NEWARK, N.J. – Hundreds walked four miles and prayed the Rosary through the streets of Newark behind the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima May 13 – the anniversary of Our Lady's first apparition at the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal, 106 years ago – during a special procession.
The Pilgrim Statue – one of several that have traveled the world on a pilgrimage of peace since 1947 – has been touring the Archdiocese of Newark since April 28, with the goal of visiting roughly 20 Churches throughout Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties. The statue has been so popular her stay has been extended until June 11, when Newark's Cathedral Basilica of Sacred Heart will hold a Portugal Day Mass. The last time she was in the archdiocese was in 1997, when she toured for four months.
The Saturday procession began at Newark's Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church at 1:30 p.m. and traveled to the cathedral basilica for a 5 p.m. Mass and veneration afterward.
"Our Lady of Fatima is here to give us a sign of peace and a sign of hope amidst so much struggling. The message of Fatima reflects on that. She is walking with us through the city of Newark giving us the strength that we need," said Ricardo Casimiro, co-leader of the statue's pilgrimage, along with Father Kevin Kilgore, pastor at St. Pius X Church in Old Tappan.
"This is a sign that she is always with us, in our sufferings and in our needs. So, bringing her to the cathedral is bringing the message of Fatima in this new language of peace," he told Jersey Catholic, the archdiocese’s online news site.
Father Kilgore and Casimiro led the procession of Our Lady of Fatima through Newark on her feast day. While the faithful mostly carried the statue, on hills Our Lady was placed on a vintage fire engine used for firefighters' funerals who died due to 9/11. Officers from the Newark Police Department also accompanied the procession.
While most had set the day aside to be with Our Lady during the procession, some happened upon her as she was carried through the streets. A nearly blind woman with a white cane was allowed to get close enough to see the statue. Upon seeing her, she exclaimed, "She is absolutely magnificent!"
A couple, newly married in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, received a special blessing and had their wedding day photos taken with her.
Ricky Vera, who walked with Our Lady, said he married into a Portuguese family. After learning about their culture, he said, he appreciates what it means to have the statue present locally.
"I quickly learned to understand their culture, their beliefs, and practice them (myself)," Vera said. "My mother-in-law and father-in-law have been major contributors with their spirit in the Portuguese community here in Newark, and so it means a lot (having Our Lady of Fatima here)."
As Our Lady was carried into the cathedral basilica, the crowd belted out the hymn "Ave de Fatima," or as it is known in English, "The 13th of May," while waving white handkerchiefs. The hymn, sung in Portuguese, is synonymous with Fatima.
Elizabeth brought her granddaughter from Morristown to see the statue. Although she visited Fatima, Portugal, to see the permanent statue in the Shrine of Fatima, she said she could not miss the opportunity to see her in the Archdiocese of Newark and to show her granddaughter. "I love Our Lady," she said.
Vincent, in a shirt that read "Say the rosary," said being with the statue from Portugal was powerful and a blessing.
Kathleen, who stumbled upon the statue on a trip to Portugal, said she felt drawn to her.
"It's a wonderful time to be with Our Lady," Kathleen said, adding that not only was it the anniversary of Our Lady's first apparition but also "it's May, the month of Mary, and it's Mother’s Day (on Sunday)."
Our Lady of Fatima is a Marian apparition who appeared to three Portuguese shepherd children on six occasions during World War I between May and October of 1917. In September 1917, Our Lady said to the three little shepherds, "Pray the rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."
In his homily, Father Kilgore said Catholics embrace the message of peace, a message of hope, and a message of love that Our Lady of Fatima has given them.
"This is Mary of the Gospels; she is alive again because of the resurrection of Jesus, so we commend ourselves to her hands and she will lead us closer to her son," Father Kilgore said. "In the Gospel of John, the final commandment that Jesus issues from the cross, he says to John, 'Behold your mother.' The Gospel says John took her into his home, so we are bringing Mary of the Gospels, Our Lady of Fatima, to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. We are welcoming her into our home as John once did. We receive not only her but the message that she brings."
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima is one of the best-known sculptures in the Catholic world. It is made from Brazilian cedar and depicts Mary dressed in white as described by Sister Lucia, one of the shepherds. "We beheld a Lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it," Sister Lucia says in the story of Fatima.
José Ferreira Thedim sculpted the original statue in 1920 and placed it in the Chapel of the Apparitions on the exact spot of the apparitions, Cova da Iria in Fatima.
Fatima's message spread quickly throughout the world, and until the mid-1940s, the statue made a few trips on pilgrimage to various places, including the great pilgrimage to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in 1942.
To protect the statue as much as possible and respond to the numerous requests from all over the world, in 1946 the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima started a project that continues today – the pilgrim image of Our Lady of Fatima. Sister Lúcia, at the age of 40, gave José Thedim an exact description of the figure of the lady who had appeared to her.
"The sculptor then tried to achieve the closest physiognomy of the Virgin Mary, and the pilgrim image is, therefore, the one that most resembles the lady brighter than the sun contemplated by Sister Lucia in 1917 at Cova da Iria," said Casimiro, who has made 40 visits to Portugal's Shrine of Fatima as part of his studies on Our Lady.
On May 13, 1947, the new Our Lady statue set out for the first time on a pilgrimage around the world. The people acclaim this image as the Lady of Peace, who brings light and comfort to humanity in darkness and wounded by the horrors of war and sin, Casimiro said.
A mother and daughter who walked the pilgrimage said it means a lot to have the statue in the Archdiocese for the month.
"I think the United States needs this – this unity, this happiness. It's such a blessing to have Our Lady of Fatima here (in Newark)," the mother said.
"Not all of us have the opportunity to go (to Fatima), so it's nice to have her here," the daughter said.
Jaimie Julia Winters is the editor of Jersey Catholic, the news website of the Archdiocese of Newark.