Students learn and love during ‘Fatima in Peoria’ Mass

By: By Jennifer Willems

CAPTION: Representatives of Catholic schools throughout the diocese wave white towels as the United Nations International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried throughout St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems (More photos from this event have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.)


Mary won the hearts of three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal, nearly a century ago, and children from around central Illinois followed their example when the United Nations International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was enshrined recently at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

More than 800 students and their teachers and principals attended the Catholic Schools Mass on Nov. 21, which was celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC. It was the first part of a weekend of activities designed to allow the faithful to venerate the statue and the first-class relics of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto, two of the children who witnessed the apparitions of Mary at Fatima.

Judy Studer, custodian of the statue, told the children that the wood replica was one of four made under the guidance of Sister Maria Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, the oldest of the three children to whom Mary appeared in 1917. She has accompanied the statue, which was entrusted to her care by the World Apostolate of Fatima, around the United States and the world for nearly 11 years.

“Our Lady came with the peace that comes from heaven,” Studer said. “She gave us a promise at Fatima: ‘In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The world will have an era of peace when people pray my rosary.'”

Helping her to tell the story of the shepherd children’s encounter with the Blessed Mother at Fatima was Madeline Gibson-McCormack of St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights, who was dressed as Lucia. Portraying Francisco and Jacinta Marto were Luke Gibson of St. Patrick School in Washington, and Paulina Walsh of Bloomington, who is home-schooled.

“She appeared to us six times. Each time she asked us to pray the rosary. She told us to tell others to pray and do acts of penance,” Madeline/Lucia said. “We told people about the visions, but not many people believed us.”
She also spoke of the “miracle of the sun” on Oct. 13, 1917, which finally convinced people that they were telling the truth.

Francisco and Jacinta Marto died in 1919 and were beatified in 2000. Sister Maria Lucia died in 2005.

“Mary wants all of us to get to heaven by following the way of her son, Jesus Christ,” Madeline/Lucia told her fellow students.

The three children followed the statue of Mary as it was processed throughout the cathedral at the beginning and the end of Mass, and then knelt in front of the statue in prayer after it was enshrined at a side altar after Mass.

Children’s voices were also heard from the choir loft, where the St. Philomena Junior High School Choir joined members of the Cathedral Choir to lead song. Among the pontifical cantors was Andres Torres of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington.

In his homily, Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish in Mendota, said Mary was totally dependent on God and turned to him for strength and guidance. He encouraged the students to do the same.

“God wants to help us. And the amazing thing about Mary is she knew that and she received of her own free will the fullness of God’s grace,” he said. “Mary knew that everything in her life, every beautiful thing, every incredible thing that happened was a gift of God, a gift of his grace.”

Father Otto said that Mary is calling us to arm ourselves with prayer, fasting and sacrifices for the conversion of those who would perish without our help.

The message of Fatima is about “the need for grace, the need for God’s strength to not only survive but to thrive in this world; to not only fight the battle but to share in the overwhelming triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the victory of her son,” he said.

The celebration of “Fatima in Peoria” also included a Holy Hour before the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Nov. 22. The statue of Our Lady of Fatima and relics were also venerated by those attending the diocesan youth rally that evening, and were present at the opening Mass for the Year of Consecrated Life and the Spanish Mass that followed on Nov. 23.

In addition, the statue was taken to the motherhouses of the Sisters of St. Francis of Immaculate Conception in West Peoria and The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in East Peoria, and to Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria for prayer and veneration.

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