We were asked to write a blog on Fatima and a few of us volunteered to write on our experiences. I volunteered because as the title suggests, Fatima for me was like a personal gift from Our Lady. I would like to begin by thanking my fellow team members for the opportunity and their love throughout the whole experience - especially Heather Perry who made it all possible for us!
Throughout this recent Spring semester, the Russian Mission Team would spend our Sundays by praying together and eating together. And in that time, one of the discussions that we would have that was intended to aid our community life was on the topic of our “Love Languages” - how each of us receives love. For me it was “gift” and “quality time.”
“Gift” for doesn’t mean you thought about me and gave me something (as snobby as that sounds). “Gift” entails the thought, the awareness, and the right gift. As terrible as that sounds, it is the reason why Fatima was so special to me. It was the perfect gift for me. Our Lady has constantly been thinking about me and what’s best for me, she is aware of my needs and how I can grow (like the perfect Mother that She is) and through all that she gave me the perfect gift (even if I did not think so at the beginning).
Firstly it was the perfect gift for me because despite how little I love Our Lady compared to many great Saints like St. John Paul the Great, St. Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort, or St. Alphonsus Ligouri, I still love her and it was such a gift to be there in the Centennial Anniversary of the Apparitions (after the crowds had disappeared from the Canonization and the Anniversary of the 1st Apparition on May 13th, 1917). What made it even more special was that we were going to start off our cooperation with Our Lady’s Mission to convert Russia at the place she called for Russia’s Conversion. I say “Our Lady’s Mission” with great affection as we had to learn the hard way that we were not in charge (as you can see Joe and Kaitlin emphasized). We came to understood that in being called to Our Lady’s Mission for the conversion of Russia, we were (1) called to a family life (just as you don’t pick your family, we did not pick each other) in which others will know that we are Christians by our love and (2) that from the moment that God had ordained and made known that in the end the Immaculate Heart of Mary would triumph and that Russia will be converted, Our Lady had pondered in Her Immaculate Heart all those that she would call to aid in the Father’s mission that He presented to our Blessed Mother. What a tremendous privilege! Who are we but poor sinners, of whom I am the first? In the overwhelming gift we felt of being able to be there, I was reminded of a lessons from Scripture ingrained into me at the Jesuit high school: “Men for Others” and “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected.” We are called to make a great gift of ourselves to God, Our Lady, to each other, and to those here in Magadan in a great way, but only because we possess something (or rather Someone) great – not because we are so great, but because we, by His grace, were open to the great gift of Himself that He wished to give us through Blessed Mary.
The second reason as to why it was the perfect gift was because of something special we did when the Russia Mission Family team was formed. We all chose a patron saint(s). Earlier in the year in preparation for the Centennial Year I remember watching these videos by Sr. Angela de Fatima (on Youtube – 6 parts) that inspired me to read a book called: Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. A book that changed my life and I highly recommend! Having finished that book prior to picking our patrons, I knew I had to choose (at that time) Bl. Jacinta and Francisco Marto. After every weekly family meeting in the school year (and now daily) we would go around the room asking each patron to pray for us along with Our Lady of Fatima. Could you imagine the joy I felt after having prayed for so long “Bl. Jancinta and Francisco” and hearing the response “pray for us” and when we arrived I could finally say “Sts. Jacinta and Francisco.” These companions of mine that I have gotten to know as I grow in holiness by God’s grace through the hands of Blessed Mary and their example transformed how I lived and made the gift of Fatima all the more special!
They taught me the call of Our Lady to make of everything we do a sacrifice and a very practical means of uniting my sufferings to Christ on the cross and to participate in His salvific work of the world. Through them I learned that everything I do is not meaningless. Even though I did not go around thinking that, the purity of my intention with which I did things, it might as well should have been meaningless. They reminded me that Christ redeemed all things, not just somethings and that nothing should be wasted, especially our sufferings! For me, I am more inclined to offer us big sufferings but when it came to the little things, I would always forget. And the great sufferings I would forget sometimes too, but Scripture reminds me that faithfulness in little things will yield faithfulness in the big things. Through the three children, I was reminded that it is in the little things (or what seems little) done with great love Jesus and Mary that brings about our sanctification. Even the effort I am putting into writing this blog, the sacrifice of time due to the business of life here, I have offered, hopefully, out of love. The whole of the message of Fatima and the lives of the children reminded me that I constantly have an opportunity to help the souls in purgatory, my family, my friends, those intentions I have been given, and for poor sinners here on earth (of whom I should never forget that I am the first). Simple things: picking on trash I see on the floor, cooking dinner, stubbing my toe, when a noise wakes me up as I try to sleep, I am cold . . . anything that goes against my own self-love and will, by God’s grace, I pray: “My Beloved Jesus, this is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate of Mary, (and sometimes as St. Jacinta loved to do- ‘for the Holy Father’).” This is my constant prayer and if I’m honest I still forget sometimes. Despite my forgetfulness, my teammates and I try to remind each other as the children reminded each other by asking “Don’t you want to offer it for poor sinners?” or by reminding each other to “don’t waste it”. And one of the ways in which I am reminded to do this is through understanding what I am doing because I once heard a very holy priest say that when you offer up your suffering, you are not necessarily offering “suffering” per se. Suffering is something evil. One does not offer evil things to God just as you would not give your child a glass of poison when he asked for water. So when we say “offer it up” what we are offering to God is something holy and good: our willingness to go through this suffering in union with Christ for certain intentions. The most powerful I believe is when we offer up our Holy Communion daily and not only just the first! We should only offer the best to God and that is why the Cross is so necessary. As Fr. Michael reminds us that though suffering is an evil, when we unite with Christ on the Cross through the hands of Our Lady, He takes that evil unto Himself and transforms it into something that contributes the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
From that point, I would like to briefly share 3 brief moments I loved in Fatima! The first is the kneel walk that we did one evening as a sacrifice for different intentions. I did it as a sacrifice with the intentions that Our Lady asked for and as we were crawling I prayed for each intention that I wrote down that I was asked to pray for that I pray for daily and for the people we would encounter here in Magadan. It looks small in the picture, but trust us, that we felt it the next day when we knelt down for Holy Mass. It was beautiful to love the people that have and will love us in a special way as love requires sacrifice. We also enjoyed praying the Rosary as we crawled and being a witness of young Catholics humbled and blessed to be children of the heavenly Father. After that we went to get Gelato as a reward to let our knees heal only to come back to see that there was a candle light procession happening with Latin hymns being sung. We sprung into action but we caught the tail end of it after buying our candles. My favorite part comes with what we decided to do next. We decided to walk home (20-25 minute walk) with our candles singing hymns of prayer in honor of Our Blessed Lord and Our Lady all the way home. It was really beautiful. The last memory I wish to share was the special day in which we decided to walk to the Stations of the Cross outside the sanctuary and to see the homes of Lucia, St. Jacinta, and St. Francisco. This was the most moving experience at Fatima for me. After a long walk, we asked for help and arrived at the spot that commemorated the Apparition that occurred on August 15, 1917. Our Lady asked for the children to see her the 13th of each month from May to October, but they were kidnapped and threatened on the 13th of August so she appeared to them near their home on the 15th. As much as I tried to love the Sanctuary and the Chapel of the Apparitions, the modern art that was there was just too much for me. The huge bronze “crucifix” and the monstrance that is used in the chapel and even the art of the picture made it very hard for me to elevate my heart and mind. But at this spot, when we arrived, I took off my hat and all of us knelt down to pray in the silence of the spot surrounded by nature. I finally felt blessed to really be in the same spot that Our Blessed Mother once appeared and tears rolled down my face. We also went to the spot of the appearance of the Angel of Fatima and we prayed Lauds, read sections from the aforementioned book about the Angel, we prayed the prayers the Angel taught the three children, and then we sung the Divine Praise that begins “May the Heart of Jesus…” And then we visited the children’s house where we were enrolled in the school of suffering and we learned to receive many graces from Our Lady. It truly was a gift! I hope you enjoy the pictures!