By Kenneth J. Souza
FALL RIVER, Mass. — In preparation for this year’s centennial anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Portugal, a new apostolate called Living the Fatima Message was formed last summer to help promote Our Lady’s message of peace for the world.
The purpose of the apostolate is simple: to spread awareness of Our Lady’s message and requests, and to encourage and assist the faithful to respond to this urgent appeal from Heaven — personally and in community.
“It all began last year when I was speaking with Father Alan Wharton of the Franciscans of the Immaculate in New Bedford about a Pro-Life initiative and how frustrated I and others had become trying to bring awareness to the public,” said Jane Wilcox, a parishioner at St. Bernard’s Parish in Assonet and one of the group’s founding members. “I remembered how Bea Martins and I had brought the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe across the diocese to further the Pro-Life cause, and I thought we should do the same with Our Lady of Fatima.”
Realizing how powerful prayer can be, especially through Our Lady’s intercession, Wilcox joined forces with a group of like-minded laity and religious in the diocese and presented their idea to Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., who gave them his blessing and encouragement.
“Our Lady has been leading us and drawing people to Living the Fatima Message ever since,” Wilcox said.
Living the Fatima Message aims to help orient and mobilize the faithful to enact the Spiritual solution offered by Our Lady of Fatima. They are a grassroots group of laypeople, clergy and religious within the Fall River Diocese who are consecrated to the Mother of God individually and collectively.
Another of the group’s founding members, Somerset resident Elizabeth Montigny, believes the central core of Our Lady’s message from a century ago is just as important today as it was back then.
“You don’t have to look far to see the ‘culture of death’ pushing its agenda,” Montigny told The Anchor. “Just think of the constant attacks against the dignity of the human person, and Marriage and family. I don’t think it’s a coincidence it is also the anniversary of the founding of Planned Parenthood and that doctors can now ‘prescribe suicide.’
“And what about the attacks against our religious freedom? It’s gotten to the point people are not sure if they should even say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Easter!’ Globally, the Church is being persecuted, as we just witnessed on Palm Sunday with the attacks on the Coptic churches in Egypt.”
Just as the world was on the brink of two international wars when Our Lady first appeared back in 1917, Montigny said “these conflicts continue to play out 100 years later.”
“Perhaps it’s because we have not listened to Our Mother and she wants to tell us the time is now,” she said. “She’s a patient mother, but she’s already waited 100 years. As a mother of three young boys, I’m not sure I want to know what Heaven’s version of a ‘time-out’ is!”
As a mom and someone with a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Mother, Montigny said she has learned to appreciate the importance a maternal role model plays in everyone’s life.
“When I married and started a family, I realized quickly how loving and raising children is the toughest and most rewarding job I will ever have,” she said. “And Mary was, and is, the ultimate ‘super mom’ to me!”
Not surprisingly, it was her own mother who inspired her to begin staging theater pieces in which she would relay Christ’s life through her portrayal of Mary.
“A few years ago, I was feeding my youngest son and reviewing the news headlines,” she said. “Remember those men in orange jumpsuits on the beach? They were martyrs for their faith. I thought, ‘This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I have to do something.’
“I had been wrestling for a while with an idea my mother offered — a theater piece bringing the life of Jesus to others through Mary — and I decided not to put it off any longer. Our Lady’s message needs to be shared now! So, when Jane spoke with me about working with Living the Fatima Message, it just seemed like a natural progression.”
While there’s been a lot of speculation and mystery surrounding Our Lady’s appearance in Fatima and the oft-cited “secrets” she shared with the children, Montigny said the most vital part of her message is clear: to stop offending God and to strive for holiness.
“Her message is very simple: go to Mass, go to Confession, say the Rosary, make time for Adoration,” Montigny said. “Can we really not find time in our day or week to do these things, especially when it means we can bring peace to those we love?”
With the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition to nine-year-old Lucia Santos and her younger cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto at the Cova da Iria near their home village of Fatima, Portugal approaching on May 13, the apostolate already has several special events planned throughout the diocese.
Among them is a morning program titled, “Say Yes to Mary” that will be held on May 6 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River that will begin with a performance piece by Montigny.
“I think we have something for everyone,” Montigny said. “The morning will begin with getting to know the Blessed Mother through my performance based on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. We will have a Rosary-making room and children may view a video on Fatima. Guests can also enjoy a beautiful icon collection on loan from Patricia Pasternak, a member of the diocese, and visit some informational tables for other apostolates. The morning will culminate with a Living Rosary featuring participants from all over the diocese, followed by a Eucharistic procession and closing with Benediction.”
Other speakers that day will include Father Thaddaeus Lancton, M.I.C., of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, and Father Leonard Kayondo, chaplain at Saint Anne’s Hospital and in residence at Good Shepherd Parish in Fall River, who will offer some powerful reflections on the Rwandan genocide and what it means when we ignore Our Lady’s message.
“Since it’s the First Saturday and the weekend before the 100th anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima, we’re thinking of this day as a way to honor Our Lady and, in a sense, kick off the centennial year,” Montigny said. “During the morning we want to build up the importance of and dedication to praying the Holy Rosary and Adoration and how these two important devotions can change lives.”
Montigny wanted to thank the staff at Bishop Connolly for being so generous with their time and resources and she hopes all will make an effort to join them in celebrating 100 years of faith in Fatima.
With other events planned between May and October this year, Montigny said Living the Fatima Message hopes to continue its mission beyond the centennial celebration.
“The mission of the apostolate is about leading others to Jesus through Mary and the conversion never ends,” she said. “It’s easy to forget our diocese stretches from Mansfield to the Islands, so that’s a lot of ground to cover and we need help!”
To that end, she encouraged anyone who would like to be a Marian ambassador or to help bring the message to their parish or group to get in touch with them via email, Facebook or phone; or, to simply attend one of their upcoming events.
“We hope to assist in unifying the diocese to answer Our Lady’s call so that we may bring peace to our homes and our communities,” Montigny said. “In our prayer program, we focus on what Our Lady asked of us at Fatima and how we can respond. By focusing on our role and response, we’re taking an active role in our own conversion and perhaps can bring friends and family along with us.”
For more information about Living the Fatima Message, including an updated schedule of upcoming events, visit www.livingfatima.com/lfm or www.facebook.com/livingfatima, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 781-521-3677.