One of the 13 replica statues of the International Pilgrim of Fatima that will be coming to Toronto in October. Photo courtesy of Fr. Andrei Grecki

Fatima Pilgrim Image coming to Toronto

  • October 3, 2016

TORONTO – Today, millions of pilgrims from around the world travel to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal each year to venerate the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And in a way, the statue has made its own pilgrimage around the world to meet with the faithful.

Thirteen replica statues, also known as the International Pilgrim of Fatima or Pilgrim Image, have travelled the globe since the first replica was solemnly crowned in 1946.

In celebration of the centenary of Our Lady of Fatima’s apparitions, the Pilgrim Image is finally coming to the Archdiocese of Toronto. From Oct. 5 to 14, it will be touring local parishes and pilgrimage sites across the region.

“While anticipating the hundred years since the apparitions and still living the Year of Mercy, we decided to invite the Pilgrim Image,” said Fr. Andrei Grecki, pastor of St. Matthew’s Church. “This is an occasion for more intense prayers, all the things that Mary had asked the shepherds in Fatima.”

On May 13, 1917, three shepherd children — Lucia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto — were herding sheep at the Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal, when they saw a woman “brighter than the sun” appear to them. On the 13th day of each month, she would appear to them, telling them to devote themselves to the Holy Trinity and pray the rosary every day for peace and an end to the First World War.

Thousands of people flocked to Fatima as word spread of the three children’s visions. On Oct. 13, 1917, the sixth and last apparition, a huge crowd, including newspaper reporters and photographers, witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun.” Witness accounts later spoke of the sun changing colours and dancing in the sky. The phenomenon was said to have been witnessed by people up to 40 km away.

Years later, as Sr. Maria Lucia of Fatima, Santos wrote memoirs in which she described the messages revealed to her and her cousins as children. Early messages focused on the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the need to pray the rosary for world peace. Our Lady is said to have encouraged acts of reparation and prayers to console Jesus for the sins of the world.

Grecki said that even after 100 years, Our Lady of Fatima’s message of peace and mercy remains relevant. He said to pray in front of the Pilgrim Image is an opportunity for Torontonians to be reminded to return to her Immaculate Heart.

The statue will be travelling to different Portuguese parishes across the city. It will also be brought to the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace at the Marylake Retreat Centre in King City on Oct. 8 and 9. Then, the statue returns to St. Matthew’s Church for a candlelight procession on Oct. 12 and a Thanksgiving Mass on Oct. 13 with Cardinal Thomas Collins.

Grecki said devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is known in all cultures throughout the world. However, he especially admires the special adoration the Portuguese Catholic community has for her apparition.

“For the Portuguese people, this is really very emotional,” said Grecki. “I’m really surprised by their reactions because they are almost crying once they hear that the Pilgrim Image is coming here.”

John Cardoso, a Portuguese Catholic who is part of the Pilgrim Image's welcoming committee, said devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is intrinsically part of the Portuguese culture. It is a well-known tradition that when Portuguese people return home for a visit, they have to stop by the Fatima shrine, even if only for a few hours.

“I think we are just thankful that we were chosen... It’s there in Portugal and it’s now part of our culture,” said Cardoso. “But it’s not just our culture, it’s a Catholic culture. No matter what time you go there, you always find people from all over the world.”

Cardoso said he is so excited for the Pilgrim Image to come to Toronto that he has arranged a welcoming committee that will meet the priest who will be arriving with the statue at Pearson Airport. He said the committee is planning to bring signs and sing songs of welcome.

“When you have a good friend that comes from somewhere, you would go to wait for them, right? It seems like this is more than a best friend because this is our Mother,” said Cardoso. “Even though it’s a statue... it is a sign of somebody special who has been here before.”

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