By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor, and Lois Rogers, Correspondent
Amid the busyness of a typical Saturday afternoon on business-lined High Street in Burlington City, a sense of quiet and prayer prevailed Oct. 14 on the front plaza of All Saints Church.
To see photo gallery from the Public Square Rosary Rally in Burlington, click here.
To see photo gallery from the Fatima Centennial Celebration in Spring Lake, click here.
Passers-by in cars and those on foot glanced in the church’s direction as about 50 faithful prayed before a prominently displayed statue of Our Lady of Fatima and a large banner bearing a simple, yet striking message: Pray.
The Burlington gathering was among more than 21,000 groups across the country to participate in an organized Public Square Rosary Crusade at noon to mark the 100th anniversary of Fatima and Our Lady’s call to conversion. Organized each year by America Needs Fatima, the gatherings are typically held on the Saturday closest to Oct. 13, the feast of the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.
“I see it as an outward sign visible to the general public of our Church praying together to Mary to intercede to God to bless our nation” and guide the nation on to a right, moral and spiritual path, said Michael Dalessandro, who helped organize the parish’s rally along with his wife, Joann. Co-organizers also included Father Michael Kennedy, parochial vicar of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, of which All Saints Church is a worship site, and others.
Joann Dalessandro, who noted that the couple have participated in the Rosary Crusade since 2010, said the events serve as a “powerful means to answer Our Lady’s request to pray often and with the heart.”
“When we pray in public, others see us and are encouraged by our example,” she said. “Prayer is powerful, especially public prayer with a number of people praying together. This is why we eagerly participate each year, to pray for the intentions of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the triumph of her immaculate heart.”
A Memorable Message
One hundred years ago, on Oct. 13, 1917, the “Miracle of the Sun” occurred when an estimated 70,000 pilgrims traveled to the Cova da Iria field in Fatima, Portugal, to witness a miracle promised by the Blessed Mother. Our Lady appeared six times to three children, on the 13th of each month from May to October 1917, each time exhorting them to continuous prayer.
Like their Catholic brethren from St. Katharine Drexel Parish – and throughout the world – faithful in parishes and Catholic schools across the Diocese commemorated the centenary, including St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake.
It was there that the centennial concluded Oct. 13 much as it began six months earlier: with prayer, hymns and a reflection on the relevance today of the Blessed Mother’s message. As twilight settled into darkness, more than 350 faithful from around the area gathered in St. Catharine Church for a ceremony sponsored by Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry, a coalition of area parishes, and later outside for a candlelight procession and the laying of roses at the church’s Fatima shrine.
The coalition – composed of St. Catharine-St. Margaret; St. Denis, Manasquan; St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Avon-by-the-Sea; Holy Innocents, Neptune; St. Mark, Sea Girt, and St. Rose, Belmar – launched the commemorative effort May 7 with prayer and a presentation.
Marking the final of the six apparitions, Father Martin O’Reilly, parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, focused on the story of the event, which not only moved eyewitnesses, but countless people over the years since.
Calling Mary the “Dear Mother of all the nations of the world,” Father O’Reilly discussed how the Blessed Mother promised the three young visionaries a miracle, which she delivered. The messages of hope, conversion, peace and penance were meant not only for the people of that time, he said, but meant to last through the years, too.
Mary spoke to the children during World War I, when the world was “a very sad place,” he said. “Many thought it was the end of the world. Cities were sacked. [Millions of] husbands, fathers, uncles and sons” were lost. Many people, he said, likely asked where God was in all the desperation.
God, he noted, “has always spoken through the innocent – the [visionaries] were open to hear God’s voice.”
Despite the doubts of contrarians who could not believe the three cousins, the children never hesitated to share Mary’s message of peace and healing, Father O’Reilly said.
“The message was very simple: pray – pray the Rosary. … Keep focused on the vision … on Christ. Keep Christ at the center,” he said. “That’s how we bring peace.”
The shepherd children were prophets, he added, and following their example 100 years later, “God continues to ask us to be his prophets, his ambassadors, to pray for other people” and the world.
Prayer was indeed the word in Burlington, where a giant banner at the Public Square Rosary Crusade read: “Praying the Rosary for America … As human efforts fail to solve America’s key problems, we turn to God, through His Holy Mother, asking His urgent help.”
Father Kennedy said his involvement with the Rosary Crusade evolved from planning events for the observance of the Fatima centenary. He told of how a small group in St. Katharine Drexel Parish had been reading and praying with the self-guided retreat, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” and the day before the rally, Oct. 13, had commemorated the 100th anniversary by praying the Marian consecration and attending Mass.
“The Rosary and Fatima really speak to the changes we see in our culture today, the changing relationship between the Church and the culture at-large and our need to stay faithful to our Church,” he said. “But the Rosary and Fatima also speak to the timelessness of Christian hope, faith and love. Hopefully, the very public way that we prayed [at the Crusade] highlighted these two aspects of our faith in a vivid and tangible way.”
Barbara Manzi, a member of St. Paul Parish for about 39 years before the parish merged with All Saints, has taken part in four Public Square Rosary Crusades.
“There is so much hate and destruction in our world that we need all the help that prayers can give us,” she said. “The Rosary Crusade is about showing strength in our faith and the importance of the need and power of prayer in our society.”