Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
On May 12, the UN International Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was in the United Nations in New York City on a most-needed peacekeeping mission. This was Mary’s second visit to the UN headquarters. The first was 65 years ago. This time the theme was The Fatima Message of Peace and its Enduring Relevance in Peacemaking and Peacebuilding.
Nearly all of us did not make this event, but don’t worry. This official International Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima that originated in Portugal will continue to travel and will be coming to a number of churches around the country during the course of 2017. Here is the current schedule.
What’s more, Our Lady is accompanied on her trips by first-class relics of newly canonized Saints Jacinta and Francisco, plus a piece of the holm oak tree on which she stood as she appeared to the three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917.
This International Pilgrim Virgin Statue is the work of Portuguese sculptor Jose Ferreira Thedim. It was he who carved the first statue of Our Lady of Fatima according to Lucia’s directions.
Step One. In 1947, Thedim wanted to carve a new statue of wood and once more spoke with Sister Lucia for her guidance so that the statue would be as faithful as possible to what she saw. At that time the Bishop of Leiria also contacted Sister Lucia because he wanted the image of Our Lady of Fatima to travel to various places. Lucia wrote back to him that the new statue Thedim was working on just could be that pilgrim virgin statue.
On May 13, 1947, the 30th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, the bishop blessed this newly carved statue, calling it the International Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
Step Two. Of course, people began writing an overwhelming number of requests for this statue to visit their church or shrine or school or hospital or particular place. The answer was one additional pilgrim statue also sculpted of wood by Thedim.
This newest statue was blessed on October 13, 1947 — the 30th anniversary of the last apparition of Our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of the Rosary, at Fatima. It was blessed on that day 70 years ago at the Vatican by Venerable Pius XII. Then on October 13, 1952, the 35th anniversary of the last Fatima apparition, the bishop of Fatima again blessed this particular replica of Our Lady of Fatima for what was to be its mission to the United Nations.
That happened less than two months later, on December 8, 1952, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
On that day Our Lady of Fatima entered the Meditation Room of the United Nations. She was escorted there on a mission of world peace by Msgr. Harold Colgan and John Haffert, the co-founders of the Blue Army which is now known as the World Apostolate of Fatima.
Msgr. Colgan led the Rosary, praying it right there inside the UN.
“They recited the Rosary for world peace,” points out Joan Alix. She and her husband Patrick are volunteers accompanying this Pilgrim Virgin image on its travels and working with Judith Studer, the statue’s custodian.
Naturally, this particular image continues to be known as the UN Pilgrim Virgin Statue and from that time has traveled the world. It is one of the four official pilgrim statues which are in the custody of the World Apostolate of Fatima. This particular one is under the direction of the Rhode Island division of the WAF and its Studer who is also president of the division.
“Judy was in Fatima and had become friends with Father Kondor,” Alix explains, referring to Studer. Father Louis Kondor, the international vice-postulator for the beatification cause of Jacinta and Francisco Marto. He had these relics of the two children and a piece of the holm-oak tree on which Our Blessed Mother stood when she appeared at the Cova da Iria.
When Studer made a trip to Fatima in November 2005, she also visited Father Kondor. He gave the relics to her and requested that they travel with the UN Pilgrim Virgin Statue.
“He felt the first class relics of the children traveling with the icon of Our Lady would bring a message of healing and hope,” Alix affirms. Father Kondor wanted that hope brought to the sick and desired that the story of Fatima be shared with children.
“The youth of the world and those young at heart would benefit from this gift,” she says.
Studer’s response? “Judy was overwhelmed with joy,” says her friend. Today they continue to meet with Sister Angela Coelho who became the postulator for Jacinta and Francisco’s cause after Father Kondor died in 2009 and is now vice-postulator for Sister Lucia’s cause for canonization.
The Providential Route
Heaven perfectly wove together the way the UN Pilgrim Virgin Statue arrived at the United Stations for the momentous May 12 visit. While there are too many details to go into — all of them contributing to overall design leading to the event and then to the following day’s overwhelming visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on May 13 — a few highlights give the general idea.
On the weekend of October 13, 2015, Alix was invited to give a talk at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, about A Gift of Miraculous Visions — Fatima: Celebrating Her Centennial, a book she had written to go along with presentations on Fatima and Our Lady’s message. Studer was there too.
“An audience member approached me about doing ‘something at the UN’ for 2017,” Alix well remembers, seeing it as providential.
“Judy had a back operation that left her immobile for two months,” she explains. “During that time I would often call her. She said she was offering all the pain for my Fatima book and Our Lady's return to the UN. I would joke with her…since she was being a stubborn nurse not to take her doctor-prescribed meds for pain.”
But the result? “Five months later I was invited to the Knights of Columbus Museum for a book talk.” Then that audience member with the UN suggestion turned out to be a woman who had at one time volunteered at the UN. She soon contacted Alix, bought seven books, had them gift-wrapped, and brought them to the UN office of Alvara Mendonca e Moura, the permanent representative of Portugal to the United Nations.
Shortly after he emailed to say he wanted to meet with Studer, Joan and Patrick Alix, Alex Faiz who was the woman who had made the suggestion and given the seven books, and Ken Corcoran of the Knights of Columbus who had requested Alix to give that talk at the museum.
They presented their ideas, the ambassador was interested and said he would speak with Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.
Next thing you know, the team was invited to New York to speak about the event with the archbishop and the ambassador.
“They seemed interested in bringing the message of Mary to the UN,” Alix said. “And the statue of Mary would be a reminder of who she is. This beautiful image of Our Lady would be representative of Fatima and the Message.”
Then along came October 13, 2016. Another thread. That day, the United Nations elected its new secretary general — who turned out to be António Guterres, the former premiere of Portugal.
“I remember that day because a Catholic was elected as secretary general,” said a happy Joan Alix. And weeks later, the official invite to the UN with Joan Alix name as the event’s coordinator for the laity.
But for her nothing could compare to the results of the May 12, 2017 visit to the United Nations and the following day’s visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima.