Vatican City, Oct 12, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent a video message Thursday for the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, whose simple smile, he said, is a source of encouragement even during the most difficult times.
“The simple smile of Mary, which we can see in her image, is the source of the smile of each one of you in the face of the difficulties of life,” he said Oct. 12.
“The Christian can never be pessimistic!”
Recalling his first international apostolic visit, to Brazil in 2013, Francis said that visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in São Paulo was an occasion of joy and grace for him.
Repeating the message of his visit, the Pope said that at Aparecida “we learn to preserve hope, to be surprised by God, and to live in joy.”
Hope, he insisted, is the virtue that must “permeate the hearts” of believers, especially when discouraged by desperate situations: “Do not let yourselves be overcome by discouragement. Have trust in God, have trust in the intercession of Our Mother of Aparecida.”
The Pope’s video message was sent to the people of Brazil Oct. 12 for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Our Lady of Aparecida, the country’s patroness.
“What I leave here are simple words, but I want you to receive them as a fraternal embrace at this time of celebration,” he said.
The story behind the feast involves a clay statue of Mary Immaculate that was caught by three fishermen in Brazil in October 1717 while they were preparing for a feast dedicated to royalty passing through the town.
Guarantinqueta, a small city along the Paraiba River, was expecting to receive the Count of Assumar on his travels to a gold mining site in Vila Rica.
The feast required a vast amount of fish, but it was not the right season and weather conditions proved challenging. After a night of fishing, the men caught nothing.
Having prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the fishermen caught in their nets the body of the statue and then the head.
After the statue was brought aboard the boat, the men decided to pray to “Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida” – Our Lady of the Appeared Conception – to help them catch the fish. Their nets suddenly became very full, and the catch has been considered a miracle.
This miracle encouraged them to have confidence in God, Pope Francis said. With that miracle God surprised them, for he “who created us in infinite Love always surprises us,” he underlined.
At the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, he said, as well as in every heart devoted to Mary, we can find hope “embodied in the experience of spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy, these values which in turn sink their roots deeper into the Christian faith.”
At the beginning of April the Pope had sent a letter to Brazil’s president apologizing for his inability to visit the country in 2017.
President Michael Temer had invited Pope Francis to visit Brazil for the 300th anniversary of the Marian apparition, and in 2013, Francis had expressed the desire to visit during the anniversary if possible.
In his video message, Francis reiterated how he would have liked to be with the people of Brazil during this jubilee year, saying that unfortunately, “the life of a Pope is not easy.”
Instead he nominated Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals, to be his papal delegate for the Oct. 12 celebrations. “To him I entrusted the mission to ensure the Pope’s presence among you!” he said.
Though not able to be physically present, he expressed the wish that his affection be felt by the people of Brazil, devoted to the Mother of God.
Closing his message, the Pope thanked the Brazilian people for their prayers, especially at Mass, asking them to continue to pray for him, knowing that he is praying for them as well.
Brazil, he continued, needs men and women who, full of hope and faith, “witness that love, manifested in solidarity and in sharing, is stronger and brighter than the darkness of selfishness and corruption.”
“Together, near or far, we form the Church, the People of God,” he said. “Every time we work together, even if in a simple and subtle way, for the announcement of the Gospel, we become, like Mary, authentic disciples and missionaries.”