PROVIDENCE — Catholics in the Diocese of Providence have an additional reason to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Jan. 1, as the feast day also marks the beginning of the upcoming Marian Year for the diocese.

“This is an opportunity to renew and to refresh our devotion to Mary that we have as Catholics,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who well celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul on the feast, which is a holy day of obligation.

“We need her example of all her virtues and we need her prayers,” he told the Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

“Catholics for generations have turned to Mary for assistance and inspiration and we need to do that again because of our troubled world and our nation and our community and our church.”

In October, Tobin announced that the 2017 calendar year would be celebrated as a Marian Year in the Diocese of Providence following the close of the Year of Mercy in November.

Like the Year of Mercy, the Marian Year will provide special opportunities for Catholics in the diocese to increase their devotion to a particular aspect of the Catholic faith.

“It’s going to be an important year in the church because it’s the 100th anniversary of Mary’s apparitions at Fatima and we’re going to be celebrating that particular event in the diocese along with the universal church,” said Tobin.

“But it just seemed to me that we could build on that and turn the whole year into a special time for Mary. It’s such a beautiful and important part of our Catholic faith and devotion that sometimes we forget about and overlook.”

The anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima will feature prominently in the diocesan celebrations of the Marian Year. Father Jeremy Rodrigues, director of the Office for Divine Worship, will lead a pilgrimage to the Portuguese town in August accompanied by Tobin and parishioners from the diocese.

There, pilgrims will visit the site where Mary first appeared to three shepherd children as a lady clothed in brilliant white.

“I think it’s good that the bishop has taken the opportunity to call this year in light of the miraculous events of Fatima in Portugal,” said Rodrigues. “It’s rather timely for us, I think, and very providential.”

The first apparition to the children of Fatima occurred on May 13, 1917, several years after the start of World War I. Among other intentions, the lady asked the children to pray for world peace, a request that continues to weigh heavily on a world that can at times seem rent with war and divisions in the political sphere.

“We can certainly talk about Mary in many different aspects and many different ways, but this year, in particular, I think more than ever our world is so divisive,” said Rodrigues.

“Everyone has sort of polarized themselves in so many different areas. And the Blessed Mother is a perfect example of tremendous balance for our life.”

In addition to the requests of Our Lady of Fatima, Tobin has provided monthly prayer intentions to coincide with the liturgical schedule of the Marian Year.

The first intention, an increase in respect for life, especially for unborn children, places before Mary an issue close to her role as mother while supporting the efforts of pro-life advocates as they observe the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22.

“I think that a lot of single moms or women who are pregnant and found in some difficult circumstances can find in Mary a great deal of inspiration and strength,” said Tobin.

“If they share in Mary’s faith and Mary’s trust, then even the most difficult of pregnancies can be a life-giving experience as it was for Mary and as it was for the world.”

The diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry has organized several opportunities for Catholics around the diocese to support Respect Life efforts during the month of January while also increasing their devotion to Mary for the Marian Year.

Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 30, the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will visit parishes throughout the Diocese of Providence, with various presentations, holy hours and venerations occurring during that time.

Carol Owens, coordinator of Life and Family Ministry, invites all to participate and to pray in a particular way for a greater respect for life.

“People are more in tune with what’s happening and gravitating toward any opportunity to pray to Mary,” she said. “She is the patroness of the Americas. She’s everybody’s lady.”

The office also will coordinate the annual Respect Life Mass at St. Paul Church in Cranston Jan. 21, and the annual bus trip to the March for Life in Washington Jan. 27.

Owens stressed that these events call upon Catholics and our nation’s leaders to protect not only the unborn, but all those who suffer from a lack of respect for human life.

“It’s not only the baby in the womb, it’s also the person on the street who’s homeless and hungry and the person at the end of life,” she said.

Owens advised all to continue praying the rosary. Prayer, especially for Mary’s intercession, is an essential component of the church’s efforts to promote greater respect for life, she added.

“The greatest tool we have is praying the rosary and praying it every day,” said Owens. “I’ve had remarkable things happen. I believe Our Lady is at work.”

Clem is a staff reporter at the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.