This column comes to you from Lourdes, the renowned shrine in southwestern France where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. There, Our Lady assured St. Bernadette that this sacred grotto would be a place of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing and renewal. It is!
I’m here with three hundred pilgrims, one-third of them sick, the beloved malades, who unite with thousands of others in this annual journey, generously hosted and sponsored by the Order of Malta. Your intentions accompany me.
We come here yearly at the start of May, the month our Catholic piety dedicates to the Blessed Mother. This particularly beautiful month is given to her, since it is the height of the new life of spring, with nature lustily vibrant, and she is the Mother of the One who is “the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus! More often than not, it is also the month we celebrate Pentecost (although not this year, when this feast falls on June 4), since she was there in the Upper Room with the apostles to welcome the Holy Spirit as the Church was born. Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Calvary, Jerusalem, Lourdes...
...and Fatima! Although happy in Lourdes, we pilgrims also have the acclaimed sanctuary of Fatima, in Portugal, high in mind, knowing that this Saturday, May 13, marks the centennial of her first apparition to the three little shepherd children. Pope Francis will be there with an anticipated million pilgrims.
At the time of her appearance, Europe and, a month earlier, the United States, were in the butchery of World War I, a turmoil that would claim 37 million lives, and solve little; in fact, historians believe the first led to the worse Second World War. Only a week before Our Lady appeared at Fatima, Pope Benedict XV had publicly asked her intercession for the war’s end.
Her last apparition there would be the following October 13, the very month the Bolshevik Revolution brought totalitarian, atheistic communism to Russia and, eventually, the countries called the Soviet Union.
In a way, there was nothing novel in Mary’s message at Fatima. As at Lourdes, she pointed to her Son, Jesus, and renewed His call in the Gospel: prayer, conversion of heart, penance for sins. At both places, she recommended the Rosary.
At Fatima, she predicted World War II, and the threat of communist atrocities against the Church. Pope St. John Paul II was not surprised that on May 13, 1981, the very anniversary of her first apparition at Fatima, he would take three bullets from a KGB-directed would-be-assassin in St. Peter’s Square. He barely recovered and, a year later, traveled himself as a pilgrim to Fatima, presenting to her a crown containing the three bullets surgically removed from his wounded body.
...and, Knock! She appeared in Ireland, too, in 1879. Among the dozens who experienced her silent apparition outside the parish church in the tiny village of Knock was a six-year-old boy, John Curry. He would eventually immigrate to New York where he lived a quiet, humble life, somewhat unaware that what he saw at Knock was slowly gaining great international devotion and acclaim. He spent his last years with the Little Sisters of the Poor at their residence in Queens.
Not long before he died, delegates doing further study on the apparitions at Knock, located him, and asked for his testimony. John Curry repeated almost verbatim the account he had given in 1879, months after the apparition took place.
John was buried in a simple unmarked grave donated to the Sisters upon his death in 1943.
When the pastor of Knock, Father Richard Gibbons, told me this story a year ago, I suggested that we move John to a more prominent grave at the historic cemetery at our old cathedral, the Basilica of St. Patrick on Mott Street.
We’ll do that this Saturday, May 13, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, in company with pilgrims from Ireland, even family members from Knock. You’d sure be welcome for the Mass of re-burial at 11 a.m.
During that Mass I’ll re-consecrate the archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as Our Lady asked at Fatima.
And the next day is Mother’s Day! We thank God for our natural moms here on earth; we praise Him for our heavenly Mother, Mary, whom we love and cherish, not only at Lourdes, Fatima, and Knock, but in our hearts.