Father Robert Maro, the administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Newtowne, leads an Oct. 13 Eucharistic procession following a Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Leonardtown marking the 100th anniversary of the sixth and final Marian apparition at Fatima, Portugal. The events drew more than 400 people from throughout St. Mary’s County. CS PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HOYT
Father Robert Maro, the administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Newtowne, leads an Oct. 13 Eucharistic procession following a Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Leonardtown marking the 100th anniversary of the sixth and final Marian apparition at Fatima, Portugal. The events drew more than 400 people from throughout St. Mary’s County. CS PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HOYT

On a mild fall Friday evening, Dan and Esther Seep went on a walk with four of their children, who ranged in age from 5 months to 16 years old.

But on this night, they were joined by more than 400 other Catholics from throughout St. Mary’s County, Maryland, who processed together in a line stretching several blocks along the main street of Leonardtown, the county seat, holding small, flickering candles, praying the rosary and singing songs honoring Mary, as they joined a Eucharistic procession and followed a statue of Our Lady of Fatima carried from St. Aloysius Church to the town square and back.

On Oct. 13 – the exact 100th anniversary of the sixth and final apparition of Mary to three shepherd children in 1917 at Fatima, Portugal, that included the famous “Miracle of the Sun” – Southern Maryland Catholics were encouraged to share Christ’s light with others during a Votive Mass to Our Lady of Fatima at St. Aloysius Church, and then they joined the procession to do just that.

“On this 100th anniversary of Fatima, we’re just living out that prayer and repentance she (Mary) asked us to do for the world,” Dan Seep told the Catholic Standard afterward. “We just wanted to be part of this beacon of light in Southern Maryland.”

The procession had wound down Washington Street past historic homes, an ice cream parlor, restaurants, the town’s post office, an art studio, a Catholic gift shop, two bars, a car dealership, a hair salon, an insurance agency, a dentist’s office and a floral shop. As they passed the town square, the participants sang “Salve Regina.”

Four members of the Knights of Columbus lifted the posts of a canopy that hung above Father Robert Maro, the administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Newtowne, as he solemnly led the procession, holding aloft a monstrance bearing the Blessed Sacrament. The priest also served as the main celebrant of the Mass, joined at the liturgy by eight other priests from throughout the county. One of the priests heard Confessions during Mass, in a confessional at the back of the church.

Also helping to lead the procession were eight seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington who carried the supporting beams of a platform bearing an ornate statue of Our Lady of Fatima, with an array of flowers at her feet.

The crowd prayed and sang as they walked together, their candles forming points of light in the darkness. The procession included senior citizens, families with young children, young adults, and students wearing their Catholic elementary school uniforms. Parents pushed babies in strollers, and one man steered his motorized wheelchair alongside the procession.

Dan Seep – whose family attends St. John Francis Regis Parish in Hollywood, Maryland –said the procession caught the attention of people at the businesses still open along the street, and in the cars temporarily stopped in traffic. “Some people at the bar said, ‘Thank you for your witness to the Lord.’”

In his homily at the Mass, Father Michael Tietjen – the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Mechanicsville – said Mary’s message of “conversion and hope” to the three shepherd children in Fatima 100 years ago, “is an ongoing message as timeless as the Gospel itself, because it is the Gospel.”

The priest, who joined a group of Southern Maryland Catholics on a pilgrimage to Fatima in July, encouraged people to share that message of prayer and sacrifice and turning away from sin.

“What we do really matters. We have to be reminded one person can make a difference,” he said, saying people can help bring Christ to family members, friends and coworkers who have fallen away from the faith.

Father Tietjen noted that in the past century, many saints took up that call around the world. “We too are called to be great saints...” Earlier, he said, “Our Lady came to three very small children. Our Lord took 12 uneducated men (as his apostles), and they transformed the world… We have to make a difference. Much is at stake, not only our eternal salvation, but that of others.”

In his homily, the priest also used imagery that had added poignance later as the people walked together out of the church to join the procession in the evening darkness. Prayer, he said, can convert people’s own hearts, and help convert the hearts of others. “How well is my candle lit?” he said, asking people to reflect on how they are reflecting the love and mercy of Jesus to those around them.

Concluding his homily, Father Tietjen asked people to pray that they can be “beacons of faith to those who don’t know God.”

After Communion, people prayed together during Eucharistic Adoration and recited the prayer of total consecration to Jesus through Mary, popularized by St. Louis de Montfort.

That day, Sybil Costanzo of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lexington Park had watched the Fatima anniversary events on EWTN, and that evening, she had joined the standing-room crowd at the Fatima centenary Mass and procession at St. Aloysius Church. “It was beautiful. It gave us more strength and courage to be good Christian people,” she said.

Also standing outside St. Aloysius Church afterward were several women from St. Mary’s Parish in Newport who had joined the pilgrimage to Fatima this summer. Renee Ward said the evening had, in a way, replicated their Fatima experience, and Shelly Ward added, “It was so cool” to see the statue of Our Lady of Fatima carried in a procession “on our own home turf.”

“It’s so touching to see how the message brought to the children 100 years ago is still being carried out today, a message of prayer and peace,” Renee Ward said, and Shelly Ward added, “It’s still converting people today.”

The people had been welcomed to the votive Mass by Father David Beaubien, the pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, who said, “May God bless you all and bring you ever closer to Mary, who brings us ever closer to Jesus.”

The priest, who sang in the choir at the Mass, noted that the liturgy and procession were the culmination of a joint effort among the 15 parishes in St. Mary’s County, who had encouraged area Catholics to join a month-long period of preparation and small group discussions leading to the prayer of consecration at the anniversary Mass, inspired by Our Lady of Fatima’s message from 100 years ago.

Their public witness of faith, he said, was very inspiring, and very humbling to him.

“It tells me there is this strong core of faith in each of our parishes, and they come together for opportunities like this,” Father Beaubien said.

Jerry Andrews, a seminarian for the archdiocese who served as a candlebearer to help lead the procession, said it was very moving for him to look back and see the long line of people praying together as they walked along the town’s main street on a Friday evening. “It witnesses that what we believe is important, and it can also serve as an invitation for people, that they can join us as well,” he said.

After singing in the choir during the Mass, Augustine Ponturiero, a member of St. Aloysius Parish, said he hung back near the end of the procession, to take in the sight of the Blessed Sacrament, statue of Our Lady, and the crowd of Catholics processing to and from the church. He said one man in a car stopped in traffic asked what was going on, and was impressed by what he saw.

To Ponturiero, the Mass and procession in Southern Maryland honoring Our Lady 100 years after her final apparition in Fatima demonstrated “how incredibly strong and vibrant our Catholic faith still is… It made a nice impact on the community.”