Brazilian Catholic charity alleviates poverty

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When three Brazilian fishermen found a statue of the black Virgin in 1717, the figurine was later believed responsible for literally casting the chains off of a local slave and freeing him. Nearly two centuries after the miracle of Our Lady of Aparecida was reported, the Golden Law of 1888 abolished slavery in Brazil. Today, the legacy of Our Lady of Aparecida lives on in a 501c3 charity run by the Brazilian Catholic community in the Arlington Diocese.

The charity's name is Associação Nossa Senhora Aparecida, which translates to Our Lady of Aparecida Association, and has awarded grants for community projects in Brazil for the past 33 years.

"ANSA entrusts to Our Lady the inspirational task of fighting against poverty and slavery hidden under a veil of freedom," writes President Neusa Maria Medeiros in the association's October bulletin. "In the message of Aparecida, God wanted to restore the unity of our divided nation. He wanted to put an end to the sin of hunger and to restore human dignity. God needs each one of us. ANSA, through its work, wants to be an instrument of joy and to give a better quality of life to Brazilian children."

Run by an all-volunteer board of nine people, the charity raises funds through local events, online fundraisers and calls for donations at Missionhurst Chapel in Arlington, where Brazilian Mass is celebrated every third Sunday of the month at 4 p.m.

"(The Brazilian) community (in Washington) is not big," said Medeiros. "We know each other and we help each other spread the word about our fundraisers. We are an old organization and we have a reputation. But we always need donations."

ANSA makes grants of up to $2,000 to nonprofit community organizations in Brazil based upon proposals submitted by priests, nuns and other community leaders. All of the proposals must aim to alleviate poverty in some way and come from land-owning organizations.

Throughout its history, ANSA has funded the development of a small park in Sant'Ana do Livramento, the construction of a community center in São Leopoldo, the operation of a bakery that employs mothers in need in Viamão, and public health programs at a daycare center in Vila Clementino, among other endeavors.

A recent grant funded the construction of a cistern at a school in Cipó dos Anjos, allowing teachers and students finally to have access to water during the school day.

"I love all of the projects. I like to see them grow," said Medeiros. "But I think I like the cistern project best. Water is life. We cannot live without water. Imagine being at a school without water."

ANSA's next fundraising event will be a Dec. 5 dinner featuring feijoada, a typical Brazilian bean and meat stew, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

Find out more

To learn more about ANSA, go to ansabrasil.org, a Portuguese-language website. Non-Portuguese speakers should contact Neusa Maria Medeiros, ANSA president, by calling 703/785-5159 or emailing neusam@gmail.com if they wish to receive the monthly English-language bulletin. Checks may be mailed to Neusa Maria Medeiros, 3586 University Dr., Fairfax. ANSA also benefits from online purchases made at smile.amazon.com and goodsearch.com in which ANSA is designated the charity of choice.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015