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Shrine celebrates crowning of Virgin Mary statue

Worshippers at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine are observing a triple anniversary as they celebrate this afternoon's crowning of the 13-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the domed basilica and Monday's feast of Mary's assumption into heaven.

Those being honored on their anniversaries are:

The Rev. Julio M. Ciavaglia of the Barnabite Fathers, rector of the shrine, who is celebrating 45 years as an ordained priest.

The Rev. Richard M. Delzingaro, a Barnabite Father who has been ordained for 15 years.

Sister Mary Anthony Reichmuth, a Barnabite Affiliate who professed her vows as a nun 65 years ago.

As an added bonus, this weekend's worshippers also are observing the unofficial 55th anniversary of the founding of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine and the Catholic feast Monday of "Our Lady's" assumption into heaven.
"Our Lady of Fatima" is a reference to the Catholic belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared six times to three shepherd children between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917, near the town of Fatima, Portugal. She is said to have issued an urgent plea to the children for acts of prayer and sacrifice to save souls and to have prophesied the outbreak of World War II.

She also is said to have given the children a third "secret" that has not been made public but was written down in 1944 by Lucy Dos Santos, the last survivor among the three children, and has been in the possession of the Holy See since 1957. Some scholars believe the "secret" involves chaos in the Catholic Church.

There certainly is no chaos on the serene campus of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, at 1023 Swann Road, near Creek Road, in the Town of Lewiston. The quiet, rural landscape is a place of natural beauty, art, communal prayer and renewal to thousands of visitors every year.

The property is dominated by a huge domed basilica with a contour map of the Northern Hemisphere on the outside of its dome. Two flights of stairs, with 63 steps, lead up to the top of the dome, where stands the huge statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The statue, carved of Vermont granite, weighs 10 tons.

The impressive approach to the basilica is along the Avenue of the Saints, decorated with more than 100 life-size statues representing saints from every race and walk of life, and around the serenity of the Rosary Pool ringed with a huge chain representing the church's Rosary prayer beads.

The Very Rev. Robert M. Kosek, provincial superior of the North American Province of the Barnabite Fathers, presided at a Mass Saturday in the basilica in honor of the two priests and the nun who are celebrating anniversaries. The observance also "remembered all of the Barnabite Fathers who have served over the years at Fatima Shrine."

The Mass was followed by a reception in the shrine dining room hosted by the Fatima Shrine Bakers Guild with the help of the Knights of Columbus Fatima Shrine Council.

The event was billed as the 55th anniversary of the shrine, but Father Julio said the date of its founding is somewhat uncertain. There was no ceremonial groundbreaking or dedication from which the years could be counted, he said.

Rather, it has been generally accepted that the concept was developed some time in the mid-1950s and a local family donated the farm property that has become today's shrine. By common agreement, it has been decided that the shrine was born about 55 years ago.

The shrine property includes a small seminary in addition to the basilica. The original intention was that the seminary would be used to recruit new priests for the Clerics Regular of St. Paul, which is the official name of the Barnabite Fathers.

"This is gratifying and rewarding as a place to live and work," said Father Julio, who came to the shrine 23 years ago as an artist in residence. "It brings hope and peace to people who are searching for that.

"Our main ministry is confessions. We hear confessions 15 minutes before Mass every day and by appointment as well. We are not a parish; we are a shrine, a place of worship.

"Confessions are greater and more serious here than they are in many parishes. They are more needed, and they bring a tremendous sense of peace. A great deal of hope comes from our visitors."

Father Julio now is rector of the shrine, but his roots still are in his role as artist in residence. He works in multimedia daily in his studio, and his current project is in the delicate and painstaking work of stained glass.

Father Julio designed and made the stained-glass lamps on some of the outside walls, and all of the shrine's displays for the annual Festival of Lights are designed and made there.

He also has done statuary and is interested in oil painting, stage design, costuming and other media.

There are plans to expand the basilica by adding two more chapels, but Father Julio said there is no firm schedule for the expansion.

Today's events will center on the crowning of the statue of "Our Lady" at the top of the basilica. In addition to the regular Sunday Masses, there will be a Parable Players concert at 1:15 p.m.; a Voices of Mercy concert at 2; a Rosary procession, coronation of the statue and benediction at 3 with the Rev. Bernard Confer as homilist and a Rosary procession by candlelight at 8.

Monday, Catholics throughout the world will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, in the belief that the Virgin Mary died, and her body was assumpted into heaven on or about that day. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, however, the day, year and manner of her death are uncertain.

The late Pope Pius XII declared on Nov. 1, 1950, that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an infallible dogma of the Catholic faith.

Likewise, the Second Vatican Council taught that "the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things," according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Masses at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, all of them open to the public, are celebrated at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily Mondays through Saturdays and at 9 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Sundays.

Other devotions, including Bible studies, recitation of the Rosary, benediction, adoration of the Holy Eucharist and Stations of the Cross are scheduled at various times. Call 754-7489 for more information.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com