Today — my colleague at the university told me nights ago — marks the hundredth year since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, as Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
The Virgin visited with messages of prayer and penance as the path to peace, of sins of the flesh as the chief pitfall to perdition, of the imperative for people to pray for one another for them to stay the heavenward course.
In our paternal ancestral house in Barangay San Nicolas Proper, Cebu City, my auntie, father’s sister, keeps a small, portable shrine with an image of Our Lady of Fatima. Her hands are clasped in prayer. She stands on a little cloud.
Three pigeons are perched by her feet, representatives of the children — Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto.
A Filipino artist wrought that, my cousin told me years ago, referring to the wood and glass casement of the statuette and proud that a thing of beauty is evidently local. He and I must have been six or seven years old.
It must have been summer, for I rarely visited them on school days.
Filipinos honor Our Lady of Fatima in many ways.
Cebu City has a barangay named Duljo-Fatima.
The neighborhoods where my sister and I were raised held dawn or evening candlelight processions in which her statue would be moved from one house to another.
We children felt privileged when tasked to bear the image, or at least carry the vases in which hosts offered her flowers.
Devotees fitted the statue with a miniature gown, complete with veil even though the sculpture depicts a lady dressed in white with only face, hands and feet visible.
One thirteenth of October when I was still in grade school, our teachers gave us a project — to make artificial wings. For wing bones, we used cardboard, and for feathers we substituted bond paper that we pasted onto the board.
We fixed rubber bands onto the wings and with these attached the wings to our backs.
We boarded a bus and went to a chapel by the sea.
The community was celebrating a feast of Our Lady of Fatima on the date of her final apparition to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. We walked in a procession as Our Lady’s angels.
There are five Fatima prayers.
The most famous one, taught by Mama Mary herself, has been integrated into the prayers of the Holy Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have the most need of your mercy.”
Mama Mary of Fatima is closely connected to recent Philippine history on at least two points.
When Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile defected from then president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, one of the things the pair did was raise aloft an image of Our Lady of Fatima as they addressed the crowds that turned up to convert their rebellion into what we now know as the Edsa People Power Revolution.
Corazon “Cory” Aquino, who was swept into the presidency after Marcos and his family fled, had the opportunity to receive from Lucia, by then the only seer of Fatima left on this side of life, a special gift. Let me quote Father Catalino Arevalo, the renowned Filipino Jesuit:
“Then Sr. Lucia did something the Cardinal did not expect. She took out a rosary which (she said) she herself made, bead by bead.
She wanted Cardinal Sin to give it as her personal gift to Mrs. Aquino, and she said — somewhat surprisingly — ‘Tell her to take good care of it.’ It was a promise of Our Lady’s blessing on President Cory during her presidency and beyond.”
Father Arevalo quotes Cory Aquino:
“Sister Lucia sent me this rosary which she herself made, with the message that I would be supported and protected in my presidency. She added, however, that more suffering would come my way. I now know that it was a prophetic message, as I had to fight back seven coup attempts to save my administration from power-grabbers in uniform. With Our Lady’s protection, I stood my ground and never left Malacañang, even when it was being attacked.”
Our Lord through Mama Mary, Our Lady of Fatima continues to shower us with gifts today, when Pope Francis canonizes Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta.
One day, Blessed Lucia, who died a nonagenarian after Mama Mary’s own prediction of her longevity, will also be recognized officially as a saint.
May the Blessed Virgin, Saint Francisco, Saint Jacinta and Blessed Lucia pray with us as we ask that all souls may be led to heaven, especially those in most need of Divine Mercy.
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The Salesians of Don Bosco in Cebu are holding a seminar workshop on praying with the Word of God or lectio divina from May 15 to 20 at the Don Bosco Retreat House in Lawaan, Talisay City.
The seminar is intended for novices and temporarily professed religious sisters and brothers, parish catechists, lectors and lay ministers, parent, youth leaders and adult Catholics.
For more information, please contact Father Mel Racelis on +63 918 930 2471.