A large tour bus parks near St. Martin de Porres Church Jan. 22. The bus is transporting the international Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima from parish to parish in the United States and will be in the Venice Diocese during the latter part of February. (LINDA REEVES | FC)

Fatima statue visits Florida, celebrates 100th anniversary

Nearly a century ago, three small children were tending sheep along the meadows of Fatima, Portugal, when a great light appeared followed by a message of peace from an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be a revelation that would resonate with faithful and war-wearied believers around a world already in upheaval.

Decades later one of two statues commemorating the mystical event, the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, is now on a tour of the United States. The international “Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima,” which was sculpted in 1947 by Jose Thedim and blessed by Pope Paul VI in 1967, is currently on a centennial tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Catholics believe that Mary appeared to three children — Lucia, 10, Francisco, 9 and Jacinta, 7 — and delivered messages.

The statue’s custodians — World Apostolate of Fatima U.S.A., based in New Jersey — organized the Florida tour. The beautiful statue, which is making visits to 100 dioceses across America, including within Florida as it toured the dioceses of Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, Palm Beach, Orlando and the Miami Archdiocese. In the latter half of February, the statue will tour the Venice Diocese. (See inset box)

Organizers explained that the goal of the touring statue is to spread the message of peace, but also evangelization and promotion of prayer for the conversion of sinners, the message Mary delivered when she appeared in Fatima six times on the 13th of the month from May to October.

Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners so that they might repent of their sins and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. Dedicated Catholics here in the diocese and throughout the world pray today as the Blessed Mother instructed.

Catholics believe that during her visits to Fatima, Our Lady predicted World War II and the expansion of communism. She asked the pope and bishops of the world to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

In 1946, Pope Pius XII crowned Our Lady of Fatima as Queen of the World. “Through the Pilgrim Virgin,” Pope Pius XII said, “she set forth as though to claim her dominion, and the favors she performs along the way are such that we can hardly believe what we are seeing with our eyes.”

In May 1982, one year after an assassination attempt nearly killed him, Pope John Paul II asked the world’s bishops to join him in consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in thanksgiving for saving his life on May 13, 1981. Seven years after the consecration, the Berlin Wall fell, and in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and ceased to exist. On the last day of the apparitions in Fatima, Oct. 13, 1917, the “Miracle of the Sun” took place and more than 70,000 people saw the event. Witnesses’ accounts indicated that the sun began to shrink and expand and rotate and spin, and many believed the world was ending. Astronomers to this day cannot explain the occurrence.

The traveling statue is used to promote prayer and penance while commemorating the mysterious apparition. The events of Fatima — including the Miracle of the Sun, as it’s known — represents one of the more mystical episodes of faith in modern times for Catholics.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have delivered a series of messages to the three children in Portugal as the European continent was undergoing major political shifts involving war and revolution. In May 1917, the two girls and a boy described seeing a woman bathed in a light and uttering the words, “I come from heaven,” per reports documenting the encounters that drew thousands of people to the town.

Today, a basilica is built near the site where Our Lady appeared in Fatima and millions have visited the popular Catholic destination. Masses are celebrated there and the rosary is recited every day where Our Lady appeared.

For a complete explanation about the Fatima Centennial U.S. Tour for Peace and schedule of tour stops, visit www.fatimatourforpeace.com.