BENTON — On May 13, 1917, three shepherd children in Portugal, Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto and Lucia dos Santos saw a woman, brighter than the sun, radiating divine love and a message of peace. She called for devotion to the Trinity and to pray the rosary daily, to bring peace and an end to World War I. The Blessed Virgin Mary would appear six times at Fatima and as promised by Our Lady, some 70,000 people witnessed her appearance and the sun “dancing” above the town on Oct. 13.
Today, the faithful continue devotions to Our Lady of Fatima and in honor of the centennial anniversary of the apparitions, Pope Francis has decreed those that pray before an image of Our Lady of Fatima can receive a plenary indulgence, along with the typical requirements of sacramental confession, holy Communion and prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions.
These conditions do not have to take place on all same day, but within 20 days before or after.
But on the 13th of each month, May to October, Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton will have confessions and Mass, inviting all to take part in the devotion of Our Lady of Fatima (See sidebar, page 4). Aside from August, when Our Lady appeared on the 19th, all the dates commemorate the exact day she appeared.
“I think we’re excited about it. We’re not trying to do anything as grand as Good Counsel with the Year of Mercy … We see it as a more modest level trying to make our church open for visitors,” said Father Paul Worm, who became pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in February. “We’re just trying to be good people of hospitality during this centennial year.”
The Benton church is the only one in Arkansas named after the apparitions.
Special receptions will be hosted after the Masses by parishioners of the church. Nancy Christian, head of parish life on the parish council, said they will try to have Our Lady of Fatima movies playing and boards displaying her story.
“I think it really is special because apparently … there aren’t that many of Our Lady of Fatima parishes around,” Christian said, adding that the parish has a devotion to the rosary, with a women’s group meeting after daily Mass to pray. “I do think it’s a special opportunity for us to do a special service to others in our diocese.”
On Saturday, May 13, all are invited to pray the rosary with Our Lady of Fatima parishioners at the Saline County courthouse lawn at noon. Participants can stand or bring chairs and blankets. Tonya Nichols, who teaches the confirmation class and is on the liturgy committee, was prompted to organize the rosary thanks to a global effort by the organization America Needs Fatima for everyone to pray the rosary that day.
“I feel like the practice of praying the rosary, it is part of our prayer life, we need to … resuscitate it, bring it back and make it an important part of our day,” Nichols said, adding that praying the rosary can influence others about the “excitement of spending time with Our Lady and Jesus.”
The parish welcomes visitors throughout the year, but during this time the doors will be unlocked in the daytime. Father Worm said the church hopes to have handouts for people regarding indulgences.
“The hardest thing to do is to have the intention of never sinning again in your life. It’s really a hard thing to go in there with that resolve,” he said.
Churches that bring groups to the parish are asked to call the OLF church office in advance so arrangements can be made for more priests to hear confessions.
Father Worm pointed to the “nice little pastoral scene” outside the church, statues depicting the three shepherd children, looking with devotion at Our Lady of Fatima. A bench will be placed in front of the statues so the faithful can sit and pray.
During the apparitions 100 years ago, three apocalyptic visions were revealed, known commonly as the Three Secrets of Fatima.
“There’s always that aspect of the messages that the end times were near, that Catholics needed to buckle down and prepare,” Father Worm said, which is a good message of vigilance for all the faithful. “The Lord encourages us always to be ready.”
Christian said the prophecies, “Keep you on your toes; keep you going to confession to do the things to keep you closer to God.”
While Father Worm admitted he has “a lot of studying up to do” on the story of Our Lady of Fatima, he hopes everyone can learn more about the Blessed Mother this year.
“I’d like them to grow in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he said. “Praying the rosary daily, that’s what she was encouraging the children to do.”
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