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A show of unity for Brazilian Catholics

Apostolate convenes at cathedral for 300th anniversary of Our Lady of Aparecida

MIAMI | Hundreds of Portuguese-speaking Catholics from South America’s largest nation turned out this month for a 300th anniversary celebration of the apparition of their patroness, “Nossa Senhora da Conceio Aparecida.”

After the Oct. 8 celebration at St. Mary Cathedral, they lined up patiently for personal and family pictures with Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who presided at the Mass. They also posed for photos with a small statue of their patroness on loan to the U.S. from the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Aparecida, near So Paulo, Brazil.

The Aparecida shrine, which can hold up to 45,000 worshipers, is considered the largest Marian shrine in the world, and has long been a symbol of Brazilian unity and pride at home as well as for Brazilians living around the world. The pilgrim image is scheduled to stay one month in Brazilian communities throughout Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

An estimated one million Brazilians are living in the U.S., some 300,000 of them in Florida, including the Miami and Orlando areas. While many know English and Spanish, they say they are most at home worshiping in their first language, which they can do weekly in at least three parishes in the Miami archdiocese.

Those parishes are St. Joseph in Miami Beach, St. Catherine of Siena in Kendall, and St. Vincent in Margate. The latter parish is staffed by the Scalabrini Missionaries, which is currently the hub of the Brazilian Apostolate in the Miami Archdiocese.

About 1,500 to 2,000 attend Mass in Portuguese weekly at the three parishes combined, according to Scalabrinian Father Heitor Castoldi, parochial vicar at St. Vincent. He added that the number has stayed mostly constant in recent years.

“If they go to a Spanish Mass or English Mass, they don’t feel the same, so when they can, they come to a Brazilian Portuguese Mass,” Father Castoldi said.

Every year, the Brazilian community in South Florida gathers on the feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, usually in Margate. But because of the 300th anniversary, the celebration was moved to the cathedral with Archbishop Wenski, the priest said.

Father Castoldi noted that the Brazilian Apostolate both builds spirituality and helps build up its members in a civic manner within their adopted homeland. “In order to form citizens that contribute to society, we try to instruct them to be good people, to show everyone that in the United States they are here to contribute."

St. Vincent has been the center of Brazilian Catholic life since about 2009, said parishioner Sirlene Oliveira, who helped coordinate the reception following the Mass. The Brazilian Apostolate had been associated with St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, Pompano Beach, since around 1996.

“People will drive all the way to St. Vincent because they want the Mass in Portuguese. We have five Masses a week in Portuguese,” Oliveira said.

She added that the community holds a two-day Aparecida festival celebration each June for the whole Brazilian community, not only Catholics. And they come from as far north as Port St. Lucie, as far west as Naples and Fort Myers.

“Many good things are happening in our community," Oliveira said.

Deacon Alexander Martins, another member of St. Vincent, said he moved from the Brazilian northeastern city of Belem to Florida earlier this year to join his wife, who was in the U.S. studying English.

“My archbishop in Brazil told me to always be available to the Church” Deacon Martins said. "So when I came here, I asked Archbishop Wenski if I could be of service, and he sent to St. Vincent Church. I am really enjoying serving with the Brazilian people here. It is nice to see the other Brazilians together, praying and remembering their identity and our faith of Brazil.”

Another member of the parish, Patrice Carvalho, a native of Brazil’s capital, Braslia, said she had never been to the Aparecida national shrine in her country but was excited to come to the gathering in Miami.

“Our community here is so active. Most of the people here today are from Margate,” Carvalho said. “People from Brazil, who are mostly Catholic, come to Our Lady to thank God for life and what they receive from God.”

But not everyone in the Brazilian Catholic community is Brazilian. On hand for the Mass was a member of the Portuguese language choir that sang at the anniversary event. Ricardo Caldo, of St. Joseph parish, is a native of Costa Rica. He said he is a kind of adopted member of the Brazilian community, with whom he sings in the chorus at his parish.

“I have taken the culture and made it part of my life,” Caldo said, offering a sample of his singing in Portuguese while talking to The Florida Catholic. “It is a beautiful culture. I enjoy the food, the coffee, the people.”

For more information about the apostolate, see

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski incenses the pilgrim image of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s national patroness, during an Oct. 8 celebration and Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. At left is the furled flag of Brazil.

Photographer: Tom Tracy

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski incenses the pilgrim image of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s national patroness, during an Oct. 8 celebration and Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. At left is the furled flag of Brazil.

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