The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima has been venerated around the United States and the world since 1947, and this month it is coming to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, accompanied by stories of conversion, peace and healing.
“It’s been great, not only in the numbers of people who are coming but also hearing from the individuals who are so excited and joyful and have told me they have gone back to confession after so many years,” said Patrick L. Sabat, the principal statue custodian who is taking the 3 1/2-foot mahogany image of the Blessed Mother, carved by artist José Thedim, on a tour of more than 100 U.S. Catholic dioceses to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1917 apparitions of Mary in Fatima, Portugal.
“People ask me, ‘Look, does the statue make everybody cry?’” Sabat said. “Many people are moved to tears.”
In honor of the Fatima centennial, Sabat began traversing the United States in a figure-8 pattern in March, traveling with the statue in an RV festooned with images of the “Fatima Centennial: U.S. Tour for Peace.”
Mary at 35,000 feet
When he must fly internationally with the statue, Sabat always buys Mary a ticket and rests her in the seat next to him, which naturally has led both to stares and moments of evangelization.
“She prefers the window seat when she flies because, according to FAA rules, she’s still an object, a statue,” Sabat said with a laugh. “In case of an emergency, she should not be blocking anybody.”
Not that the Blessed Mother has been a stumbling block to anyone, Sabat said. Recently in Chicago, which has been beset by gun violence, a church held a candlelight procession in the neighborhood, and a man who was drinking heavily in a bar came out to see the commotion caused by the police lights and the candles.
“He was ready to drink his life away, and he walked out of the bar because he thought it was another uprising,” Sabat said. “He was moved to tears when he saw the people with the candles and saying the rosary. The next day he went to confession. How do I know this? The priest who heard his confession related what had happened.”
Reconnected with children
In Ohio, a parishioner who had invited him to stay in her home during the statue’s visit expressed her sadness about being estranged from two of her five children. During the meal, the woman’s phone rang, and she excused herself to answer it.
"She had been praying for Our Lady to heal the parish during the time window of when the statue was there,” Sabat said. “She came back and told me, ‘That was my son. He’s never called me in a year.’”
The next morning, the woman told Sabat about another phone call she had received at 2 a.m.
“She said, ‘My daughter called and told me she would have ended her life if I had not answered the phone,’” Sabat said. “Our Lady Queen of Peace brought two of her children back to her. Those are the kinds of things people tell me.”
Sabat said despite what might be considered a growing coarsening of society and a decrease in people practicing the faith, he has never been harassed by anyone as he travels the U.S. with the pilgrim statue. On the contrary, he said, people with questions have been very respectful and open to hearing Our Lady’s message of peace.
Received warm response
“I’ve never experienced anything rude or mean, even from non-Catholics,” Sabat said. “When I fly, I open her bag so people can see her. A lot of times the captain will say, ‘We’re going to have a good flight because we have a very special passenger today.’ When I go through security, they know exactly who she is, and a conversation gets started.”
Phillip Bellini, director of religious education at Good Shepherd Parish (St. Stephen Church) on Napoleon Avenue, said he was looking for something special to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1917 apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Fatima, so he called to secure dates for the statue to be open for public viewing at seven different churches in the archdiocese Dec. 12-18, part of the statue’s tour of southern Catholic dioceses.
“The world is suffering from so much violence, division and abortion, it’s important to get Our Lady down here,” Bellini said. “That’s what the people thought on the national level – that hopefully it would heal some of the divisions within the city and would bring healing and conversion to people, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Touching all bases
Bellini said the local schedule was set up so that parishioners in all parts of the archdiocese “would not have to travel far” to see the statue.
“Six of the seven parishes also have schools, so we can get the youth involved,” Bellini said. “Most Holy Trinity in Covington doesn’t have a school, but it’s got 400 to 500 kids in CCD, so that’s great.”
Bellini said this will be the first time he has ever seen the statue because he had never been able to make a pilgrimage to Fatima.
"This is what’s so wonderful,” he said. “For people who haven’t been able to travel to Fatima, Fatima is coming to you.”
Sabat said the statue tour will take a brief hiatus during the Christmas season but resume in January in Mississippi and Alabama. The RV has already logged 21,000 miles.
“It’s about time for an oil change,” he said.
Here is a list of the parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans that will host a visit:
Dec. 12, St. Edward the Confessor, 4921 W. Metairie, Metairie: 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dec. 13, St. Stephen (Good Shepherd), 1025 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 14, St. Andrew the Apostle, 3101 Eton St., New Orleans, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dec. 15, St. Angela Merici, 901 Beverly Garden Drive, Metairie, 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Dec. 16, Most Holy Trinity, 501 Holy Trinity Drive, Covington, 8:30 a.m. to 8:15 p.m.
Dec. 17, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 1908 Short St., Kenner, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Dec. 18, Our Lady of Lourdes, 400 Westchester Blvd., Slidell, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.