A visit and history of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine and Basilica near Niagara Falls.
by Chris Clemens
On May 13, 1917 in the small town of Fatima, Portugal, three shepherd children witnessed the Blessed Virgin Mary as an apparition. They saw her again on June 13th and July 13th in the same place.
The children said the Virgin Mary gave them specific instructions to do penance and Acts of Reparations. During the course of those visits, according to the eldest child, the Blessed Virgin Mary confided in them three secrets.
On August 13th, the children were jailed for what the villagers claimed were unbelievable tales. They were explicitly prevented from going to the place they saw the apparition. In addition, their jailers insisted that the children share the secrets, but the children refused. The children were eventually released, but again saw the Blessed Virgin on August 15th.
During this meeting they asked permission to share the secrets with the doubters.
The Blessed Virgin Mary promised for her last visit, on October 13th, she would present herself. When that time came, in front of 70,000 witnesses, the Blessed Virgin Mary performed the Miracle of the Sun. In 1941 two of the secrets were found in a written account by one of the children. However, the surviving child declined requests to reveal the third secret.
Instead, the secret was written out and sealed it in an envelope. It was to be opened in 1960, when the world would better be able to receive it.
Our Lady Of Fatima In New York
In the mid-1950’s the Polish and Italian communities in the Niagara Falls region joined together. They sought to support the Barnabite Fathers, a missionary faction who had found their way to the area. Collectively they set out to create the Our Lady of Fatima shrine in Lewiston.
At that time, the shrine began with just one humble statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Later, in 1960, the shrine that exists today was founded.
Upon arriving, I went to the office as previously instructed when I had called, and found Cheryl. She was busy helping what seemed like 1 million people, but she immediately said “OH!! Let me find Father for you!” and whisked off. A few minutes later, Father Julio found us in the hustle and bustle of the other visitors.
We all walked the grounds while he told us the story of the shrine. A group of Tamils from Sri Lanka were there, and hosting their own mass. As it was letting out, we were surrounded by even more people, many of whom wanted Father Julio’s attention. We were soon joined by Father Richard, and the Sri Lankan priest (whose name I didn’t get).
From the other visitors’ perspective, there were three priests and two guys in shorts and t-shirts with a lot of tattoos and shaved heads standing next to a Madonna statue. I’m sure it was a curious sight. More unexpectedly, other visitors seemed to regard us with some authority since we clearly had the devoted attention of the priests.
(In fact, later someone approached me and asked “On your website, it says…….” I think she was surprised to learn that I didn’t work there at all.)
A Tour Of The Grounds
We walked the grounds around the rosary pool, and visited the statues of the Apostles, and saints. Once the mass let out, we entered the worship area and were shown around.
The area exists within a half dome, intended to look like the globe. Light shines through the water sections, with an Our Lady of Fatima statue atop as though watching over the world. Just outside are the ‘side altars’ and a relics area. Here, we were shown a bone fragment of St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria (patron saint of the Barnabite Fathers) and a hand carved mural.
We walked and talked for a couple hours. Father Julio has an incredibly peaceful and humble way about him, and he seemed genuinely interested in our studies, and in how we came to the ideas we had about religions. As far as I’m concerned, the inspiration that comes from being in a holy place, and allowing everyone to be whom they truly are for the sake of learning from one another can’t be matched. Apparently we all felt the same, because Father Julio then invited us to dinner with the other priests and nun in the seminary!
We were stunned. How could it even be a possibility to say no to that kind of invitation?? We were tired from driving across Western NY, but how often do people get invited into the seminary to have dinner at the family table?
A Blessed Meal
We walked back from the shrine through the empty parking lot that just an hour earlier looked like the lot for the Mall of America, and down a driveway to the seminary. The three of us walked in, and we were introduced to Father Joe, Father Peter, Sister Ann, and Father Richard, and our unlikely bunch sat down to dinner.
We chatted for a while about a lot of different topics and covered everything from our tattoos, to Buddhism and Native American religious traditions and Catholic burial rights.
As it was getting late, we were truly getting tired from the day’s events, and still had another hour and a half to drive before getting home. We all stood, bowed our heads and said a short prayer.
Before we were to leave, we were asked if it would be okay that Father Julio prayed over us and gave us his blessing. We all went in to the private chapel of the seminary where the group begins and ends each day with prayer and meditation. We knelt while Father Julio said a blessing with the other priests. Out of all the places we’ve gone, and the blessings and experiences we’ve had, my mom would be the most pleased with this one!
Back On The Road
We said our goodbyes and thanked them for their hospitality and generosity. It was incredibly inspiring to be among so many people of faith who were open minded enough to sit and talk openly with us, and refer to us as friends and make sure we knew we were always welcome.
We began the weary last leg of our trip around Western NY and started home. The entire drive was spent a bit in awe and gratitude. The goal of this project has been to be sure that we’re constantly expanding who we are as people, and to ensure that through education and experience we are continuing to grow.
There’s been a lot of things we’ve done that has far exceeded our expectations on how we’d be received, and I’m proud to write here that this visit was among them. I can’t wait to go back!
This post previously appeared on www.ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens