2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance at Fatima. But did you know that there is another Marian anniversary this year? October 12th is the 300th anniversary of Our Lady of Aparecida, the patroness of Brazil. The story is a rather unusual one, and yet it’s another beautiful reminder of the love of Our Mother.

In 1717, three fishermen prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, that God would grant them a good catch. But, instead of catching fish, they found a headless statue of the Virgin Mary in their nets! They cast their nets again and salvaged the head of the statue as well. After that, they caught plenty of fish. That was the first miracle. Many more followed.

Our Lady has appeared many times over the course of history, but who would have ever thought that the Queen of Heaven would be found in such a way, in a broken, dirty, simple clay statue at the bottom of a river? And that this particular image would become the foundation of the largest Marian shrine in the world? The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is the second largest basilica in the world. Only St. Peter’s in Rome is bigger.

Not everyone loves this image of the Blessed Mother, however. In 1978, a man identified as a Protestant took the statue from the basilica. In the struggle to catch him, the statue fell and broke, and needed to be put back together again by a group of artists. In 1995, a televangelist kicked a replica of the statue during his show, causing a national backlash.

I wish I could say that those were the only incidents, but in the last few months there have been more. A Protestant pastor compared the image to a Coca-Cola bottle (which he later apologized for, after another public backlash). The most disturbing act, by far, however, was when an “artist” destroyed an image of Our Lady of Aparecida with a grater. And yet, through it all, our Blessed Mother reminds us in her message at Fatima, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Just as there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, nothing can separate us from the love of our Blessed Mother.

The story of Our Lady of Aparecida is, to me, an example of the power and importance of perseverance. The statue was lying, broken, at the bottom of the river for years, until the fishermen called on her. Since then, her image has been attacked again and again, but her faithful children always come to her defense. We need to remember in our own lives, that no matter how many times we fall, no matter how broken we feel, we can always draw on our faith, and emerge stronger. Our Lady of Aparecida, pray for us!