Spreading the message 100 years later

| Susan Klemond | May 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through the crowd May 12, 2016, at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal. Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit the shrine this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children. CNS

Local Catholics tell of devotion to Our Lady of Fatima

When Sonya May was in second grade, she opened a small package that had come in the mail one day for her mother. It contained the most beautiful rosary she’d ever seen, with chestnut-colored wooden beads linked on a gold chain. She asked her mother if she could keep it.

May, now 47 and a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, said she dreamed that night that she saw standing on a cloud a lady dressed in white whom she believes was the Virgin Mary. “I am the lady of the rosary,” May heard her say. “Pray the rosary every day.”

After experiencing a near-fatal car accident in college, May began to pray a daily rosary, and study her faith and Marian apparitions. She discovered Mary had given the same message she believed she heard in her dream to seers in Fatima, Portugal, and Lourdes, France.

When May travels this month to the shrine in Fatima, a small town located 90 miles from Lisbon, for the 100th anniversary of Mary’s first apparition there on May 13, 1917, she will bring the rosary she received in second grade, now well used and repaired.

Sonya May holds a rosary she received when she was in second grade. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“I almost feel like it’s closure,” she said.

With thousands expected to attend the commemoration, Pope Francis will canonize as saints two of the three shepherd children to whom Mary presented herself six times in 1917.

Mary’s prophetic words of love, warning and prayer for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls, given to Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her sibling cousins Francisco, 8, and Jacinta Marto, 7, involve both 20th-century events and greater spiritual realities.

The “secret” told to the children in 1917 consists of three parts: a vision of hell; the consecration of Russia and triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and, revealed publicly in 2000, an image of an angel about to strike the earth with a flaming sword and the pope being struck down at the foot of the cross.

As devotion to Our Lady of Fatima has spread in the past century, Catholics say she leads them to the Gospel and sacraments.

Modern message

Many are drawn to the Fatima story and see its impact in recent decades, said Barb Ernster, 55, president of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ division of the World Apostolate of Fatima USA and the apostolate’s national communications manager. The World Apostolate of Fatima is a public association of the faithful devoted to spreading Fatima’s message (see Prayer cells still a vital part of World Apostolate of Fatima).

On May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition, St. John Paul II survived an assassination attempt and subsequently placed the bullet that narrowly missed his heart into the crown of Mary’s statue in Fatima, said Ernster, a St. Charles Borromeo parishioner. She also points to the 1984 fulfillment of the consecration of the world — especially Russia — to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, drawing attention to her promise of Russia’s conversion with a series of events leading to the dissolusion of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And as more Catholics consecrate themselves to Mary after preparing with prayer and spiritual reading programs — such as “Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort and “33 Days to Morning Glory” by Father Michael Gaitley of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception — they’re receiving the Fatima message in their hearts, sometimes without knowing it, she said.

Mary’s message at Fatima, which the Church officially approved in 1930 as “worthy of belief,” applies the Gospel message to modern generations, said Father Thomas Dufner, 62, pastor of Epiphany in Coon Rapids.

“It’s to live according to our faith, but with a renewed purpose, insight and awareness of the times,” he said.

Fatima is also about Catholics’ relationship with Jesus and his mother, not merely rules and laws, Father Dufner said.

“The message is related to a person,” he added. “Her care is real, and our situation of need is great.”

May said Our Lady of Fatima has been her “spiritual mom,” protecting and helping her through difficulties, such as in 2005 when after praying the rosary while driving home in a hail storm in complete darkness, there was no damage to her car or house.

“I’ve always felt that I’ve been under her protection. I think praying the rosary has protected me in various ways,” May said.

She is drawn to the Fatima message of conversion, prayer and confession, and has made the Five First Saturday devotion introduced by Our Lady, who requested reparation for five types of offenses against her Immaculate Heart.

The devotion involves going to confession within eight days of each of five consecutive first Saturdays of the month, as well as receiving Communion, praying the rosary and meditating for 15 minutes on Mary’s life.

May sees in the Fatima message a warning and call to self-correct.

“There’s a time of mercy, but then there’s going to be a time of justice. … It’s the rosary that will be there for protection,” she said.

