Greetings of Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida, to Pope Francis upon his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, July 24, 2013
With great pleasure, I welcome Your Holiness this National Shrine of Our Lady of the Conception Aparecida. This Your pastoral visit to the shrine of the patron saint of Brazil is characterized as an act of devotion to Our Lady.
The thousands of pilgrims, Holiness, who sojourn to this place are blessed by the miraculous image, found in the Paraiba River in 1717, and venerated ever since. Journeying to this place, they express their filial affection to the Virgin Mary, bringing their needs, anguishes and gratitude. But above all by coming here they are guided by the hope, strengthened in faith and nourished in charity. When the Bishop of Rome also makes a pilgrimage to Our Lady, all of us feel "confirmed in truth of faith" by him who "presides in charity all Churches," "guiding all, with firm sweetness, in our paths of holiness" (cf. Insediamento sulla Cathedra Romana, p. 7).
This Sanctuary is an important national religious "icon." When you visit here we can say that, symbolically Your Holiness is visiting all of Brazil. It is a pilgrim visit, by which His Holiness wishes to entrust to Our Lady the great event the next days, which is the 28th World Youth Day. We all join in this prayer, that this meeting of youth with the Successor of Peter may strengthen the faith and love of our young people in Jesus Christ and raise in all of them the one missionary ardor which translates in motto of these days: "Go and make disciples among all nations" (Mt 28.19).
This sanctuary celebrates today with immense jubilation the grace of having received three Popes. It was dedicated by Blessed Pope John Paul II on July 4th 1980, and welcomed Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, from the 12 to 13 May 2007, on the occasion of the opening of the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In beginning of the celebration of this Solemn Mass, on behalf of the devotees of Our Lady Aparecida, this Archdiocese and all of Brazil, we offer Your Holiness a replica Image of Our Lady Aparecida, carved in wood by an artist of this region. The black color of this image, Santo Padre, according scholars, was caused, probably, by sludge the river and the smoke from the candles. It has been interpreted as a reference to the sufferings of poor and excluded, especially African people, throughout the history of Brazil. In the face of the Immaculate Mother of Our Lord we see our the need to constantly recommit ourselves to be a Church that is poor and for the poor, that evangelizes. Thus freed, can we serve the Lord and his Gospel.
Through the image given to Your Holiness, I pray to Our Lady, on behalf of the Brazilian people, to accompany and bless your ministry. But we also hope that the thoughts, affection, and especially the prayers of the Pope will accompany the great nation Brazilian, so that, in justice and fraternity, it may develop in peace. Accompany the Church in Brazil, so that she, faithful to her mission to announce the Gospel and witness to it daily, honoring always its history of faith, and proceeding, amid the challenges and gifts, confident in the presence and in divine protection and in motherly intercession of Our Lady Aparecida, Queen and Patron of Brazil.
Holy Father, you are very welcome to this shrine that greets you with affection and filial reverence, as successor to Peter, Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the whole Church.