VICTORIA, British Columbia — When Father Marinaldo Batista asked for relics of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children to whom Mary appeared in Fatima in 1917, he had no idea they would be canonized in 2017.
He simply thought it would be a fitting way for the parish he pastors, Our Lady of Fatima in Victoria, to commemorate the centennial of the Marian apparitions.
When the relics finally arrived in spring 2016 he said, “I stalled for the centennial.” When he and his parishioners learned that the siblings would be canonized on the centennial, they had already spent eight months planning the parish’s celebrations for the anniversary.
The news that the “little shepherds” as they are often referred to in Portuguese, would be canonized became one more reason for parishioners to celebrate.
The relics of the two saints, fragments of the original coffin of each child, were installed in the church May 14 during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria. A statue of Our Lady of the Rosary also was unveiled and blessed in a courtyard in front of the church.
The 5-foot painted, bronze statue was donated by local sculptor, Armando Barbon. It is one of two such statues he created. “The other one is at the church, Our Lady of the Rosary, in my hometown in Italy,” he told Catholic News Service.
Barbon said he donated the statue to the parish, home to Victoria’s Portuguese community, because for years the parishioners were “my bread and butter. They supported me.”
Barbon and his wife owned an Italian deli and later a food distribution company before they sold the business and he pursued his passion for the arts. Since 2000, Barbon has created statues for public installations in Victoria and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and for churches in Italy and Brazil.
Batista said having a statue of Mary in front of the church could serve as an extension of the shrine at Fatima and a welcoming sign to all Catholics. “I want everyone to feel this parish is for everybody,” he said.
During the Mass celebrated in English and Portuguese, the bishop recalled a 1975 pilgrimage to Fatima with his family. They traveled from Rome to the village and were unable to drink the tap water in those countries because it was too polluted.
Gordon said one of his only recollections of Fatima was that “I could drink the water,” adding “at that grotto Mary announced the possibility of good water.”
The fountain of water located at the place where Mary appeared to the three shepherd children in 1917 “is an image of comfort that the Blessed Mother wants to envelope the world in,” he said.
Gordon described four “C’s” to remember in connection to the apparitions: comfort, conversion, consolation and children.
“To be comforted, we need to turn, turn, turn, turn, to her son,” the bishop said while turning himself around on the altar until he was facing the crucifix hanging on a side wall. “That’s conversion.”
Out of conversion would come consolation. “Mary wants us to be consoled in the midst of the tribulations of this world,” the bishop said.
Pointing to three children dressed as the three young visionaries of Fatima the bishop said, “children are already turned toward the Lord,” adding “if we don’t become like children we won’t enter the kingdom. Can we become like children?”
At the end of the Mass, Batista told the congregation the parish planned to continue celebrating the centennial of the apparitions until October. Mary appeared to the three shepherd children on the 13th day of every month from May to October 1917.
Jacinta Marto died in 1920. Francisco Marto died in 1919. The third seer, their cousin Lucia Santos, died in 2005.