October is a beautiful month in West Virginia, especially as I drive across our State and am able to enjoy the great variety of colors splashed across our rolling hills and mountains, as the leaves change color and put on a display that is unrivaled in beauty.
In addition to the beauty of nature, there is the spiritual wonder we mark each October as we celebrate the Month of the Rosary. This particular October is even more significant, as we mark the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady’s Sixth and Final Apparition at Fatima in Portugal. On October 13, 1917, in the midst of the First World War, a large crowd gathered in a field outside of Fatima, in response to a prophecy relayed to them from Our Lady by three shepherd children. They announced that the Virgin Mary would appear and perform miracles on that date. The gathered crowd of thousands witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” as the sun appeared to “dance” in the sky, careen towards the earth, and admit rainbows of radiant light in streams and pillars.
In the ten minutes during which this Apparition took place, Our Lady’s message of devotion to the Rosary and prayer for peace was confirmed and began to take root among the faithful. In our celebration of this great anniversary, I was pleased to dedicate a Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima at St. James Church, Charles Town on Saturday, October 14. The day’s events began with a recitation of the Rosary in different languages, joined by the beautiful voices of children of the parish singing portions of the Rosary. It was wonderful to see so many people gathered to say the Rosary and prepare for the Shrine’s dedication in this way. I was very fortunate to celebrate this dedication with a Mass and public blessing of this magnificent Shrine, which is a wonderful addition to the beautiful Parish Church of St. James. It was one of my first public Masses without the use of my scooter, walking on my own two feet even though I am still a little wobbly.
This Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is located in a beautiful outdoor setting and is adorned with exquisite statues of Our Lady and of Saint John Paul II, depicted holding the assassin’s bullet, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI interpreted to be the fulfilment of the Third Secret of Fatima. The mysteries of the Rosary are presented in individual shrines or stations, depicted in exquisite Portuguese tiles and technology has been embedded in the Shrine, so that one’s smartphone can easily guide the pilgrim around the Shrine. The Shrine itself is a gift of Mr. Tony Braddock of Virginia, a friend of mine for many years. This good Catholic man has had a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Mother and was a frequent visitor to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington where I served for 25 years as Rector. It was his great dream to build this Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima for many years and I am grateful he decided to build it in West Virginia. This Shrine opens an opportunity to increase devotion to Our Lady, especially through a renewed dedication to prayer of the Rosary. I consider this one of the greatest occasions of my life here as your Bishop. I believe this Shrine will be a fantastic occasion of grace and an increase in prayer among our people.
I do pray that many of our people will go on pilgrimages to our new Shrine to pray for themselves, families and friends, our Diocese and our Nation at this time when so much prayer is needed for so many. Our Blessed Mother intercedes constantly for us with her Divine Son, our beloved Savior Jesus Christ, and she encourages us to count on her intercession.