Aparecida – The unity of faith and culture

I returned yesterday from a visit to Brazil. The highlight of my experience was a visit to the largest Marian Shrine and third largest Catholic Church in the world, Aparecida. Dedicated to the National Patron Saint, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Aparecida meaning  “appeared”, the shrine celebrates the miraculous apparition in 1717 of a statue of Mary to poor fisherman in the Paraiba river which passes by the town. Today, the Sanctuary receives from 8 to 10 million pilgrims a year (Lourdes receives 4 million) and the original image can be seen in the  Basilica. The Sanctuaries magazine has the widest circulation in Brazil second only to Veja (the Brazilian equivalent of Time Magazine). The building is massive, the numbers impressive, the reach extensive. A profound witness to the Catholic identity of Brazil. The images below speak for themselves.

Why I think this is relevant? In a recent informal lecture one of my professors said something about the proposal I made of reconciliation environmentalism as “OK, interesting, made sense but why did I have to include the God thing there?” It was a sincere question, in the lines of whether it was really necessary to include God since it made my point so much harder to accept. After having been for 2 months in the Peruvian high Andes, the “Peru profundo” sleeping on the floor, talking to locals in broken Spanish and Quechua, walking up remote valleys and participating in everyday culture, the reality of God became so obvious to me: I was caught by surprise. As I casually proposed  my complete belief in God I was as shocked to hear the complete disbelief. As the environmental debate tries to embrace global perspectives, I think the secular mindset will find itself increasingly challenged by the presence of God as a reality in the vast majority of Third World countries’ life and culture.

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