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Fatima Shrines Beckon Pilgrims to Northeast US
Prayerful places honor Our Lady.
By Joseph Pronechen
For this 100th anniversary year of Fatima, many people — including Pope Francis — will travel to Portugal, where our Blessed Mother appeared to the three shepherd children in 1917.
But there are also pilgrimage possibilities to Fatima shrines in the United States. Two such sacred sites are located in the Northeastern United States.
Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Holliston, Massachusetts, has been drawing pilgrims for decades.
The shrine, administered by Xaverian Missioners, was started in 1949 by the first Xaverian in the United States, Father J. Henry Frassineti. In 1932, as a missionary in China, he built a chapel to Our Lady of Fatima — one of the first in the world. Once he arrived here and acquired the Holliston property, he built this shrine (XaverianMissionaries.org/Fatima-Shrine-Holliston-Ma) as a sign of devotion to Our Lady and a place to make known the messages of Fatima.
The shrine’s modest entrance doesn’t reveal what the peaceful grounds hold for pilgrims. Paths leading to different areas give continuous invitations to stop and pray because the humble, simple beauty accents the spiritual features.
One path leads immediately to the Fatima chapel, which has narrow stained-glass windows alternating with pillar supports that, in sunlight, look like shiny rows of organ pipes. The colorful windows tell the story of Mary’s life.
Nearby, three gently curving paths, wide and paved, lead pilgrims to different shrines and to what many consider is one of the world’s largest rosaries.
The monumental rosary begins by the Scala Sancta — the Holy Stairs — which lead up to a larger-than-life-size Calvary scene. Mary stands by her Crucified Son. John and Mary Magdalene kneel.
Standing at the Crucifixion scene on the knoll, pilgrims can view the vast rosary, at 950 feet long and weighing in at 300 tons, as it encircles more than an acre of lawn.
For three years in the early 1960s, Xaverian Father Oddo Galeazzi tirelessly searched quarries and abandoned gravel pits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island to find the right “beads.” Each “bead” is a granite boulder. Massive “Our Father” beads are approximately twice the size of the “Hail Marys.”
Heavy links from the chain of a ship’s anchor join each bead to form decades that meet at the 18-ton granite “medal.” Following the paved path around this gigantic rosary reveals that every bead carries a copper plaque engraved with the Hail Mary in one of 53 languages, all arranged in alphabetical order. Recognizable ones like French, Italian, Polish and Spanish are joined by more unfamiliar ones like Aramaic, Old Arabic, Bengali, Inuit-Eskimo and Tamil.
The wide range stresses that Mary’s request at Fatima was universal — the Rosary is for all people. This rosary takes the shape of a heart as a reminder this prayer is at the heart of the Blessed Mother’s Fatima message and the way to Christ’s heart.
Pilgrims often pray this rosary by resting a hand on each bead, which stands more than waist high. Even if they can’t say the Hail Mary in that particular language, they still pray in solidarity with the people of that language. The anchor chain joining the beads and the crucifix is on loan from the U.S. Navy, which gave it to the shrine in memory of President John F. Kennedy. This rosary was blessed in 1964 by Bishop Jeremiah Minihan. In 1950, Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing solemnly blessed the shrine.
Paths follow the Way of the Cross, each station in raised relief, all naturally leading to the scene of the Angel of Peace appearing to the three shepherd children, and then to the Hill of Fatima, recalling the 1917 apparitions. Mary stands on Madonna Hill, while the Portuguese children — Servant of God Lucia dos Santos and soon-to-be saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto (to be canonized during Pope Francis’ Fatima trip) — kneel attentively in front of her.
Like all of the shrine’s life-size statues, these are made of white Carrara marble. This inspiring scene brings to mind that one of Our Lady of Fatima’s main instructions to the children and the world was to pray the Rosary for peace. There is a large outdoor altar near this scene.
Every 13th of the month, from May to October, candlelight processions wind around the grounds. This year the shrine is hosting occasional sessions called “Dialogue of Life” with other religions. Since it’s near Boston, the shrine draws many groups, such as Portuguese and Haitian communities, all eager to venerate Our Lady of Fatima.
The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (WAFUSA.org) was built in 1978 to help answer the question Jesus asked of Sister Lucia. In 1925, he appeared to her in her convent at Pontevedra, Spain, and asked, “Have you spread word through the world of what our heavenly Mother requested of you?”
Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the shrine — nestled onto 150 acres in Asbury, New Jersey, not far from the Pennsylvania border — is ready to spread the messages and requests of Our Lady of Fatima. There’s no way to miss that this shrine is dedicated to Mary.
First, the Holy Family, in one of several wayside shrines, greets pilgrims driving up to the shrine.
From there, up on the hillside, our Blessed Mother beckons to pilgrims from atop the huge outdoor chapel. She has done so for countless pilgrims since 1979.
The 26-foot bronze statue shows Mary holding a rosary in one hand and a brown scapular in the other. She stands 145 feet above this chapel and nearly 1,000 feet above the panoramic vista of valleys below. Mary stands on a huge crown, significant because Venerable Pope Pius XII crowned her “Queen of the World.”
From here, the chapel’s towering roofline cascades down, flaring out like her mantle to the outdoor chapel below. Everything is designed to remind visitors that Mary, Mother and Queen, protects the faithful under her mantle.
This particular roofline “mantle” covers the outdoor chapel that holds up to 1,400 worshippers for Masses from May to October on the 13th of each month. Beyond the chapel’s open-air sides, the rolling lawns and wide walks can swell the flock of worshippers to thousands more, like the 3,000-plus who come for special occasions, such as “Padre Pio Day.” St. Pio is considered the “spiritual father” of the Blue Army.
The indoor Blessed Sacrament Chapel is also under Mary’s mantle, directly below the outdoor chapel. Open daily all year, it was rededicated this year after being rebuilt following a devastating fire in 2003. The heart of the shrine, the chapel focuses on the Eucharist and messages of Fatima.
On both sides of the altar, graceful statues from Portugal present the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Blessed Sacrament is reserved directly behind the altar, where there stands the Angel of Peace, a life-size polychrome statue. The Angel of Peace taught the Fatima prayers to Lucia and her “Blessed” cousins. This statue holds a ciborium with a Host suspended above it, just as he did in an apparition preceding the Blessed Mother’s appearance, forming part of the tabernacle.
Reminders of Fatima abound. A single stained-glass window recalls the “Miracle of the Sun” during the Oct. 13, 1917, apparition. Then, a three-sided mural places pilgrims momentarily in the Fatima countryside, joining the seers and Mary — here as a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima — during an apparition.
Everywhere, visitors’ thoughts can turn to Our Lady and her requests. Another shrine on the grounds is the Capelinha (“little chapel”), one of the only exact replicas of the original chapel built at Fatima.
In the August 1917 apparition, Lucia asked what should be done with money people left at the Cova da Iria. Our Lady’s instructions included using some of the funds for the celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary, and “what is left over will help towards the construction of a chapel that is to be built here.”
The Pilgrim Virgin Statue in the Blue Army shrine’s Capelinha is a replica of the miraculous Pilgrim Virgin Statue carried in procession at Fatima. Msgr. Harold Colgan and John Haffert co-founded the Blue Army/World Apostolate of Fatima in 1947. Both are buried in a peaceful glade on these grounds, next to a 100-foot-long shrine of Mary, Mother of the Life Within. This international apostolate is officially recognized by the Church as a private association of the faithful — the only Fatima organization recognized under canon law.
With no official dues, members are only required to meet the Blessed Mother’s Fatima requests to help save souls and bring peace to the world. They promise to pray the Rosary daily, wear the brown scapular and pray the daily Morning Offering and offer as reparation the sacrifices demanded by their daily duties.
This Fatima shrine has a “Holy House USA,” whose chapel is a replica of the Holy House of Loreto that is believed to have housed the Holy Family in Nazareth. A stone from the original was ground up and mixed with the mortar for these stone walls.
To connect pilgrims even more closely with the Holy Family, the chapel has a relic of the True Cross and a statue of St. Joseph carved as he appeared during the “Miracle of the Sun.” Large sculptures behind the altar picture Sister Lucia’s last vision of the Trinity and Our Lady on June 13, 1929. Outside the Holy House, the paved “Rosary Walk” takes pilgrims along the mysteries, as it winds through tranquil woods. Scenes set with more-than-life-size sculptures bring the faithful to the Joyful Mysteries; equally large wood-like and bronze-toned reliefs form the Sorrowful Mysteries; the Glorious Mysteries are made of smaller bas-relief white marble.
And, of course, there is also a peaceful outdoor statue scene picturing Our Lady of Fatima and the three saintly seers.
True to the universal message of Fatima, pilgrim groups from a wide array of nationalities pray everywhere at this shrine, where everything lovingly proclaims our Blessed Mother and her Fatima message.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
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