You might not know it by driving by, but the small parish of St. Padre Pio in Elba has a very big connection to Fatima, Portugal and its most important visitor. The parish is the first in the United States to have a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. On Aug. 13, St. Padre Pio Parish welcomed Bishop Richard J. Malone to celebrate both the 70th anniversary of the church and the 100th anniversary of the message of Fatima.
In 1917, in the farming town of Fatima, Portugal, a vision of Mary visited three shepherd children several times, delivering to them three secrets that, according to religious scholars, have come true. Pope Francis canonized two of the visionaries - Jacinta and Francisco Marto - this past May.
St. Padre Pio Parish was founded as a missionary parish in the spring of 1946 as Our Lady of Fatima, the first in the nation to use the name. The site, once a cow pasture, had been the setting in the 1930s for the Ku Klux Klan's largest cross burning in Genesee County. During the Journey in Faith and Grace, the diocesen pastoral restructuring that took place 2005-2008, Our Lady of Fatima merged with St. Cecilia Parish in Oakfield, assuming the name St. Padre Pio.
"It's that little country church that just made it through everything," said Debbie Green, office manager. "Everybody stops here. People stop here because it's Route 98. It's like a thoroughfare, so people are always stopping here, leaving things. It's become a little pilgrimage spot."
Somewhere in the shrine, visible from the street, is a rock from Portugal.
During Mass, which was celebrated in front of the shrine, Bishop Malone asked everyone gathered to focus on the message Mary delivered in Fatima.
"It is the message and the meaning of the whole thing that is important for us going forward," he said. "It's interesting, if you study what we know Mary revealed to those children, it's pretty powerful stuff. This might sound scary, but she gave them a momentary vision of what Hell would be like. That's not a vision I'm interested in seeing myself, now or ever. But, it's an important thing to remember that at the end of our lives we stand before God in a moment of judgment. I'm afraid our world forgets that. Now what God wants for us is Heaven, right? Eternal glory, joy, all of that in heaven with God. ... Our heavenly destiny is not really decided on the day we die or the day of judgment. When does it get decided, every single day by the way you and I follow Jesus faithfully. That what puts us, as I tell confirmation kids, on a heavenly trajectory."
During the monthly visits made in 1917, Mary said prayer would end World War I and asked for a devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
"Mostly, she talked about the importance in our lives of prayer, of reparation for sin, and for personal transformation - conversion of heart, so that each day, you and I would become a little bit more like the Lord," the bishop said.
As a final order of business, Bishop Malone named Father Thaddeus Bocianowski pastor of Padre Pio Parish. He had been serving as administrator since May of 2015, overseeing both the Elba and Oakfield worship sites. Father Bocianowski happily accepted. He then blessed the memorial brick walkway in front of the shrine. The shrine depicts the three visionary shepherd children with some sheep. It made a rather heavenly backdrop for the outdoor Mass.
After Mass, visitors enjoyed some food and an elaborate detailed display explaining the visions of Our Lady of Fatima designed by Batavia resident Carl Pillo. He and his late wife, Margaret, had a deep devotion to Our Lady. The display showed a timeline of the messages, including quotes from the shepherd visionaries and photos of the shooting of St. John Paul II, described in Our Lady's third secret.
Brittany Mruczek, a soprano with the Rochester Lyric Opera and a Batavia native, performed a short concert before the Mass.