QUEENS VILLAGE — Zeny Cancino wears her heart on her sleeve, or rather, on her T-shirt.
Standing in the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village as she helped set up chairs for the parish’s weekly Rosary at the Grotto prayer service on Tuesday, July 12, she sported a T-shirt with the slogan “Say the Rosary” on the front. At one point, she turned around to show a visitor the back of the shirt, which had an image of rosary beads.
Our Lady of Lourdes started Rosary at the Grotto eight years ago, and except for the pandemic year of 2020, parishioners have been gathering in the grotto every Tuesday evening during the summer to pray, sing hymns in praise of the Blessed Mother and listen to Gospel readings — and of course, say the rosary.
Other churches around the Diocese of Brooklyn that have grottos, including the Shrine Church of St. Bernadette in Dyker Heights and St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor, also host weekly outdoor prayer sessions dedicated to the rosary.
At Our Lady of Lourdes — a church named in honor of the area in France where the Blessed Mother appeared to a teenage St. Bernadette — it has become a popular tradition.
“We do it to set an example. If we want to bring people in our parish closer to our Catholic faith, we have to do things like praying the rosary and doing it in a way so everyone can see. It’s a public statement of our faith,” said Cancino, a retired nurse who belongs to the church’s evangelization committee and organizes the weekly devotions in the grotto.
Cancino has been a part of Rosary at the Grotto since its inception.
The past two years have given her an added incentive to pray. She worked as a nurse in a hospital critical care unit during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“It was a terrible time,” she admitted. “I saw so many heartbroken families. I pray for the Blessed Mother to help protect me from COVID.” But mostly, she prays for Mary to be a guiding force in her life, adding, “I ask her to lead me where she wants me to go. I am only an instrument. Where she wants me to go, I go.”
On July 12, Rosary at the Grotto celebrated the Luminous Mysteries. Dozens of people sat in folding chairs on the lawn in front of the grotto and on the sidewalk to join in. Cancino darted about from place to place, making sure everyone had a program so they could follow along.
Cancino came to the U.S. from her native Philippines in 1983. She settled in Bellerose, Queens, in 1986 and immediately started looking around for a church.
One Sunday, she attended Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in nearby Queens Village and knew she had found the right place. She loved the church’s welcoming atmosphere.
“I knew this was the place I belonged. And I knew it right away. It was the warmth of the parishioners and the warmth of the priests,” Cancino recalled.
But there was another force at work, she believed. “Think of the name, Our Lady of Lourdes. I think the Blessed Virgin herself called me to this church,” she said.
Before long, Cancino was fully immersed in parish life and joined the evangelization committee. When Summer Rosary at the Grotto was launched, she jumped in with both feet.
“Zeny has worked very hard to continue organizing this summer devotion by including the different ministries and ethnic groups in our parish,” said Father Patrick Longalong, the church’s pastor.
Our Lady of Lourdes is home to large numbers of Filipinos, Portuguese, Indians, Haitians, and Hispanics, and all of them have a place in Rosary in the Grotto. Each Tuesday, the Hail Marys are recited in English, Spanish, Tagalog, French-Creole, and Tamil Malayalam.
The outdoor rosary serves as a unifying force in the parish, Father Longalong said. “Rosary at the Grotto has been a summer devotion that our parishioners enjoy doing because it not only connects them to the Blessed Mother but also with each other,” he explained.
The weekly prayer service is also a good evangelization, too, Father Longalong added. “There were a few occasions when people who were not Catholic joined us in prayer and expressed a desire to learn more about the rosary,” he said.
“That’s why we do it in the summer,” said Cancino.”We are out there for everyone to see.”