Diocesan News

WYD Pilgrims Reflect on ‘Seeing God’s Face’ at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Stefanie Scotto from St. John’s University attended World Youth Day as part of the college’s pilgrim group. She stands next to Bishop Robert Brennan while at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. (Photo: Stefanie Scotto)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — On Aug. 1, the first official day of World Youth Day, the pilgrims from the Diocese of Brooklyn spent the entire day at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

To Stefanie Scotto, seeing the beloved shrine was the crux of her pilgrimage. While seeing the Holy Father and spending a night under the stars with more than a million fellow Catholics was life-altering, there was something overwhelming about the holy site that brought the Gravesend resident to tears. 

“It was just such a beautiful experience. Other than the Vatican, I had never seen such a holy place in my life. I felt like I truly saw God’s face in that location,” she said. “The strength of everyone’s faith there was so strong.”

Scotto, a recent graduate of St. John’s University’s masters program, attended World Youth Day with 13 of her classmates. As a Catholic scholar at St. John’s, the 22-year-old served as the graduate assistant to campus ministry on the Staten Island campus.

It was through her campus priest, Father Tri Duong, that Scotto learned about World Youth Day, and that it wasn’t just parishes that were sending  groups of pilgrims — colleges and universities were too.

“I really do feel like being at Fatima was my most moving experience while there,” she said. “You could just feel God’s love at the site and all around. Everyone was there praying together. It was so beyond moving and beautiful.”

In 1917, the Virgin Mary made six appearances before three peasant children near the village of Fatima. Since then, the site in which she, commonly referred to as Our Lady of Fatima, appeared has been turned into a shrine.

Joliz Claudio, a fellow pilgrim attending World Youth Day as a part of the St. John’s group, also felt blessed to visit the shrine. A graduate assistant for campus ministry at the Queens campus, Claudio, 22, was grateful for the opportunity to get to a place her great-grandmother, who died this year, had always dreamed of visiting.

While at the shrine, Claudio FaceTimed her grandmother, who cried tears of joy. “That was the biggest part of the day for me,” Claudio said. “Being there with my grandmother in solidarity, and understanding that this is something [she] didn’t get to do that now I am experiencing. It makes me want to cry talking about it.”

The Virgin Mary is the ultimate symbol of motherhood, a point that was not lost on shrine pilgrim Victoria Lopez, 20, herself a young mother. 

“Seeing Mary and all the sacrifices that Mary has done for her child made me build a stronger connection to Mary. Mother to mother, you understand her,” Lopez said.

Beyond a maternal connection, Lopez said she has another, personal tie to Our Lady of Fatima. Her uncle and aunt are named after two of the peasant children that the Virgin Mary appeared and spoke to: Lucia and Francisco. 

“Growing up, hearing this story was amazing to me as a child,” she said. “Finally, getting to see it as an adult and being able to understand everything … made me feel such a great connection with my faith.”

During their visit to the shrine, pilgrims were invited to crawl on their knees in penance at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. Later in the afternoon, they participated in a candlelight procession, presided over by Bishop Robert Brennan, that included praying the rosary in their respective languages. 

Visiting the shrine was the best way to start World Youth Day, said Father James Kuroly, who directed the Diocese of Brooklyn’s group of pilgrims. 

“It was as if all of Brooklyn was right there with our Blessed Mother, and it really was,” Father Kuroly said. “That to me was a great highlight, to have the young people see not just their bishop up there, but to recognize that he represents all of us. That we were the ones who really led this procession and this prayer,” Father Kuroly said.

Pilgrims Osvaldo Talavera and Emily Hernandez, parishioners from St.  Bartholomew parish in Elmhurst, saw the pilgrimage to the shrine as an opportunity to truly connect with their faith and understand the global reach of the Catholic Church.

“I did research about it beforehand, but it was a different experience actually seeing it and learning about it in person,” said Talavera, 20, who added that seeing the [variety of nations’] flags waving in the flickering candlelight light particularly resonated with him.

“I feel like I was supposed to be there. I was just meant to be there on that day, at that time,” said Hernandez, 20 who video recorded as much of the visit to the shrine as she could to share with her parents back home in Queens.

“It was so impactful to me just to see that everyone around the world was there to pray the rosary,” she said. “I just thought that was amazing and that really hit me: This is what World Youth Day is about.”