Ninety-seven-year-old benefactor sells religious art to help suffering Christians

Maria Antónia Cabral uses only recycled material to produce traditional Portuguese devotional images which clients buy to give as gifts. All proceeds go to support Christians through Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Maria Antónia Cabral
Maria Antónia Cabral

At 97, one might expect Maria Antónia Cabral to spend her time resting and enjoying the company of her six children, 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Instead, inspired by the work of ACN, Maria sells traditional Portuguese homemade images of saints that she makes herself. All the money she raises goes to ACN to help Christians in need, all over the world.

“ACN came into my life several years ago. It is a charity I trust because I know that it is a Catholic organization and that the money it receives is well spent. There are so many desperate situations in the world, so I am eager to help in any way I can”, Maria says.

Maria was one of the first ten women in Portugal to obtain a degree in architecture, but her love of art began earlier. “When I was a teenager, I’d go to the market in Nazaré with my mother, and the fishmongers there had traditional handicraft images of saints in framed boxes on their stalls. They were so simple, but I loved them and later learned to make them myself”, she tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

IKEA sacred art

These traditional pieces, known locally as “registos”, date to the 18th century and are generally printed images of saints placed in decorated frames, sometimes protected by a glass screen and are core-part of Portuguese traditional piety. Maria’s artwork is sought-after by plenty of clients looking for original gifts for baptisms, First Communions, birthdays or weddings.

Maria Antónia Cabral uses only recycled material to produce traditional Portuguese devotional images
Maria Antónia Cabral uses only recycled material to produce traditional Portuguese devotional images

Although “registos” can be quite ornate, they are often made of simple material. Maria, for instance, only uses what she can find or what would otherwise be thrown away. Her husband’s printing workshop used to be a great source of boxes and coloured glass, “and IKEA boxes are brilliant, they are made of perfectly smooth cardboard”, she explains. She also uses old clothes, curtains or pillows for textiles. She never buys anything, and all the money made from the sale of her sacred art goes to ACN.

She is currently setting up an exhibition at the local town hall in Benfica, Lisbon. “I read all the material ACN sends me, and that motivates me to do whatever I can. I had so many ‘registos’ that I decided to hold an exhibition, and all the money raised will be going to ACN.”

Maria is one of the many who are moved by the suffering of Christians around the world to support the work of ACN in whatever way they can. ACN’s 23 national offices receives donations from more than 365,000 benefactors around the world.


By Paulo Aido.

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