SASKATOON — The message of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children was highlighted May 12 - 13 in Saskatoon, marking the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first appearance in the Cova da Iria, Portugal.
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil and outdoor procession at Holy Family Cathedral May 12 led by diocesan administrator Kevin McGee and Deacon Donat Davatz, who gave the homily. Davatz described the continuing need to hear the prophetic message of Our Lady of Fatima, who asked for “penance, conversion of sinners, and praying of the rosary in order to obtain peace for the world.”
On May 13, the anniversary date itself, some 650 attended a Saturday afternoon mass at St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon, concelebrated by McGee and Rev. Ciro Perez, with participation from parishes, Catholic organizations, cultural groups, the Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus. Prayers written by students from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools were brought forward during the prayers of intention and placed near the altar.
At both celebrations, participants heard the story of Our Lady of Fatima summarized by event organizer Jennifer Nunes:
“On May 13, 1917, while tending their flock of sheep in a small Portuguese village called Fatima, three shepherd children — Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta — were startled by a flash of light from the heavens that they believed to be lightning coming from a clear sky. Moments later their fears were subdued by the appearance of ‘a lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water.’ ” Nunes recounted.
Six times in the next six months, the “beautiful and tender lady” appeared to Lucia (the eldest, aged 10) and her two younger cousins — Jacinta, 7, and Francisco, 8.
“On the last of the visits — Oct. 13, 1917, in the presence of 80,000 - 100,000 pilgrims — she performed the miracle of the sun so that all might believe what the children had seen and heard. During this last visit in the Cova de Iria, the lady revealed herself as the Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.”
A basilica and chapel have been built in Fatima, and millions of pilgrims from every corner of the globe have visited the sanctuary, and “time after time Our Lady has come to the aide of those who ask for her intercessions,” she said, noting that Pope John Paul attributed his survival from an assassination attempt to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima: “The bullet which struck St. Pope John Paul II was gifted to the sanctuary in Fatima and now permanently resides within the gold crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.”
The 100th anniversary was celebrated by Pope Francis in Fatima, Portugal, and included the canonization of the two youngest children: St. Jacinta Marto, who died in 1920 at the age of 9, and St. Francisco Marto, who died in 1919 at the age of 10. Lucia Santos grew up to become a Carmelite sister who died in 2005 at the age of 97.
Three local children participating in the Saskatoon celebrations were dressed as the children to whom Mary appeared: Jacinta Leyne as St. Jacinta Marto, Christopher Nunes as St. Francisco Marto, and Ana Coghlan as Servant of God Lucia dos Santos.
A group of other children were dressed as angels for the anniversary mass, which included a children’s liturgy, which was followed by a procession through Saskatoon’s core neighbourhood.
McGee invited the children to hear and follow Our Lady’s message — to not be afraid and “to pray for those who need it.”
The anniversary mass included crowning the statuee of Our Lady of Fatima, with Maria Silveira (who donated the statue to the parish many years ago after a visit to Fatima) brought up the crown, along with her daughter Eduina Nunes, and her granddaughter Jennifer Nunes carrying a great-grandchild.
McGee stressed that the message of Fatima is not one of doom, but an invitation to turn back to the mercy of God.
“Mary’s apparition is first and foremost the revelation of God’s mercy,” McGee said. “Mary reveals to the children that their prayers, especially their praying of the rosary, and by acts of reparation, (they) can indeed help bring conversion into the hearts of others, so that others will know the mercy of God in his Son.”
He noted that the words of Our Lady in the first apparition are a challenge to all of us: “are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the suffering he wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”
McGee continued: “Francisco was 8, Jacinta was 7, Lucia was 10 — still at this very young age, these children responded whole-heartedly to the call, they allowed God to work through their lives in order that others would know God’s mercy. It all begins with saying yes.”
We are also challenged to be open to God’s will as the children were, and as Mary herself was, said McGee. The message of Fatima invites us to love others unconditionally “and to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ.”
McGee noted that the name Fatima evokes the memory of one of the daughters of Mohammad who was named Fatima, which means shining one. “We are called to have great love and respect for our Muslim brothers and sisters and people of all faiths,” he said.
He also pointed out that in different places and in different centuries Mary has appeared arrayed in the dress and customs of other cultures;¬ for instance, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she appeared as an indigenous woman and left her image on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, a humble indigenous man. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a reminder “to build and strengthen our relationships with our First Nations brothers and sisters” as part of the “conversion call to open our hearts to all,” said McGee.
“May the message of Our Lady of Fatima, rooted in the Gospel call of conversion, inspire and direct us and guide us ever more deeply; may we learn to let go of the prejudices and judgments and fears that separate us so that with the help of Our Lady, we may be artisans and workers of peace; and through the intercession of St. Jacinta and St. Francisco and their cousin Lucia may we always be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which proclaims the good news of the mercy of God.”
The outdoor procession following mass included representatives of many cultures from around the world that honour Mary walking together and praying the rosary. Many were carrying national flags and banners, others were wearing traditional clothing. The procession also included representatives of parishes and schools, the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, the Knights of Columbus and CWL councils
A social gathering in the hall included a potluck lunch and entertainment representing many different countries and cultures.