Devotion to the Good Lord Jesus originated in Portugal. This image of Jesus depicts him scourged, wearing a red cloak, with his hands bound, a crown of thorns on his head, and a palm branch in his hand.
In 1647, a carved wooden statue of the Good Lord Jesus was sent by ship to Brazil. Near the northern coast of Brazil, the ship was attacked. To keep the statue from being damaged or profaned, the commander placed the wooden box containing the image and some bottles of oil into the sea.
Ocean currents carried the box to the southern coast of Brazil. Many months later, two indigenous men traveling near Una Beach saw the box and found the image and the bottles of oil when they opened it. They removed the Good Lord Jesus from the box and left him upright facing east. When the men returned to get the statue, they saw that the image was facing west. Filled with amazement, the men ran to tell others what happened. Some people returned with them and knelt down to give praise to Jesus. With the image cradled in a fishing net, the people carried it to the village of Iguape, located about forty-three miles southwest of Una Beach.
Soon afterward, others heard about the statue and tried to take the image to Itanhaem, the capital of the region at that time. On the way to Itanhaem, the statue grew heavier. When carried in the opposite direction toward Iguape, the weight of the statue diminished. The people trying to move the statue realized that the Good Lord Jesus wanted to be in Iguape. On November 2, 1647, the image of the Good Lord Jesus was enshrined in the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows. In 1787, construction of a new church began. Even then, pilgrimages to Iguape and the celebration in honor of the Good Lord Jesus on August 6 were taking place.
Our Good Lord Jesus — Omir Oliveira SVD
When I was ordained twenty years ago, I never imagined myself ministering to thousands of pilgrims. After working in Zambia in Africa for fourteen years, I returned to my native Brazil almost six years ago, and I am now in Iguape, a town not far from the Atlantic coast of the state of São Paulo in southern Brazil. The parish encompasses the main church dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows in Iguape and twenty-three smaller Catholic faith communities in mission stations, most of which are scattered in rural areas.
Each year from July 28 to August 6, the population of Iguape swells from thirty thousand people to about two hundred thousand. During that time, there are shortages of food, water, sanitation, and housing. The overflowing throngs find what they can in Iguape and neighboring towns and villages. Pilgrims travel as far as 215 miles to reach Iguape, where the image of the Good Lord Jesus is enshrined in the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows. They come by car, bus, motorcycle, on bikes, on horseback, and on foot. None of the hardships they experience diminish their fervor and happiness, for they come to honor their beloved Senhor Bom Jesus (Good Lord Jesus).
Beginning on July 28, nine days of prayer are celebrated to prepare for the feast of the Good Lord Jesus on August 6. It is an active but prayerful time for the pilgrims. Masses and confessions take place throughout each day. In the evenings, the novena prayers are sung by a choir and a visiting priest, who then speaks to the pilgrims about the day’s theme. The main theme for the 2015 celebration is from the Gospel of John: “I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness” (10:10b).
On August 5, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Snows with Mass. The image of Our Lady from the church is carried in an outdoor procession, as crowds of pilgrims accompany her.
The novena of prayer culminates with the feast of our Good Lord Jesus on August 6. A visiting bishop presides at an outdoor Mass. The original statue of the Good Lord Jesus is taken from the church and carried in procession through the narrow streets of Iguape. A multitude of thirty or forty thousand pilgrims presses after him. The procession concludes with a closing celebration before the image of our Good Lord Jesus. A magnificent fireworks display marks the end of the days of prayer.
Father Jaime Gato SVD, Father Remigius Sihombing SVD, and I are assigned to Our Lady of the Snows parish and share the work of the parish and the shrine. During the nine days of prayer each year, we do all we can to meet the needs of the pilgrims and make the shrine a welcoming place for them. As rector of the shrine of the Good Lord Jesus, I am especially concerned for their spiritual and physical well-being.
Ministering to the pilgrims is not something we do alone. When the town is overflowing with pilgrims, we have the help of the priests of the diocese for Masses, confessions, and blessing groups of pilgrims. Dedicated volunteers lend their hands and hearts to help in many ways. Religious sisters, seminarians, and lay people organize lines of pilgrims waiting to enter the church for a visit with the Good Lord Jesus, to leave treasured mementos in the Miracle Room, or to light a candle. Other volunteers provide a place where volunteers can take a break, rest, and eat.
What a life I meet at times in the streets of Iguape among the pilgrims! I talk with them, get to know their backgrounds and difficulties in life, and learn why they have come to the shrine of our Good Lord Jesus. Some say they have been healed from diseases. I remember talking with a mother who came with her son to thank the Good Lord Jesus for healing her of a serious illness. She pledged to walk to and from Iguape from her home, a round trip of 248 miles. Other pilgrims have endured hardship and suffering in their lives. Many people journey to Iguape to fulfill promises they have made.
As rector of this beautiful shrine, I minister to countless people on pilgrimage whose faith and good hearts move them to show their appreciation for the many gifts and blessings they have received from the Good Lord Jesus. I thank him for the pilgrims, because they are blessings to me. I offer to my Good Lord Jesus all of my days, my struggles, my sorrows, my joys, and my life as a Divine Word Missionary priest.
Prayer to the Good Lord Jesus
Good Lord Jesus, my divine friend, friend of all, look for us and give us today our daily bread. Help those who have no work and no roof.
Help us to be steadfast in faith and in hope; defend us from danger and sin; help us to overcome the difficulties that we encounter today. Watch over my family, always guiding us along the path that leads to you. Forgive us, Lord, and bless our desires for tomorrow.
Good Lord Jesus, I offer you my whole day, my work, my struggles, my joys, and my sorrows. Grant to me and all my family your blessing and a happy life. Good Jesus, worker of Nazareth, bless us all. Amen.