During the month we dedicate to the holy Rosary, Oct. 13 marks the 96th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima, Portugal, to three children visionaries: Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.
The Blessed Mother told the children to pray the Rosary daily for peace — and to tell others to pray, too. We honor Our Lady of the Rosary each Oct. 7.
On Oct. 13, 1917, the Miracle of the Sun took place, which Pope Francis will commemorate with Mass and praying the Rosary in Rome Oct. 12-13 this year. Then the Holy Father will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Peter’s Square before the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima from the shrine in Portugal.
In his short time as Holy Father, Francis has consecrated his papacy and World Youth Day 2013 to Our Lady of Fatima. He follows in the steps of Blessed John Paul II, who declared, "The message of Fatima is more important now than ever."
Benedict XVI also affirmed the message during his visit to the shrine: "We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete."
Two new initiatives follow the papal calls. One brings the story and inspiration of Fatima directly to children through a new book. The other has children answering Our Lady’s call to pray the Rosary.
"Francis is making it clear to the world that we need to live and spread this message," says Michael La Corte, executive director of the Fatima Family Apostolate (FFA, FatimaFamily.org). The organization has published The Miracle of the Dancing Sun: Messages From Mary, with the goal of distributing it to Catholic schools and parish religious-education programs worldwide.
"Kids everywhere have benefitted from learning about Our Lady of Fatima," La Corte says of the book, which is a companion to the animated film The Day the Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima from CCC of America.
"They can relate so much to this story, of the children their own age and the powerful messages from heaven that our Blessed Mother brought to all of us," La Corte explains.
The book helps children learn the Fatima story in a kid-friendly way, including through appealing illustrations.
In collaboration with CCC of America, FFA will distribute its Fatima children’s book, which is available in English and Spanish, to children around the globe. Religious-education classes around the world will be offered free copies through FFA’s "One Child-One Book-One Dollar" initiative, funded through donor support.
"Fatima can change our society and culture because we’re teaching children to pray, to do penance, to make sacrifices and to have devotion," says John Preiss, president of Fatima Family Apostolate. "This book will help them relate and say, ‘I want to be like these children and to live a virtuous life like the children of Fatima.’"
Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, host of EWTN’s Sunday Night Prime, believes the book "is going to really create images in the minds and hearts of children, and it’s going to stick with them for a long time."
He remembers how a Fatima movie affected him when he was young. "It was very simple, a very touching story. The children were very real and so excited about what Our Lady asked them to do, and they were very faithful in praying. It made a deep impression on me.
"I always felt this is what Mary wanted us to promote. The Church had already approved Fatima. I always had a great love for the Rosary; it helped me grow spiritually, and it began as a child. There’s the value [of this book]: Children will relate to this story of the children at Fatima. There is something very simple and attractive about it."
Called to Prayer
In September, Father Apostoli hosted a show about a new prayer movement called the Children’s Rosary (ChildrensRosary.blogspot.com). It began with one mom, Blythe Kaufman, at one parish, St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hartford, Conn., with one goal: to have children pray the Rosary and to increase family prayer.
"Our Lady of Fatima has definitely played a large role in our Children’s Rosary," says Kaufman, who drew on her knowledge of Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes — apparitions where Mary calls children to prayer, specifically the Rosary — when developing the prayer concept.
In 2012, on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, children in her parish group planted a rose bush in Mary’s honor and prayed that, for every petal that forms on the roses, 1,000 families will return to family prayer.
In some places, the Children’s Rosary chooses to meet on the first Saturday of the month to honor Our Lady’s request for First Saturday devotions. "I love that the Children’s Rosary is helping to spread that devotion as well," says Kaufman.
The Children’s Rosary is spreading. It is now present in eight states, as well as internationally, in Kenya in Africa and Timor Leste in the Pacific. New groups continue to form.
The groups vary in size. Some have 10 members; others, such as the Steubenville, Ohio, group, have more than 70 children praying together.
The children pray the Rosary while kneeling, often before a statue of our Blessed Mother and before the Blessed Sacrament, and they take turns leading a decade of the Rosary.
"They love getting up and leading the Rosary," Kaufman says.
At the Children’s Rosary group at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn., Marcia Bono’s now 7-year-old daughter Maggie was excited when it was her turn to lead a decade for the first time. Her mother practiced with her at home beforehand, and Maggie "did a wonderful job," says Bono.
To help the children pray, Kaufman developed a booklet with the text of all 20 mysteries, information on the Rosary and how-tos for starting a group. The booklet is approved by Hartford, Conn., Archbishop Henry Mansell.
"Children have been involved every step of the way, including in the physical printing of the book and even mailing them," says Kaufman. Children at the American School of the Deaf in West Hartford print the booklets in their shop. EWTN Religious Catalogue carries the booklets, available in English and Spanish (EWTNReligiousCatalogue.com).
All ages and abilities are welcome. While 2-year-olds cannot lead a decade, they like to place a rose by Our Lady’s statue and listen to the others pray. Children are able to lead the Rosary with assistance, and by 5 and 6, they lead decades by themselves, Kaufman finds.
Father Apostoli notes the importance of teaching children to pray when they’re young, especially the Rosary, in order to help offset the negatives of modern culture.
"If we’re going to do anything to offset that, the Rosary has a great power," says Father Apostoli. "Mary said at Fatima the Rosary can stop wars, can bring world peace and can convert people. I take her at her word."
"When the children feel a sense of God’s presence, which praying the Rosary seems to bring so powerfully, it’s going to be a big defense against the secular spirit of removing God from life," he adds. "That’s why having the Rosary very early for children is very important." He affirms that doing so "certainly will have an effect on the family. To begin, parents will have to encourage the children. Then children can keep the parents faithful — like the revival of Father [Patrick] Peyton’s Family Rosary."
Kaufman sees the beauty of families developing prayer habits together. Parents prepare their children for the prayer group by praying the Our Father and Hail Mary with their little ones. After a while, that leads to families praying the whole Rosary together. In their family, Bono says they pray Hail Marys for injured people when they see ambulances, and they often pray Hail Marys when praying for specific intentions and people. Now daughter Maggie suggests in both cases, "Should we pray the Rosary?"
"I saw that change" with happiness, Bono says, about this encouraging prayer trend. What a blessing!
As Father Apostoli points out, "All the saints say that if you’re connected to the holy Rosary, it’s a sign of God’s predilections [favors]. That’s why the Children’s Rosary is such a great idea."
He adds, "As Louis de Montfort said: ‘The apostles of the last days will carry the crucifix in their right hand, the rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary in their heart.’ We can only hope these little children will be among the great apostles of the last days!"
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.