DETROIT — She has already inspired millions, and millions more still come to see her.
The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima has attracted countless pilgrims over the decades, and from July 24-31, 12 sites across the Archdiocese of Detroit hosted the world-famous statue that continues to inspire hope for the world.
Statue custodian Patrick Sabat, who is traveling with the statue on its national tour organized by the World Apostolate of Fatima, has had a front-row seat to the spiritual, emotional impact Mary has on the faithful who come to pray for her intercession.
"It's so overwhelming to see the happiness people have about seeing the statue," said Sabat, who's been the statue's full-time custodian since 2008. "They're moved to go to confession for the first time in a long time. I met a guy who had shoulder pain for years, carried the statue in 2009 when the statue was in the Archdiocese of Detroit; I met him years later, and he said his shoulder doesn't hurt anymore."
Touring with the apostolate, Sabat has countless stories of conversion, revivals of faith and relationships mended from the people who have venerated the statue that was built in 1946 and blessed by the bishop of Fatima, Portugal, on Oct. 13, 1947, 30 years after the "Great Miracle of the Sun" in Fatima, Portugal.
According to documented accounts, on that day, torrential rains stopped, the clouds broke and the sun appeared in the sky, as predicted by the three Portuguese shepherd children to whom Mary appeared in 1917. The children reported she appeared to them six times between May 13 and Oct. 13 of that year.
The statue is "a magnificent work of art," Sabat told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit. "It's the first statue where Lucia said, 'Of all the images of the Blessed Mother, this is the one I like the best.' You really can't get more of an endorsement than that."
Devotions to Our Lady of Fatima and her message of penance, prayer and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary have spread worldwide since Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto saw Mary in Fatima. Since then, pilgrims have traveled great distances to catch a glimpse of the statue, including Karen Weber and Kathy Snyder, who came from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Grand Rapids to view the statue at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth July 27.
"I did the Marian '33 Days to Morning Glory' consecration through my parish, and I completed it on May 13," said Weber, who was visiting her daughter, a Dominican sister in Ann Arbor, before making the trip.
"It seems like the eyes are looking right at you," Weber said. "With our world going crazy right now, it's good to remind ourselves of Fatima's message. Muhammad's daughter was named Fatima, and the Dominican nuns are praying for peace between Muslims and Christians. We need to educate people about the prophesies of Fatima."
In addition to attracting visitors from outside the area, the statue's visit offered local parishioners a chance to see a world-famous icon in their parochial backyards.
"Having the statue here means we have the opportunity to spend time with Mary, to pray for our community, the world," said Father Giancarlo Ghezzi, pastor of All Saints Parish in Detroit, where the statue stopped July 26.
"This is great for the community; we have people from the city coming from all over to our parish," said Father Ghezzi, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. "It's a famous statue, renown throughout the world, and people want to give homage. Mary asked for prayer, sacrifice and conversion. These are Christian values we must live every day."
Those with special devotions to Mary had a chance to get up close and personal with the statue.
"When you look at it, it's a statue, but you see much more in person," Charles Greenwood, a Christ the King parishioner in Ann Arbor, told The Michigan Catholic during the statue's visit at Our Lady of Good Counsel. "Fatima has always had a special part in my life. My wife is in a wheelchair; through the ups and downs, through all the surgeries, Fatima has always been a big help. She's such a big part of our lives."
As the statue traveled through the archdiocese, thousands of locals relished the chance for their own personal, intimate moment with Mary.
"I was here for when St. Maria Goretti's body was displayed," said Jim Patton, Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner. "But this is different, this is amazing. I'm praying for my wife with dementia, so I prayed a rosary in the presence of the statue. I wanted to be here, with just being who she is. I asked her to intercede through Jesus on my wife's behalf."
— Dan Meloy, Catholic News Service