By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PAOLI – October 13, 1917. That was the date of the reported final visitation of our Lady to three small children in Fatima, Portugal. The message the children relayed to the world was a call to prayer, in particular the rosary, in reparation for sin as a means of preventing great catastrophe.

Ninety-three years later millions of the faithful are still praying.

Here in the United States, on Oct. 16, the nearest Saturday to the date of the final vision, approximately 5,000 groups around the country gave public witness to the Fatima message by “public square rosary” services.

In 1917 much of the world was enduring what was then called “the Great War,” few realizing there would be a far greater war less than a quarter-century later. We are still experiencing war, if admittedly in a lesser degree.

At St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, where approximately 50 people gathered at the grotto of our Lady facing busy Route 252, the theme was “Our Lady’s Peace Plan from Heaven,” and consisted of prayers, hymns and the rosary’s five joyful mysteries.

“This is raising awareness of the presence of Fatima and Mary’s wish for peace in the world,” said St. Norbert’s pastor, Norbertine Father Michael Lee, who attended the service.

Leading the service was Permanent Deacon William Masapollo, who said it was the type of event that brings the people out.

“It shows our love of the faith, it shows our consciousness of our boys and girls in harm’s way and it shows ourselves and the world that we are Catholic Christians who believe in what we can accomplish through prayer.”

“Praying for the nation is a wonderful thing,” said Dan D’Auria, parish business manager. “When we can get together for something positive, that really makes it stand out.”

“I got the idea from a friend,” said Mary Galloway, the parishioner who suggested the service. “America needs Fatima and we can follow Mary’s method in promoting world peace.”

“I don’t pray the rosary often,” said Becky Facenda, a senior at Marple Newtown High School. “(But) world peace is definitely worth praying for.”

She came to the service with her mother, Connie Facenda, who had a different motive.

“I’m here because I’ve been out of work since March, and I start a new job Monday,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I remembered to give thanks and say my rosary.”

Because the tradition of praying the rosary on the Fatima anniversary is grass-roots, it’s impossible to say how many groups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese did so, but there were a number of them.

For example at St. Leo Parish in the city’s Tacony section, perhaps 30 parishioners and their pastor, Father Joseph Farrell, gathered in Disston Park across from the church. Under a large “America Needs Fatima” banner, they sang hymns, said prayers and recited the full 15 traditional decades of the rosary.

“I didn’t include the luminous decades because I thought it might be too long for some people,” said Dick Heim, the organizer. “I agree 100 percent in the cause. We need God in our country. Without God we are shot.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.