MUMBAI, India — When Pope Francis is leading the canonization ceremony for Francisco and Jacinta Marto in Fatima, Portugal, on the hundredth anniversary of the the first apparition of Mary the children experienced, he will be joined in prayer by Catholics at Asia’s original Fatima Shrine.
The Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, will celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Karjat, India, on May 13.
“The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima at Karjat was built in the year 1935, and houses the statue of Our Lady of Fatima brought from Portugal in the year 1920, years before the approval [of the Fatima apparitions] in 1930 by the Holy See,” said Father Calistus Fernandes, the rector of the Shrine. “It stands as Asia’s first Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.”
Karjat is 40 miles southeast of Mumbai, and is a famous weekend getaway from the city.
“This shrine is envisioned as a place for ‘peace’ and a house of prayer, which is the need of the hour,” Fernandes told Crux. “The devotees [of Mary] are encouraged to spend time to relax from their busy state of life.”
The priest said Our Lady of Fatima is so popular because her message “is so simple, but loaded with tremendous power.
“Her message was a call to achieve peace through mercy,” Fernandes said, “Mother Mary was attributed an additional title in the Loreto litany ‘Mary, Queen of Peace,’ just seven days prior to her apparition at Fatima. Mother Mary has shown that peace in the world can be attained only through acts of mercy.”
The shrine in Karjat will be holding a special celebration to mark the centenary of the apparitions, and the cardinal will bless a new altar extension.
Gracias is also studying a proposal to give the shrine a more official status, naming it the ‘Archdiocesan Shrine of Fatima.’
“The distinguishing characteristic of a shrine is that it is a place of pilgrimage,” Fernandes said.
“A number of people come to Fatima Church as pilgrims, and today the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima is one of the more famous shrines, and is sometimes referred to as the Fatima of the East,” the rector explained.
In addition to serving the thousands of pilgrims who come to the shrine every year, Fernandes is also pastor to the small Catholic population, which consists of about 40 families.
“It is a great joy that our local people embraced this centenary,” the priest said. “The shrine of Fatima at Karjat is placed in the midst of a non-Christian locality.”
He said that although the non-Christian population does not know about the specifics of the Fatima events, “they are aware something important is happening on May 13,” and see that it is different than the usual celebrations the shrine hosts on the 13th day of every month, which he says draws interest because they are conducted in the local language.
“There is a special affiliation that has built because of the Fatima devotion among the people,” Fernandes said, adding many non-Christians participate in the monthly Fatima devotion.
“Importantly, non-Christians have welcomed this devotion. and this devotion has held in interfaith relations,” he said.
Fernandes said his small parish has social development programs in the local region, focused on education in partnership with other religious congregations in the area.
Fernandes said the celebrations on May 13 are only the beginning of a new push to spread the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
“With ‘peace’ as the central message from Our Lady of Fatima, the mother shrine for Fatima at Karjat, along with the members of World Apostolate of Fatima, is drafting a master plan and ways to achieve peace during the centenary year,” he said.
“As a priest, I have grown in love with the message of Fatima in my last 7 years in charge of the shrine,” Fernandes said.
“My heart is filled with gratitude to God and Our Lady, the message has changed me for the better,” he explained.
“Mother Mary appeared during World War I to give a message for peace,” the priest continued. “The message was simple and biblical and not new, but just a reminder to pray, to do penance, and to live a sacrificial life.”
Fernandes said if people would just “adhere to this simple message,” the he is “sure peace will reign.”