On Oct. 13, 1917, three children in the village of Fatima, Portugal, claimed they were visited by the Virgin Mary for the sixth and final time. This Friday, millions of Christians around the world will celebrate the centennial anniversary of these apparitions. Among them is a group of Iowa Catholics who have been honoring the Virgin Mary through the Pilgrim Virgin program for nearly
Every Saturday since 1970 a statue of Mary, also known as Our Lady of Fatima, is moved from one residence to the next. Members of the program’s official honor guard are tasked with moving the statue after each reciting a decade of the rosary during a prayer service.
The statue is then covered and carefully moved to the next home, where the honor guard once again holds a prayer service. A similar prayer service takes place each day in the host’s home at 7:30 p.m., until the next time the statue is moved.
“One thing that really sticks in your mind is seeing a 2- or 3-year-old leading a decade of the rosary,” said honor guard member and program organizer Leon Hartogh, 80, of Marion. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
This program, which began with the Archdiocese of Dubuque, now operates in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Marion and surrounding areas.
Hartogh has been involved with the program since 2004. When he realized that the anniversary of the Fatima apparitions was approaching, Hartogh reached out to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Marion.
“I stayed up all night thinking about what we could do for the anniversary,” he said. “We need to do something special.”
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On Friday the nomadic statue will not be making its typical trip to another home. Instead, it will be transported to Saint Joseph’s where a unique celebratory service will start at 7 p.m.
“The anniversary means everything,” said Jane Regan, 83, who recently hosted the statue at her home in Cedar Rapids. “(The message) was either the blessing of the whole world or there’ll be punishment from God. It’s one or the other.”
Many Catholics believe that Mary appeared to the three children in Fatima six times, on the 13th day of every month from May through October of 1917. It is believed that she appeared to convey messages to the world. The messages included a prediction of the end of the first World War but also the continuation of suffering, according to honor guard member Leo Drilling, 84, of Cedar Rapids.
Although the Pilgrim Virgin program focuses on honoring Mary, Drilling said those who participate “are good Catholics first.”
“By that I mean Jesus Christ comes first,” he explained. “I think a lot of people get that confused ... We do not adore the blessed mother, we honor her as she is the mother of Jesus Christ.”
Regan said she hopes the Pilgrim Virgin program makes a difference in the world and that more young people realize the importance of prayer.
“It’s a different generation,” she said. “I think the world needs to change for the better, that’s what we’re praying for.”
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IF YOU GO
l What: Celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions
l When: 7 p.m. Friday
l Where: Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, 1790 14th St., Marion