Annual diocesan peace procession invoking Blessed Mother’s intercession is October 13

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By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — For nearly 40 years, pilgrims from parishes across the Fall River Diocese have annually come together on the second Monday in October — designated as the month of the Holy Rosary — to pray for peace through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, who is also known as the Queen of Peace.

Traditionally held on the Monday of Columbus Day weekend, this year’s peace procession will appropriately take place on October 13, which is also the 97th anniversary of Our Lady’s sixth and final appearance to three Portuguese shepherd children at the Cova da Iria in the tiny village of Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

It was there where Our Lady first implored the children to pray the Rosary if they sought world peace, and nearly a century later future generations of Portuguese immigrants who have settled here in the diocese have taken the Blessed Mother’s plea to heart.

“We all know the world — especially today — needs as much peace as possible,” said Nathan Carvalho, a parishioner of Espirito Santo Parish in Fall River and one of the key organizers of this year’s event. “I know when they started the peace procession, the country at the time was going through a lot of issues with war, here and in Portugal. For me, I feel peaceful just marching in the procession and praying the Rosary. It’s a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the whole world.”

Carvalho, who is also sacristan at Espirito Santo, first began attending the peace procession in 2006, during his first year as an altar server, and he’s been marching in it ever since.

But the genesis of the march can be traced back to October 1975 and a couple of other parishioners from the same Fall River parish: Beatrice and John Angelo.

“They were the ones who started the peace procession in 1975 and it was so big that first year, it was held outdoors at Kennedy Park,” Carvalho told The Anchor, noting that the founding couple has since passed away.

That first procession and Mass were held to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance at Fatima and to pray for peace in Portugal. The inaugural procession began at St. Mary’s Cathedral and ended at Kennedy Park where an estimated 30,000 people attended an outdoor Mass celebrated by then-Bishop Daniel A. Cronin.

In subsequent years the peace procession’s destination and closing Mass celebration has been relocated indoors to nearby St. Anne’s Church to better accommodate the crowds and in case of inclement weather.

“It’s gotten smaller over the years, but we still have a very good turnout,” Carvalho said. “We usually get thousands of people to join us, and I’m sure it will be the same again this year. I just recently retired as head altar server (at Espirito Santo Parish) but I’ll be coming back for the peace procession because I love it and look forward to it every year.”

Marching behind the same statue of Our Lady of Fatima from Espirito Santo Parish that has been used since 1975, the peace procession often takes the form of the pilgrimages at the shrine in Fatima itself, where people alternately march carrying Rosary beads, praying, singing Marian hymns, bearing candles and often waiving white handkerchiefs to the Blessed Mother in a sign of solidarity for peace.

Although rooted in Portuguese traditions, Carvalho said the peace procession draws pilgrims from a variety of ethnic backgrounds within the diocese.

“When we leave here, the Rosary is prayed pretty much in Portuguese, but by the time we get to the cathedral, there’s a mixture of English and Spanish, too,” he said. “All different groups and languages will join in.”

Carvalho said the large group of parishioners from Espirito Santo Parish on Alden Street that will escort Our Lady to the cathedral for the peace procession will gather around 4 p.m. and then proceed to St. Anthony of Padua Parish on Bedford Street to pick up a second group of pilgrims.

“We carry the statue and we pray the Rosary from here all the way to St. Anne’s Church,” Carvalho said. “We stop to pick up one other group, then we all walk to the cathedral together where we meet the bishop and all the other parishes that will join us in the march to St. Anne’s.”

For Carvalho, the complete nearly two-and-a-half mile walk doesn’t even register with him.

“It’s quite a walk,” he said. “It takes about two hours to get to the cathedral, but you really forget just how long it is, because it’s such a powerful thing.”

The group generally arrives in front of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption between 5:30 and 6 p.m., at which time the various other parishes — some of which have been bused in from the more remote parts of the diocese — will join the growing queue and make the final trek down South Main Street to St. Anne’s Church, where a closing Mass will be celebrated in several languages at 7 p.m.

“People can meet us at the cathedral around 6 p.m., but if people want to join us from the beginning here at Espirito Santo Parish at 4 p.m., they’re welcome, too,” Carvalho added.

Noting that past bishops — from Bishop Cronin to Bishop George W. Coleman — have traditionally participated in the peace processions, Carvalho said he anticipates newly-installed Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha will be in attendance this year as well.

“The bishop usually participates every year,” Carvalho said. “I met him on the day of his installation at White’s of Westport and I did get a chance to speak with him … in Portuguese. He’s very nice and down-to-earth.”

Participants wishing to join in the 39th annual peace procession this year can meet in the schoolyard opposite St. Mary’s Cathedral on the corner of Rodman and Second streets in Fall River.

Beginning at 6 p.m., the candlelight procession will proceed along the half-mile route from St. Mary’s Cathedral to St. Anne’s Church, where the Rosary will be recited and a multilingual Mass honoring the Blessed Mother will be celebrated starting at 7 p.m.

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