People are always amazed by the idea that here in Costa Rica, there is an active volcano virtually in my backyard. We can sit on our porch with coffee and watch the plume of smoke from its crater grow wider and longer on days when it is erupting, with little worry of danger.
But ever since we arrived here, I have been more mesmerized with the notion that in a nearby city, Cartago, Costa Rica, the seat of the diocese in which we serve as missionaries, stands a breathtaking Basilica, and inside that Basilica stands a tiny black statue surrounded by a grand golden monstrance. The statue is a Madonna and child, and it is an approved Marian apparition in the Church.
On a regular basis, our family walks the aisle of this beautiful place, kneels before that image, and prays. We walk the path to the miraculous spring of healing waters that flows there and wash ourselves, praying for own intentions and those of others for whom we have promised to pray. Mary, the Mother of God, appeared in a place that is virtually our backyard, and we get to visit her regularly. That is so much more spectacular than any volcanic eruption!
Our Lady of the Angels is the patroness of Costa Rica. She was so named in honor of their patron, Saint Francis’ Basilica in Assisi, by the missionary Franciscan friars who pastored the area in the 1600s when the apparition occurred. This small, doll-like image in black stone was found by a young girl on a rock when she went out to the woods to collect firewood for the days’ cooking. She hid the doll in her room, only to find it missing the next morning. When she returned to the woods to complete her day’s chore once again, the figure was back where she had found it the day before. This cycle continued for three days, with Juanita hiding the figure more carefully each evening, and always finding it gone from her room and back on that same rock in the morning.
Fearful of what this could mean, she brought the little figurine to her parish priest, who recognized it as an image of the Madonna and child and began to suspect something heavenly was at work. He placed the figure in the tabernacle and said Mass, praying for revelation. When the Mass was finished and the tabernacle opened, the figure had once again disappeared and was found on the rock in the woods. A church was built there and the apparition was eventually approved by the Church.
To this day, Our Lady of the Angels, or the Negrita (Little Black One), is highly revered by the Costa Rican faithful. We have heard countless tales of miracles in the lives of friends and their families through her intercession, and witnessed a few of our own in the lives of friends we have brought to visit this holy site. On her feast day, August 2, each year, millions of people visit the Basilica to venerate this miraculous mother and intercessor. A traditional pilgrimage on foot is traversed by many people from every corner of the country to pay homage to this mother whom they honor as protectress and guide.
In the years that we have lived in Costa Rica, we have witnessed many of its most spectacular sights, but the opportunity to pass regularly under the blessing of this beautiful apparition of our Mother Mary is beyond compare. As missionaries to the indigenous peoples here, we had the opportunity take a village of families on pilgrimage to the Shrine and introduce them to her for the first time. No ocean view, monkey sighting, scarlet macaw in flight, or even erupting volcano, can compare to the seeing the spark of recognition in the eyes of someone meeting his/her heavenly Mother for the first time. It is truly a holy spectacle I will never grow tired of marveling over.
Written by Colleen Mitchell. Find out more about her here.