Last Tuesday to Thursday, this writer was privileged to join dozens of bishops and archbishops, along with priests, nuns and laypeople, many from the Marian Solidarity for Pope Francis movement, at the annual retreat of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
Held at the Divine Word Seminary’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Tagaytay, the CBCP gathering, sponsored by the Assisi Development Foundation, was titled the National Marian Retreat on the Centennial of the Apparitions at Fatima, commemorating the encounters between three shepherd children and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the rural parish of Fatima in Portugal from May to October 1917.
Today and next Sunday, this column will highlight inspiring and insightful messages and moments of the three-day event, as part of our year-long coverage of the100th anniversary of the greatest supernatural event in history since the Resurrection.
And as summed up by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP president and main celebrant of the Thursday mass and procession closing the retreat, it truly was “Three Days of Mercy and Glory.”
Glory to God in His Blessed Mother
Glory partly came in prayers each day with the whole congregation of prelates, priests, and people from the Liturgy of the Hours, the book of morning, midday, afternoon, evening and night prayers, used mainly by religious communities.
All prayers were chanted, led by the superb stentorian voices of baritones from the Archdiocese of Manila’s liturgical commission. Each day began with a procession to the altar with a meter-high statue of Our Lady of Fatima, golden-crowned and white-robed, with a rosary in her hand.
Prelates from the country’s three regions led the liturgy: Their Excellencies from Luzon on Tuesday, Visayas bishops on Wednesday, and the Mindanaoans on Thursday. The Rosary was recited morning and afternoon, with bishops taking turns in leading the decades of Hail Marys in different foreign languages and native dialects, with replies and other prayers in English.
One cannot witness the prayers and masses at the Holy Spirit Chapel, and fail to feel how glorious and glorified God was on those three days. And mass homilies by Caloocan Bishop Virgilio Pablo David, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and Davao Archbishop Valles imparted spiritual wisdom so appropriate to the Fatima theme.
On Tuesday, Bishop “Ambo” David said that Jesus was in Mary’s Immaculate Heart even before He was incarnate in her womb at the Anunciation. And the times she pondered in her heart events like the prophesy of Simeon about Jesus, she saw and felt everything with the holy wisdom of God reposing in her heart. The Lord was with her, and she loved with the Eternal Love of God, the Holy Spirit.
As is fitting for a prelate of Cebu, where Christianity first came to our shores nearly half a millennium ago, Archbishop Palma recalled the many moments in history when heaven graced our nation, from Ferdinand Magellan planting the first cross on our land, to the People Power Revolution in 1986, when tanks and troops bowed to the images of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Child, borne by the faithful trusting God against guns.
And in the third mass led by Mindanao bishops, Archbishop Valles cited the four Eucharistic Prayers, one of which is said before, during and after the Consecration in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In each prayer, he cited how the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, was given pride of place, prominent in every rite that brings Her Son to us again in the Real Presence of His Body and Blood, recalling her salvific role as the one who said yes to God and carried Him into the world to save us.
In her apparitions at Fatima, our Blessed Mother brought us God’s mercy again, for us to be saved with prayer, penance, sacrifice, and communion, in consecration to her Immaculate Heart.
So it was imparted in the retreat masses: God comes to us through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, where He lived even before her womb; to whom our nation is consecrated, putting us in God’s hands; and whose role in bringing Christ to the world is recalled in every renewal of his redemptive sacrifice at mass.
The marvels and mercies of Fatima
Along with prayers and masses sanctifying the soul, the retreat enriched mind and heart with talks by two very devoted disciples of Jesus and Mary.
Fatima scholar Professor Americo Pablo Lopez Ortiz of Puerto Rico has studied the apparitions for 44 years, mostly with its foremost scholar, the late Fr. Joaquin Maria Alonso. The international president of the World Apostolate of Fatima, a global movement promoting its messages and devotions, retold the Fatima story in two lectures, expounding on its saving messages and its impact on world history.
Then came five lectures by American Fr. Michael Gaitley of the Marian Missionaries of the Divine Mercy. As his congregation’s name suggests, his talks presented Mary’s apparitions at Fatima, and the Divine Mercy visions of Jesus given to the Polish nun Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) as both conveying the boundless mercy of God for our time.
We will discuss their lectures at length next Sunday, but there is one most wonderful information from Prof. Ortiz that should be shared as soon as possible. He said the Five First Saturdays devotion may be done not just for oneself, but for others.
Hence, the spiritual gifts promised by our Blessed Mother to Sister Lucia in apparitions after Fatima —graces needed for salvation given at the hour of death, and the Sabbatine privilege for the soul in Purgatory to be lifted to heaven on the first Saturday after death — can go to others for whom the First Saturdays devotion is offered.
So, to save someone’s soul, offer for him or her and in reparation for the offenses against Mary the acts of confession, communion, one decade of the Rosary, and a quarter-hour of reflection on the Mysteries of the Rosary, for five consecutive first Saturdays of the month. It is the greatest gift you can give anyone.