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NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 2, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
October is one of two months specifically dedicated to Our Lady. The other month is May. October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and this year Oct. 13 marked the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother's sixth the apparition to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.
More than 3,000 miles east of New Jersey, across the Atlantic Ocean, Pope Francis made a trip to the little town of Fatima in May to commemorate when Our Lady first appeared to the children in 1917. The Holy Father prayed the rosary and celebrated Mass during which he presided over the canonization of two of the Fatima visionaries, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Embedded in the crown of Our Lady's statue at the shrine in Fatima is one of the bullets used in the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981. He credited Our Lady with his survival. During his visit, Pope Francis held up Mary as a "model of evangelization," particularly because Christian men and women can look at her and see that "humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong."
The Holy Father prayed, "With your virginal smile, enliven the joy of Christ's Church. With your gaze of sweetness, strengthen the hope of God's children. With your hands lifted in prayer to the Lord, draw all people together into one human family. And so may we be, like you, an image of the column of light that illumines the ways of the world, making God known to all, making known to all that God exists, that God dwells in the midst of His people, yesterday, today and for all eternity."
Our own diocese is blessed with the Blue Army Shrine, the headquarters of the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA, a lay group of Catholics devoted to Our Lady and her message of peace and mercy. It is certainly a powerhouse of prayer. David Carollo, director of the Shrine, said many individuals from our diocese and beyond visited the Shrine monthly since May 13 to celebrate the anniversary of the six apparitions of Our Lady to the three young children. Together we should all make our own the prayer of Pope Francis while visiting Fatima: "Show us the strength of your protective mantle. In your Immaculate Heart, be the refuge of sinners and the way that leads to God. In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima."
This issue of The Catholic Spirit is highlighting the blessed anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. I pray the rosary each day during my morning walk and pray that indeed we, as a diocese, will make God and His mercy more well known. I remember learning the rosary in grammar school during October and May. Sister Mary Wilhelmina O’Donnell, RSM, from Watchung, our second grade teacher, would lead us in prayer each day. Gratefully, I have stayed close to Our Lady throughout my life and I particularly count on her intercession as I lead this beautiful flock of Metuchen.
As the Holy Father prayed in Fatima that Our Lady might "enliven the joy of Christ's Church," two celebrations we marked this month show the fruit of this prayer already. We recently celebrated our diocesan Encuentro, a gathering of our Hispanic/Latino community. It was part of an ongoing celebration taking place in our country and is preparing us for our Statewide Encuentro that will follow and then the national Encuentro gathering to take place in 2018. I am grateful to Sister Ruth Bolarte, IHM, for organizing our Encuentro. Our diocese is blessed with many Hispanic/Latino Catholics who put their faith into practice in their own lives, and who work to share that joy with others. We have more than 230,000 Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in our diocese and they are a spirit-filled group of our faithful.
Likewise, we also celebrated this month the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean apostolate in our diocese. This is another community we can be very proud of. The Korean Catholics are likewise recent immigrants who have persevered in the faith and happily share it with others, and the community is growing. We thank God for them, as they are a source of encouragement for the future of our diocesan Church.
Yes, Mary is the "model of evangelization" for us. Our diocese is under her patronage, the Queenship of Mary, one of the glorious mysteries of the rosary. May we rededicate ourselves to her this month, and take up with joy the work of evangelization, making God and His Mercy known by all we say and do. God bless you and may He continue to bless our diocese.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen