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'Blue Army' in Vermont

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions to three shepherd children in the Cova da Iria area of Fatima, Portugal.
 
These apparitions began on May 13, 1917, when 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. She encouraged praying the rosary and told the children there would be wars worse than World War I and several nations would be annihilated if people failed to pray the rosary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
 
Since then, a veritable army of believers has taken up the devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.
 
Among them is Clairette Berard of Our Lady of Grace Church in Colchester, an original member of The Burlington Diocesan Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima, formerly known as The Blue Army.
 
The local chapter – one of 75 divisions throughout the United States -- began in 1974, and Berard has served as president, secretary and treasurer. She visited the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in 1983 and keeps a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the dining table of her Essex Junction apartment.
 
“So many times she has answered my prayers. I can’t remember them all,” Berard said.
 
Since 1947 “The Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima” (as it was previously known) has been working to spread the message of Fatima. In 2005 Pope St. John Paul II renamed the organization and declared it a public international association of the faithful, like the Knights of Columbus. He credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life following an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
 
The Burlington Diocesan Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima has some 200 members throughout the state, among them Helen Morrie of Our Lady of Grace Church in Colchester, a members since 1992 and a past secretary of the group.
 
“It’s about devotion to Mary, regardless of her title. There is only one Mary, one mother of God,” she said. “To me, I feel the comfort of our Blessed Mother…. I feel she protects me.”
 
As members of the World Apostolate of Fatima, they fulfill Our Lady’s request to offer up their daily sacrifices as penance, pray the rosary daily while meditating on the mysteries, wear the scapular of Mount Carmel and participate in First Saturday devotions.
 
Anita Cote, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Albans, was active in the World Apostolate of Fatima even before it was organized in Vermont; she and her husband had a “prayer cell” in their home to foster the devotion.
 
The Blessed Mother’s messages at Fatima appealed to her, and the Fatima devotions have been a blessing to her and to her family.
 
In addition to personal devotions, members of the apostolate participate in various activities including an annual Family Day at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte. Many participate in parish devotions to Our Lady of Fatima, including those associated with the state pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima that goes from parish to parish or special visits of a traveling international statue.
 
The state statue of Our Lady Fatima is to visit seven major churches in the diocese with the theme Fatima Centennial Vermont Tour for Peace 1917-2017. Other parishes may request a visit from now until Oct. 13.
 
In 1986 the four-foot statue was purchased by Alberta Audette on a pilgrimage to Fatima, and the state group uses it still for visits to churches, monasteries, convents, elder care homes and chapels for people to experience the grace and blessings from Our Lady, while learning and live the message of peace, hope and reparation of sins, as she taught the three children in Fatima in 1917.
 
Berard laments that there had been more members and more activities in the past, but as membership decreases, members get older and the pace of a busy world takes its toll, many younger people don’t know about the devotion. So members invite others to participate in devotions and activities, continually trying to share the love of Our Lady of Fatima. She hopes the 100th anniversary of the apparitions will generate renewed interest in the devotion.
 
“When you have an organization … it’s nice to gather in a group and have camaraderie,” Morrie said.
 
There are no dues to belong The World Apostolate of Fatima, but donations are accepted for programming, Masses for deceased members and operating expenses.
 
Asked why the devotion to Our Lady of Fatima has remained for 100 years, Morrie responded, “All the good that is happening through prayer through Mary.”
 
Indeed, members of The World Apostolate of Fatima do not worship Mary but “go through Mary” to Jesus, she explained. “Without Mary there would be no Jesus. If Mary had not said ‘yes’ [to bearing the Son of God], where would we be today?”
 
Yorini Maria Undyantara of St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington is president of The Burlington Diocesan Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima. “As I am going on the journey in faith with the Blue Army group as the president, I see the thirst in people when the [statue] makes a special visit to each parish. Like a food supplement, she gives an extra boost to pray more intimately” and to receive the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation and to participate in Eucharistic adoration, she said. “Sometimes the visual presence of a mother, especially the mother of Jesus, can give comfort to some people who are in need of special intercession from Jesus through Mary, and they hope she will persuade her son. One can easily relate to her immaculate, gentle heart of a mother.”
 
For more information about The Vermont Chapter of The World Apostolate of Fatima, call Clairette Berard at 802-878-3214.
 

3 popes’ close bond to Fatima

Recent popes have had a special affection for Our Lady of Fatima, but no pope’s connection can match that of St. John Paul II.
 
“We cannot forget that he was saved by Our Lady of Fatima from the assassination attempt here in St. Peter’s. This is fundamental and central. It is never forgotten,” Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told Catholic News Service.
 
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot Pope John Paul at close range as the pope was greeting a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.
 
Two bullets pierced the pope’s abdomen, but no major organs were struck; a bullet had missed his heart and aorta by a few inches.
 
St. John Paul would later say, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.”
 
That miracle, the cardinal said, is key in “understanding well Pope John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”
 
Given the date of the assassination attempt, the pope specifically credited Our Lady of Fatima with his miraculous survival and recovery. Several months later, he visited the site of the apparitions, the first of three visits he would make as pope to Fatima.
 
For St. John Paul, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, “Our Lady of Fatima was everything,” and his three visits to the Portuguese town were those of a grateful son to the mother who saved his life.
 
“I still remember — I’ll never forget it — when he arrived at the little chapel of the apparitions where (the statue of) Our Lady of Fatima was,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins recalled.
 
St. John Paul was holding one of the bullets that had struck him and slowly approached the statue, finally placing the bullet in her crown, he said. “It is still in the crown today. I witnessed these gestures, how he expressed his devotion to Our Lady. He would just walk closer and closer to Our Lady and would repeat: ‘You saved me, you saved me.'”
 
As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from 1998 to 2008, Cardinal Saraiva Martins also oversaw the process leading to the beatification by St. John Paul of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three young shepherd children, who saw Mary at Fatima.
 
The cardinal also shared a personal friendship with the third seer, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005.
 
It was Cardinal Saraiva Martins who, two years after Sister Lucia’s death, urged Pope Benedict XVI to waive the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could be opened.
 
“The pope was very kind. He said, ‘Yes, you know more about this than I do. We will do as you say,'” the cardinal recalled.
 
Pope Benedict, the cardinal added, was a “great devotee” of Our Lady of Fatima, even before his election to the papacy.
 
Interviewed in his apartment near St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Saraiva Martins grabbed a copy of part of the interview then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 1985 with Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist.
 
“Before becoming pope, he said: ‘A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity,'” the cardinal read.
 
The special papal bond with Our Lady of Fatima continues today with Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a frequent visitor to a shrine devoted to her, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. Pope Francis will visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
 
The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’ “beautiful” words to Portuguese-speaking pilgrims on May 13, 2015, the 98th anniversary of the apparition: “Entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to your family, neighbors and friends.”
 
“This an example of the words of Pope Francis, so he is a great devotee of Fatima,” the cardinal said. “And for this reason, he will go to Fatima. For him, it will be an extraordinary day in which he will fulfill this great desire that has been expressed in so many ways.”
 
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is emblematic of the popes of the last century who have “always recognized” the relevance of Mary’s message, particularly its emphasis on faith, conversion, hope and peace, the cardinal said.
 
“Today we need faith, to be closer to God and our brothers and sisters — not hate each other — we need hope and we need peace,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. “In short, the message of Fatima given 100 years ago is of extreme relevance.”
 
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