fish left in the river. Fishman went to out every day only to return home empty handed. But then one day a fisherman went to pull out his net and found that it was overflowing with fish and amid all the fish was the saint- The Lady Aparecida. The prayers of the people were heard and the river again flowed with fish.
The statue of the saint that was found in the fisherman’s net remained at the fisherman’s house, closely guarded by those in the community. Later on in 1732, a chapel was constructed in order to house the statue and offer a public place where those in the community could come and pay honor to the saint that had saved them. But news of the saint appearing spread and soon more and more people from neighboring communities were coming to show their respect to the Lady Aparecida. With the growing show of devotion, it was decided to construct a church to honor her. The church was constructed in 1745 and later received a great addition to the building in 1888. This Old Basilica, or Mother Basilica as it is called, is still standing and is open to the public. The interior is dark but full of the charm of the Colonial style architecture that it was built in.
Stretching out from the old Mother Basilica is a concrete walkway that connects the old basilica to the new basilica. This walkway is about a mile long and it is common to see people traverse the walk on their knees as a show of devotion and gratitude for blessings they have received. They begin with visiting the Mother Basilica and then follow the path on bended knees to the Basilica Nova where they end lighting candles or attending a service. To walk that far on their knees is such a incredible show of gratitude.
Visitors to the Basilica Nova are greeted at the entrance by the statue. Encased in a lovingly created shrine of gold stands the statue that was found in the river. Covered in the fingerprints of all those who have come to see her and pay their respects to her she stands looking out over the people of the basilica and of the valley. There is a museum in the basilica full of different renderings and tributes created of the statue, but nothing can match the power emanating from the Lady Aparecida herself.
While the entire church is stunning and beautiful, to me the real treasure is the Hall of Miracles. This area is in the basement of the church and every inch of the ceiling is covered in pictures of people who have received a miracle. There are rows of plastic arms and legs and heads representing the hundreds of people who received a miracle in their body. There are books about every subject, and machinery that has helped people to prosper. Cases line the walls and each case is filled to bursting with pictures or articles. One case is filled with pictures of homes, another filled with wedding announcements, another with baby announcements, another with farming equipment, another with job announcements, another with building materials, another with clothing, and one dedicated to those in uniform both military and first responders. On and on, these cases display what the people see as the miracles in the lives. When you look at things in this light and you consider that some of the wonderful things we have that we may take for granted are the very things that someone else is praying for. For me, it made me stop and really think about all that I have in my life and it made me all the more grateful for them. To look at those things and see them all as miracles filled me with deeper understanding of what is really important.
When I think about the fisherman who was blessed with the much needed fish from the river; or someone who is so overwhelmed with love and gratitude for something in their life that they are willing to walk a hard mile on their knees to show that gratitude; or to see all the people, things, experiences, and opportunities in the light of being a miracle- it makes me want to realign with that attitude of gratitude and treat others accordingly.
So in this season of giving thanks I hope you know, dear reader, how grateful I am for you and for the time and friendship you give me as you share in these places and experiences. I am grateful for the opportunities that have taken me near and far and the ways I am growing from each one. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, no matter where you may be.
If you have enjoyed reading on the Basilica Aparecida, then you may enjoy reading on these other beautiful religious places that had a deep impact on me: