Nearly half a million people attended the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions of Fatima in Portugal, but it was thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean where the Portuguese community from Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Queens Village, faithfully gathered to offer the same devotion during a bilingual Mass and rosary procession May 13.
“The people are from different cultures and they have a special devotion to Blessed Mother,” said Father Robert Ambalathingal, parochial vicar for the parish who led the Mass in Portuguese. “Especially the Portuguese community, they are the very traditional community over here. So when we introduced this one, they are so welcoming and they are coming to pray the rosary and get the blessings from Our Lady of Fatima.”
While those who gathered with Pope Francis in Portugal had sunny skies, it was the rain on Saturday evening in Queens Village that switched the initial candlelight rosary procession from being outdoors into becoming an indoor activity.
Be it divine coincidence, but in the spring of 1916, three shepherd children from Portugal by the name of Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, decided to hide in a small cave after it started raining. That led to one of three apparitions from the Angel of Peace, which eventually prepared the three little seers into becoming messengers of the Mother of God.
Taking center stage in the small chapel behind the parish’s main church, were also three children wearing traditional Portuguese clothing, two girls with a fringed blue scarf around their hair and long gray flowing cotton skirts, and one boy, also with a black scarf around his hair, all holding rosaries in their hands. They were depicting the three shepherd children, two of whom were canonized that day: Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Father Ambalathingal concelebrated the Mass with Father Patrick Longalong, administrator at the parish. Father Longalong’s homily reminded those gathered that the message that resonated 100 years ago still holds a place in society today.
“You know every time you hear these secrets of Fatima being revealed,” said Father Longalong, “they talked about wars, they talk about poverty, they talk about oppression, but the Blessed Mother tells us we can avoid all that and we can end all of that if we have a conversion of heart and that we should liken our heart to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“If you go to Fatima in Portugal, you know the real title of Our Lady of Fatima is Our Lady of the Rosary. Every day she encourages us to pray the rosary, meditate and reflect the life of Jesus Christ so that each one of us may become Jesus to other people.”
The evening was filled with traditional worship songs sung by the choir, mostly elder Portuguese women.
After Mass, those gathered in the chapel passed candles for the indoor procession, lighting them as a united community in obedience to what Our Lady requested during her third apparition in 1917: “Continue to recite the rosary every day to our Lady of the Rosary to obtain peace in the world and the end of war, because only she will be able to aid you.”
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was carried off the altar by six men and processed down the aisle to the words of the holy rosary, spoken in both English and Portuguese.
Parishioners and Portuguese women Lidia Pastilha and her mother Ana Alvez both grew up in close proximity to the church when they first came to America. Even though they eventually moved out of the neighborhood, they keep coming back for church events related to Our Lady of Fatima.
Already Saints in the Family
“(Jacinta and Francisco) have been saints in the family way before today,” said Pastilha as she translated answers in English for her mother.
“They’ve been saints in our hearts way before today.”
Her mother, a digital devotee to Our Lady, woke up at five that morning to watch the centennial celebration on YouTube. But she also prays the rosary three or four times a day when streaming Portuguese TV online.
“Fatima is a part of the family,” said Alvez, who visits her motherland every year. “She gives you peace and love. Every time I go to Fatima, I love it.”’
Regardless of the languages spoken that night, parishioners from a variety of cultural backgrounds gathered as one and will continue to gather, on the 13th of every month for the next six months at that small chapel on the corner of Springfield Blvd. and 220th St.
There they will devote themselves, even for just a small moment in time, to the heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.