Tom and I drove to Aparecida during his furlough a couple of weeks ago. We’d heard about the Marian shrine of Brazil, Nossa Senora de Aparecida (Our Lady of the Appeared Conception), the patron saint of Brazil, and since the feast day of Aparecida was coming up (Oct. 12) and we had the time, we drove the 106 miles to visit.

En route, we encountered the oddest sign along the Dutra (one of Brazil’s few and primary highways):

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At first, having only glanced the words, we thought we were being warned about highwaymen, and about not picking up strangers. Then I looked up the word romeiros on my phone: pilgrims.

Odd, we thought, why would this be a section of road featuring pilgrims (the nickel still hadn’t dropped). Then we started seeing them, first as singletons and then in pairs, until finally we started seeing large groups along the roadside.

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They were walking on the green verge of the highway, and in many places had to walk on the highway itself, braving not only cars but also buses and trucks! A few rode bikes, or pushed carts, and one even dragged a suitcase behind her.

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One fellow was accompanied by his faithful friends:

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Then we understood: They were pilgrims en route to Aparecida, along the Camino de Fe (Walk of Faith), a 104 km trek through Brazil. Older, younger, white, black, and in between, rich and poor, employed and likely not, all making their slow, dangerous journey to the shrine.

Some carried flags.

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Others carried crosses. One fellow even carried a replica of the Nossa Senora statue on his back as he hiked.

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Some were decked out in “hiking” clothes or sports clothes, complete with knee braces and hiking sticks. Others looked as though they had stepped out of their door one morning and decided it was a great day for a pilgrimage, and off they went.

Many groups had support vehicles waiting for them along the way, offering food, drinks, and perhaps a ride if their hobbling became too painful.

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Tom and I felt humbled, driving along with the two pups, blithely whisking along on a spur-of-the-moment visit to the focus of their prayerful intent. I have hiked with my daughter and several young adults for many miles through the countryside of Germany for World Youth Day 2005, and some day, I hope to make a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. But this hike, to Aparecida along the Dutra, is a challenge I will not be answering.

The countryside was gorgeous, and the weather was splendid, so other than the traffic whipping by, it must have been a scenic journey.

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When we arrived, half an hour after passing the last pilgrims, and therefore hours before they would arrive, we were stunned to see the basilica. We had pictured in our minds a local church, situated along a main road, perhaps on top of a hill, very European-city-like. Instead, we drove through the outskirts of town, rounded a corner, and beheld the basilica in all its glory, site of miracles and focus of prayer. Stunning in its size.

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I will write about the basilica and Our Lady of the Apparition in a future post. Meanwhile, enjoy these extra photos of the pilgrimage to Aparecida.