Kingsport, Chattanooga, Alcoa, Oak Ridge, Knoxville host icon
By Bill Brewer
Our Lady of Fatima was a guest of the Diocese of Knoxville in April, spending five days visiting parishes and leading parishioners in the rosary to commemorate her appearance to three children in Portugal.
The Blessed Mother was in the form of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
During this 100th anniversary year of the 1917 Fatima apparitions, the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which has been touring the world for the past 70 years, is visiting 140 U.S. dioceses in all 50 states to bring the statue and the message of Fatima to as many people as possible.
Bishop Richard F. Stika asked the International Pilgrim organizers to include the Diocese of Knoxville on its U.S. Tour for Peace.
Riding aboard a recreational vehicle that can accommodate two custodians who are with the statue at all times, the Our Lady icon stopped for day-long visits at St. Dominic Church in Kingsport, the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Our Lady of Fatima Church in Alcoa, St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge, and the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga from April 27-May 1. It then traveled to the Diocese of Memphis before more stops in the Midwest.
Patrick Sabat, the Our Lady statue’s primary caretaker, said the Diocese of Knoxville stops were part of an effort to cover the country.
“We’re visiting all 50 states – and 100 dioceses – in honor of the 100th anniversary,” said Mr. Sabat, who explained that response to the pilgrim statue has been so strong that 40 dioceses have been added to the list of stops, and the pilgrimage, which began Easter Monday 2016, has been extended from October to December 2017.
“The responses from the bishops have been phenomenal. The people you meet are amazing, their devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. We see the graces flowing from Our Lady,” he said.
At Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Our Lady of Fatima icon was present for the morning and noon Masses, with brief presentations on the pilgrimage and rosaries following each Mass.
During the noon Mass, Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral and moderator of the curia for the diocese, said Sacred Heart was blessed by the presence of the Our Lady of Fatima pilgrim statue, noting a small sign at the base of the statue that reads, “Do Not Touch Her. She Will Touch You.”
“And she does touch us, in many ways,” Father Boettner said. “Many of us have been touched by the Blessed Mother in one way or another.”
In his homily on grace, Father Boettner told those attending the Mass and viewing the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that God’s grace is overflowing, and that abundance is seen through Marian apparitions like Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Today, as we have the gift of the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, you are invited into prayer, to pray with Mary, to pray at the foot of the cross of Jesus, and to recognize that beautiful gift of grace that flows into our lives, so that it might touch us,” Father Boettner said.
According to the World Apostolate of Fatima USA, the world-renowned International Pilgrim Virgin
Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was sculpted in 1947 by José Thedim based on the description of Sister Maria Lúcia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart, whose wish was that the pilgrim image represent Our Lady’s position when she revealed herself as the Immaculate Heart to the three shepherd children at Fatima in 1917, of which Sister Lúcia was one.
On May 13, 1917, three shepherd children named Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco saw a vision of the Blessed Mother, who was dressed in white and holding a rosary. These apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, lasted through October 1917 and brought messages of prayer, repentance, and reparation.
The apparitions were declared of “supernatural character” by the Catholic Church in 1930, and a shrine was erected near the original apparition site in Fatima. Since then, thousands of pilgrims have made their prayerful journeys to Fatima, including four popes: Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.
Pope Pius XII crowned Our Lady of Fatima as Queen of the World in 1946, then the statue was blessed by the bishop of Fatima on Oct. 13, 1947, in the presence of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, and was commissioned to serve as the Pilgrim Virgin who would carry the blessings of Fatima throughout the world. Its custody and mission are under the auspices of the World Apostolate of Fatima USA –Our Lady’s Blue Army.
It has traveled continuously around the world since 1947, visiting more than 100 countries, including Russia and China, and bringing a message of salvation and hope. Mr. Sabat, who has been accompanying the Our Lady icon since 2003, sees the effects of the Blessed Mother’s presence during the statue’s travels.
He also accompanies it as it visits sites around the world.
He and fellow statue custodians Tom Ross and Larry Maginot relate conversion stories prompted by the Blessed Mother’s visits.
“By traveling the world with her, I see her changing the world,” Mr. Sabat said, citing a mother in Ohio estranged from her grown children who reunited with them soon after seeing the Blessed Mother icon.
He also mentioned a man in Chicago who was prepared to drink his life away until being in the presence of Our Lady of Fatima with 4,000 faithful processing down a street in her honor led him to change his life and return to the Church.
“That’s the work of the Blessed Mother,” Mr. Sabat said.
He said similar stories of conversion and redemption are plentiful from the Blessed Mother icon’s travels around the world.
When visiting other countries, the icon travels by plane with a custodian, occupying its own seat in coach class. Mr. Sabat said it isn’t unusual for pilots to alert passengers that a special guest is accompanying them, telling them that with Our Lady on board, the flight undoubtedly will be smooth and safe.
In Tennessee, the Blessed Mother made her way across the state via the RV, with the statue secured in its case, resting in its own seat secured by a shoulder harness seatbelt.
On this leg of the journey, Mr. Sabat and Mr. Ross are secure in the fact they are traveling with Our Lady of Fatima, presenting her to hundreds of churches and thousands of parishioners on her U.S. Tour for Peace.
“There are the physical challenges of logistics and geography, but you have the spiritual reward of devotion to her and adoration. Our Lady is winning the day, and the enemy does not like it,” Mr. Sabat said.
There have been few bumps along the way as the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima crosses the country.
Mr. Sabat is amused by a couple of fender-benders in which drivers of other vehicles didn’t see the highly visible Our Lady of Fatima RV before colliding. In one of the mishaps, a police officer even questioned how the other driver wasn’t able to see such a large, recognizable bus.
“We have logged 45,000 miles so far. We are up to more than 90 dioceses, so we’re more than halfway there,” he said. “For us, it isn’t simply a task. It’s a mission. I refer to us as Our Lady’s donkey because we carry her across the country and the world. It’s an honor. There is a sense of urgency to what we’re doing. The world needs Our Lady’s message of peace more today than ever.”
The U.S. Tour for Peace has completed the eastern leg of its journey and will end in Texas in December after touring the western United States, including Alaska.