In her message to three Portuguese shepherd children on 13 July 1917, Our Lady asked them to “pray the rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world.”
Over a century later, thousands of Sydney’s faithful gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral to live out this message at a celebration marking the anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition in Fatima, Portugal.
Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers was joined by Ukranian Catholic Eparch Mykola Bychok CSSR, along with religious and clergy of the Archdiocese of Sydney, to celebrate the feast with a Vigil Mass, the recitation of the holy rosary and a candle-lit public procession around the cathedral forecourt.
“Following Our Lady of Fatima, we are not on our own,” Bishop Umbers said in his homily.
“There are many people in Sydney who seek God, who strive to keep the commandments and each of us bear that small light of hope that stands out in the darkness around us.”
These words soon became a witness as the candle-lit crowd processed into the night, behind the float carrying the statue of Our Lady, in song and prayers of intercession.
During his Pontificate, the late Pope Benedict XVI echoed St John Paul II’s call for a renewal of processions and other forms of public expression of the faith.
According to the Congregation for Divine Worship’s directory on popular piety and the liturgy, processions are a sign of our earthly pilgrimage towards heaven, and are signs of a witness to the faith and of the church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation.
Walking in procession is a reminder that on the Christian journey to heaven we must endure trials, as Our Lord did, so that we may hope to share in the fruits of heaven.
In the lead up to World Youth Day Lisbon (WYD) in August, Sydney Catholic Youth team leader Milad Khalil encouraged WYD pilgrims to take part in the procession and experience walking side by side with people, united with Mary, from “different parishes, schools, backgrounds, ages and stages in their faith journey.”
“This not only offers pilgrims a tiny taste of what is to come at WYD, but a real and tangible experience of the universal church,” said Mr Khalil.
“We have an opportunity as young Catholics to bear witness to the faith in public, a way to express with conviction the faith that is ever growing in our hearts and minds.”
For WYD pilgrim Adam Buttigieg, a music teacher at Patrician Brothers’ College in Fairfield, it was essential to be a part of the procession for Our Lady of Fatima.
He will lead pilgrims to Portugal later this year and came to the cathedral seeking a deeper understanding of the significance of Fatima.
“I think knowing the significance of the candlelight procession in Fatima, as well as the white handkerchiefs, the history and prayer that accompany all this brought a real life experience to Sydney,” Mr Buttigieg said.
“As a teacher, I’d want my students to understand that being proud of our faith is something to celebrate.
“I hope the students get a sense of the community that they belong to, that they feel the power of prayer and the connection between the faithful youth.”
Supported by the prayers and devotion of a wider, believing community, those who attend processions do so knowing that as people of faith, they are never alone.
Tricia Cuizon had this very experience as she stood publicly with the thousands in attendance to honour the Blessed Mother.
“It was a beautiful sight to witness each person share their flame with one another in imitation of the fire that the Holy Spirit ignites in our hearts, which guides us to love our Blessed Mother deeper,” said Miss Cuizon.
“Through the rosary and procession, I was given a foretaste of what it will be like in Fatima and ultimately heaven, where the Blessed Mother is fully alive.”
“It was that particular moment, as the statue of Our Lady gazing down upon the faithful who were reciting the intercessory prayers with lit candles held high, that gave me great consolation that Our Mother is truly with us, fully present before us and that all our intentions were heard.”
Milad too felt the presence of Our Blessed Mother, saying that it was “as though she is holding us by the hand, moving us closer toward her beloved son.”
“This procession is a powerful opportunity for communal prayer, invoking Mary’s intercession as we pray for a successful and fruitful pilgrimage,” he said.
This pilgrimage doesn’t end with the celebration of Our Lady of Fatima or World Youth Day but is each Christian’s lifelong journey toward heaven.