After my last piece on thin places, I decided to spend some time today in another of my favorite thin places — the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, in the small town of Bison, Oklahoma.
Quite by accident I noticed (yes, I had overlooked) that today was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, recalling the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, during the worst of the First World War. I first learned of the shrine, which could easily be overlooked in this small, agrarian community in north central Oklahoma, while writing a story in October, 2017, on a pilgrimage visit of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue, while on a nationwide tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the miracles at Fatima.
Like many articles, this gave me an opportunity to learn about topics I may otherwise never have wandered into. I immediately took to the story of Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who reported the Virgin Mary appeared to them, and among other revelations told them to pray the Rosary for an end to the First World War.
Fr. Edward Menasco, pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where the shrine is housed, told me in 2017 the meaning behind Our Lady of Fatima remains the same — and as needed — as it was in 1917: to pray for peace in the world. He said visiting Our Lady at the shrine gives people an opportunity to focus on that need.
My first visit to the shrine on that day in 2017 was focused on that need — on our dire need to find and sustain peace, within ourselves, with our neighbors and throughout God’s creation. And, that has remained a special intention for me each time I’ve returned there since, to pray the Rosary, or simply to pause and meditate for a few minutes while passing through Bison on my way to or from our hometown of Enid, 14 miles north.
So, when I saw today was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I drove there specifically to pray the Rosary for peace, and to reflect on what areas of my inner self need more attention, more sincere peacemaking. I need to set aside fear — of failure, of lack, of the future. I need to rest, as Thomas A Kempis says, in the wounds of Christ — to find peace and reassurance there, and stop making war within myself. I prayed for that inner peace, and as always, the smooth repetition of the Hail Mary throughout the Rosary quieted my mind and spirit, allowing me to go within, if only slightly, only so fleetingly, to survey the work that needs doing, and to find comfort in Christ’s presence there, by my side.
But, the prayers of the Rosary and the intentions of Our Lady’s gifts at Fatima are not solely for inner peace. We are meant to walk from there into the world, to bring an end to the madness of continual war, of violence, oppression, greed, hate, poverty and famine.
Reflecting on those needs, I turned to Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace address in January, in which he drew direct correlations to the suffering of World War I. Pope Francis called us to proclaim “no to war and to the strategy of fear,” and declared that “an escalation of intimidation, and the uncontrolled proliferation of arms, is contrary to morality and the search for true peace.”
The Pope concluded his message with three essential ingredients for peace, internal and external: first, “peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience”; second, “peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say”; and, third, “peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future.”
Those elements also were reflected in February when the Most Rev. Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, joined with Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and 17 other bishops and theologians in signing “Reclaiming Jesus:
A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Action.”
We pray with those … who face poverty and hunger every day. We pray for those who live in fear of deportation and family separation. We pray for those who face violence—especially parents who fear for their children of color—and those who endure language of racial divisiveness. We pray for the soul of the nation and the resilience of our government’s processes. We pray for those who have lost hope.
Above all, we pray for God to take away our fear and stir within us certainty in the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord. We pray that all will come to know that Jesus is love and that this knowledge will permeate our lives. We pray that we may have wisdom to discern and speak truth, and courage to stand for it in our public squares. We pray that we may be bridges that bring God’s love to our angry national discourse. We pray for pure hearts.
With these prayers on my heart, I turned to the Prayer to Our Lady of Fatima, with special intention to work, to pray and to live for a more peaceful, just and Christ-like world:
O Most Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of the most holy Rosary, you were pleased to appear to the children of Fatima and reveal a glorious message. We implore you, inspire in our hearts a fervent love for the recitation of the Rosary. By meditating on the mysteries of the redemption that are recalled therein may we obtain the graces and virtues that we ask, through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.
And finally, from the Book of Common Prayer, let us pray:
Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of
peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel
for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility your dominion
may increase until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your
love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for