Fatima for families

At age 20, Justin Stroh knew nothing about Fatima or the rosary when neighbors invited him to watch a Fatima documentary. He was first intrigued by the story’s historical sense.

“It wasn’t just about an apparition,” said Stroh, now 50 and a parishioner of Divine Mercy in Faribault. “It really was about an important occurrence in the life of the Church and the world.”

The Miracle of the Sun on Oct. 13, 1917, where thousands of people at Fatima reported seeing the sun dancing and changing colors, convinced him that Mary can intervene in human history. The vision of hell she showed the children also made a lasting impression.

Stroh began praying a daily rosary, a practice he and his wife continued together until it became difficult with their growing family. When they were having problems with some of their eight children several years ago, the couple decided to renew their Fatima devotion by doing the Five First Saturday devotion.

It inspired them to resume the daily family rosary at the beginning of 2017 and teach their kids about Fatima. Two months later, they noticed positive changes.

“One thing that touched [our children] was that [there were] these little children who heroically embraced what Our Lady asked of them,” he recalled.

Now when the family faces challenges, they pray the rosary together near their Fatima statue of Mary’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.

During the Sept. 13,1917, Fatima apparition, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared with Mary to bless the world, an encouragement for families, Ernster said.

“We feel that the Fatima message has a lot to do with the family,” she said. “We know that the family is under attack and [the World Apostolate of Fatima’s] focus going forward will be on rebuilding the family.”

Fatima reorients the place of God in our lives, Father Dufner said.

“We have to see that the Holy Family is a model for us. The Holy Family worshiped, the Holy Family ate together. There was care and concern and other centeredness in the Holy Family,” he said.

Father Dufner said reparation is part of the Church’s redemptive mission, and not merely prayer for our own interests.

“We are partners in the work of redemption, and there is something about Fatima that is very mature and therefore more interesting,” he said.

Special devotion

About 30 years ago, Mary Jean Sirek’s children found in her attic a battered statue of Mary and the Infant Jesus. She cleaned the statue, but didn’t paint or repair it. Now on her mantle, it’s a reminder of wounds inflicted on Jesus, his mother and each other, said Sirek, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale.

“To me, it’s a sign of what we have to go through, that sometimes we’re beaten up, too, and we just have to have a deep faith and keep praying to her,” she said.

Sirek, 77, offers reparation to Mary’s Immaculate Heart when she can get to her parish on First Saturdays, which she described as “a special devotion day to our Blessed Mother to make up for all the sins and offenses committed against her.”

Sirek first prayed Fatima prayers in the 1990s at a parish Fatima prayer group and now prays them at home. She is inspired by the Fatima seers who were faithful despite opposition.

All through her life, while she and her late husband raised their seven children, Sirek has always relied on Mary’s help, she said.

“I’ve had some really hard times in life, health-wise and spiritually, and [Mary] kept me going,” she said. “If I hadn’t been so devoted to her, I don’t know where I would have ended up. She was just my lifeline.”

When Sirek can’t get to church, she prays the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, and learns about Fatima on Eternal Word Television Network and CatholicTV television networks. Relevant Radio also offers Fatima programming.

Local commemoration

This Fatima centennial year will be a special time for the Church if Catholics use it for something special, such as repentance and believing the Gospel, Father Dufner said.

“It needs to be embraced again,” he said.

Catholics can make one of several locally organized pilgrimages to Fatima this year or travel to the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington, New Jersey.

During the anniversary year, parishes including Epiphany, St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, St. Michael in St. Michael, St. Albert in Albertville and All Saints in Minneapolis have planned Fatima events, prayer groups, First Saturday devotions and processions. Some parishes have statues of Our Lady of Fatima.

Besides opportunities to receive the papal indulgence for the jubilee year of Fatima (see related sidebar), the World Apostolate of Fatima will organize First Sa–turday devotions at parishes that request them, Ernster said.

Father Dufner said parishes commemorating the anniversary probably recognize that Mary leads us to her son.

“Mary contained the God-man; drawing closer to Mary makes us closer to Jesus,” he said.

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