The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston welcomed well over 2,000 people on May 13, who came to honor the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal. Bishop Richard J. Malone celebrated Mass and blessed a new statue of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and their cousin Lucia Santos, three shepherd children who witnessed a series of visions near Fatima, Portugal.
The visitors came by the busload from the Buffalo area, Rochester, and throughout Ontario, Canada, following a calling to be near the Mother of Jesus, and as Bishop Malone pointed out, spiritual mother to all Christians.
While celebrating Mass to a crowd overflowing the earth-shaped basilica, Bishop Malone thanked everyone who came to be a part of the celebration.
"Your faith strengthens my faith. That's one of the greatest things about these shrines," he said.
The bishop pointed out how appropriate it was to honor children that day, as it was a teenaged Mary of Nazareth whose "Yes" to the angel Gabriel reversed Adam and Eve's "No." Along with being the mother of Jesus, Mary was also the first of His followers.
The bishop pointed out that recent popes have had special devotions to Our Lady of Fatima, but St. John Paul II had perhaps the strongest. Exactly 36 years ago, the pope survived an assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square. Two bullets pierced his abdomen, but no major organs were hit. He attributed his survival to Mary's intervention, describing it as "a mother's hand that guided the bullets' path."
"Isn't that beautiful?" the bishop asked. "He really believes it was the intercession of Mary at that time that saved him. He went on to visit Fatima, the sight of the apparitions three times after that. Visits, one author put it this way, 'This is of a grateful son to the mother who saved him.' She has that effect on all of us as we come into Her being our intercessor, our friend, our sister, as well as our mother."
During one visit to Fatima, St. John Paul put a bullet that had hit him into the crown of a statue. "A lovely, lovely sign of his gratitude to our mother," the bishop said.
Pope Francis had a similar thought two years ago, at the 98th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, telling pilgrims in Rome to "entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to family, neighbors and friends."
"We look to Our Lady of Fatima for her help in our lives, and she looks to us to bring her message out beyond the walls of our Church," Bishop Malone said. "That's one of the great things a pilgrimage procession represents. We go outdoors. We walk around. We carry the statues. For Corpus Christi, we carry the body of Christ in procession, and the meaning of that is Jesus and Mary lead us, but they lead us so that as we follow them, we bring their message of hope to the world around us. That's the beautiful call that has been given to us.
"Of course, all of the popes have recognized the importance, even the urgency of Mary's message at Fatima. In pretty much all of her apparitions, it's always the same message - a call to faith, a call to conversion, a call to repentance, a call to prayer, a call to work for peace in the world."
As with Portugal 100 years ago, there is a great deal of upheaval in the world. "So the message of Fatima is still relevant to us," Bishop Malone pointed out.
Concelebrating Mass were the members of the Barnabite Fathers who minister at the shrine and Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, Pakistan, who now lives in Toronto.
Just before Mass, Bishop Malone blessed the newly unveiled statues of the three young visionaries two of whom - Jacinda and Francisco - were canonized that morning.
"We must be properly disposed to have a clear meaning of this celebration," he said, with his voice echoing over a loudspeaker. "When a church blesses a statue and presents it for public veneration by the faithful, it does so for the following reasons. When we look at the representation of those who followed Christ, that as we struggle along with our earthly cares, we will be reminded of the saints - those friends and co-heirs of Christ, who are our own brothers and sisters and our spiritual benefactors - that we will be reminded how they love us, are near to us, intercede ceaselessly for us, and are joined to us in marvelous communion."
The staff of the shrine expected 2,200 people and estimate that final tally to be much higher. Two Masses held that day had crowds spilling into the sidewalks outside the basilica.
"I came here because I have had a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima since growing up," said Mary Ann Dyjak, now a resident of Rochester. "I used to live in Buffalo. My mother brought us out here quite often, so I'm very fond of this shrine in particular. I was thrilled that one of the sisters in Rochester organized a pilgrimage for us to come here. We have two bus fulls."
Edward Siduak, of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Cheektowaga, said he was not sure why he came. "God wanted me here," he guessed. He called the Mass "very inspirational." "I enjoyed every minute of it," he said.
Our Lady of Fatima Shrine will host Mass with rosary on the 13th of every month this year.