Sydney procession to mark 100 years of Fatima, from Our Lady of Lebanon to Parramatta Cathedral

A pilgrim holding a rosary raises her hands as she walks on her knees at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal, May 2016. PHOTO: CNS

Why would the Mother of God appear to three peasant children – shepherd children in some far-flung place, in the proverbial middle of nowhere?

And why would she entrust them with what she went on to reveal, in the context of what was up-until-then history’s most savage war, calling humanity back to her son and to acts of reparation, lest even greater tragedies befall us?

Steve Buhagiar, 45, has a keen understanding of Fatima’s significance.

He is helping to organise a special procession on 13 May to mark 100 years since the first of Our Lady’s apparitions to the children – brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged nine and seven respectively, and their cousin, Lúcia Santos, 10.

Thousands are expected in taking the message of Fatima to the streets, setting out from Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church in Harris Park and wending their way, together with the official Fatima pilgrim statue of Australia, to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta.

One of the 100th Anniversay of Our Lady of Fatima procession organisers, Steven Buhagiar. PHOTO: Robert Hiini

There the cathedral dean, Fr Robert Bossini, will celebrate a special anniversary Mass before praying the same prayer of consecration to Our Lady of Fatima that Pope Francis used in 2013 when he welcomed the Fatima pilgrim statue to Rome.

(A second procession will take place in August for the Feast Day of the Assumption, following the same route but in reverse.)

Steve said he always knew where the procession should conclude, but that the idea to begin at Our Lady of Lebanon came from diocesan priest Fr John Rizzo.

“It’ll be a great example of the Church breathing with two lungs (of the Maronite Catholic ‘East’ and the Roman Catholic ‘West’),” Steve said.

Pope Francis will be in Fatima for the celebrations on 12-13 May, where he is expected to canonise Bl Francisco and Jacinta after last month approving a second miracle.

The basics of the Fatima message are … basic: pray the Rosary for peace; make reparation for sinners; and “consecrate yourselves”, as Mary told the children, “to my Immaculate Heart”.

It is not only a wake-up call for the world, Steve says, but above all a manifestation of God’s great love and mercy, of His desire that all souls might find true life in Him.

“The message is a message for our times. It’s not something that happened 100 years ago that hasn’t remained relevant for later periods,” Steve told The Catholic Weekly.

“As Pope Benedict has said, what Fatima shows is that ‘faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.’ If anything it’s a re-presentation of the Rosary as the weapon of our time.”

Perhaps there has been no clearer demonstration than the events of 13 May 1981, when Pope John Paul II was critically wounded in an assassination attempt – the subject of Fatima’s third and final secret, as revealed to the world by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2000.

(The first secret was a vision of hell; the second, a prediction of the end of WWI and the begetting of an even greater war if men continued to offend against God and if an urgent attempt to convert Russia was not undertaken.)

The Fatima children in an undated photograph. From left: Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco. PHOTO: CNS

But a life consecrated to Mary, Steve says, bears great fruit when prayer is united to concrete work, something he has tried to do as a longtime member of the Legion of Mary through regular visits to the elderly and infirm, as well as issuing friendly invitations to worship while knocking on neighbourhood doors.

(One 90-year-old woman in a nursing home came to be baptised through his friendship; he was her Godfather at the age of 36.)

“Our Lady is our mother, and her love is more intimate than anyone’s. And as much as we have earthly mothers who love us to death, Our Lady knows what’s at stake: What’s at stake is our eternal salvation. But also, that here and now, we benefit infinitely, profoundly, by having a relationship with her son, Jesus.”

He and his wife, Stella, take great solace in knowing that Mary is thinking of and praying for their 9 children: aged 23 (triplets), 21, 18, 16 (twins), 13 and ten.

“She brings us to her son; she’s always saying, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ So, I know Our Lady always has my best interests at heart.”

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima procession event will take place on Saturday 13th May and will begin at 9am with a Liturgy of Our Lady at Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral, Harris Park. The faithful will then set-off at 9.30am, celebrating Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta at 11am, followed at 12pm with a BBQ lunch.

Pope Francis has granted special plenary indulgence for the anniversary year (from 27 November 2016 until 26 November 2017 – details here).

More information and updates on the procession are available at www.facebook.com/ourladyoffatima100years