PROVIDENCE - On Saturday, as Pope Francis canonized at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, Portugal, two of the local shepherd children who first witnessed the appearance of the Blessed Mother at the site in 1917, more than 1,000 pilgrims joined in a grand procession into the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence as Bishop Thomas J. Tobin marked the centenary of the Fatima apparitions.
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The pilgrims represented parishes across the diocese with many carrying religious banners identifying their affiliations with various Portuguese and other parish sodalities which pay homage to the Virgin Mary year round.
Ruth Ventetuolo, a member of the St. Anne Sodality at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Johnston, participated in the procession and Mass along with several members of her group, which also gathers to pray the rosary in adoration of Mary each day during the months of May and October.
“I just feel so honored to be here,” she said. “Our Blessed Mother is such an inspiration to all of us. To be able to participate is bringing us some joy and peace in our lives.”
Fran DiBiasio, president of the St. Anne Sodality, said she had no trouble encouraging members to take part in the day’s events.
“We have quite a devotion to the Blessed Virgin,” she said. “Although St. Anne is the patron of this group, our devotion is very, very strong to Our Lady.”
DiBiasio praised Bishop Tobin for proclaiming 2017 as a Year with Mary our Mother in the diocese and encouraging all faithful to increase their devotion to the Blessed Mother.
“He realizes what she is in our lives, and we’re going to honor her today,” she said.
As the pilgrims processed around Cathedral Square, they encircled a life-sized rosary at its center whose beads were crafted out of recycled newspapers by the Missionary Servants of the Word Sisters in residence at the cathedral convent, along with cathedral staff members.
Once in the cathedral, the pilgrims showed their devotion to Mary in three languages, Portuguese, Spanish and English as they prayed the mysteries of the rosary for one hour before Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Tobin. He concelebrated with about 20 priests from across the diocese, with Emeritus Bishop Robert E. Mulvee in attendance.
Both Bishop Tobin and Father Joseph Escobar, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Providence, each incensed the statue of Mary which was carried by several men during the procession and placed at the front of the sanctuary during Mass.
“We could not take all of you to Fatima today, so we brought Fatima to you, and indeed it’s been a very beautiful celebration for all of us,” Bishop Tobin said in preaching the homily, thanking parishioners and organizations from across the diocese for participating, and offering a special word of thanks to Father Jeremy Rodrigues, Administrative Secretary to the Bishop, for all the weeks of planning and organization he did to help bring the day’s special events to fruition.
“Your presence, your participation today is a sure sign of your faith and devotion to the Blessed Mother and her son Jesus, and you can be sure that the Lord is very pleased with the sacrifices and prayers we are offering this day,” he told those gathered.
The Bishop said that without question, the Blessed Mother’s message of Fatima, in which she warned the faithful to amend their lives and seek pardon for their sins and to pray the rosary every day, is as urgent today as it was when she delivered it in 1917.
“Think about the condition of our world today, think about the challenges and sins and offenses that are part of our human family around the world…It’s a very sad and discouraging litany,” he said, beginning with the terrible sin of abortion which continues to be a plague upon our society, our state and our own city today.
He spoke of how Planned Parenthood recently relocated, setting up shop in a building with a blue, garish sign across the highway in full view of the cathedral and the diocesan offices.
“It’s no accident that they located there because now they are closer to the neighborhood where they can prey upon very poor and vulnerable people who come there for their evil services,” Bishop Tobin said. “Abortion continues to be a great offense and sin and plague upon our society.”
He also spoke of the demise of holy matrimony and how family life is being eroded from many different angles, and of the atheism, secularism and materialism that together have become in their own right a politically correct religion.
He pointed to the persecution of Christians around the world and limitations on religious freedom and expression and even the marked increase in vulgarity as part of society’s normal discourse.
“Even within our own Church, there are so many young Catholics who have walked away from Christ,” he said, emphasizing the importance of continuing to follow Mary’s message at Fatima.
One of the pilgrims taking part Saturday was Manny Aniceto, a parishioner at St. Martha, East Providence, who grew up in Portugal about 15 miles from Fatima.
He returns there to visit family regularly and makes a pilgrimage to the shrine at Fatima whenever he can.
“My paternal grandfather actually witnessed the Miracle of the Sun,” he said. My grandfather, João Cordeiro Mateus, was the same age as Francisco,” one of the shepherd children who witnessed the apparitions.
“He was a very holy man,” who would speak about the passion the faithful had during the time of the Blessed Mother’s appearances.
“As I’m getting older, I think about him more often and want to become more like him,” said Aniceto, who attended with his wife Mary, cousin Elia Teixeira and godchild Britney Dias.
The cathedral celebrations were not the only special events marking the centenary in the diocese.
In the evening, parishioners and visitors gathered at Our Lady of Fatima Church, Cumberland, to honor their parish patron with a candlelight procession, an annual tradition that drew an especially large crowd during this centennial year. Pastor Father Fernando Cabral led those gathered in the traditional Portuguese hymns while men of the parish lifted a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on their shoulders and processed through the neighborhood streets.
As the procession made its way back into the church, all present knelt for exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Father Jorge Rocha, parochial vicar at Saint Francis Xavier Church, East Providence, offered a brief homily on the lessons of the apparitions at Fatima, which he compared to Christ’s appearance to his disciples following the resurrection.
“Because Mary has a special role in salvation history, she shares in a special way in all the wonderful works of Christ, including the resurrection,” he said.
Following the Benediction, parishioners came forward to participate in the traditional veneration of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, touching the statue’s feet and removing flowers from its base to take back to their homes. Noelia Amaral, a parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima Church, explained the importance of the traditions for the Portuguese community.
“She’s our mother so we venerate her. She brings us closer to Jesus,” she said.
Originally from the Azores, Amaral said that for her, the traditions surrounding Our Lady of Fatima help her feel closer to her home, where everything she did in the community revolved around the Church. As the world continues to struggle with violence, she said the parishioners follow the instructions of Our Lady of Fatima to pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners.
“She’s the picture of our mother in heaven, praying for us, interceding for us,” said Amaral, looking at the statue. “Now it’s even worse so we need more prayers.”
Staff Writer Lauren Clem reported for this story from Cumberland.