Despite Sister Lucia’s misgivings after the start of World War II that the message of Fatima was not getting out to the world, one could say that she is ultimately responsible for its spread worldwide. Not only did she help formulate the Blue Army Pledge that is still used today, she guided the work of José Thedim—the “Michaelangelo of Portugal”—in creating the image of the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima that has now been traveling for 75 years and has touched millions of souls, helping them take up her requests for prayer, penance and sanctification of their daily lives.
On Oct. 13, 1947, the statue was blessed by the bishop of Fatima, Jose Alves Correia da Silva, in the presence of hundreds of thousands of people, and sent to America to be crowned as the Pilgrim Virgin Statue that would travel from North America.
Haffert desired that the statue would be crowned in New York to begin her missionary work, but neglecting to consult with His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman first, he brought the statue to Ottawa, Canada, where it was solemnly crowned by Most Rev. Alexandre Vachon, DD, archbishop of Ottawa. Some 100,000 faithful packed the stadium at the Ottawa University. Nearly 200 priests, together with the archbishop, knelt to recite the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Newspapers reported the next morning on the scale of the event and the archbishop’s homily that outlined the Message of Fatima.
One of the priests present for the ceremonies was Archbishop John F. O’Hara, CSC of the Diocese of Buffalo. He was so impressed by the occasion that he asked to have the statue enter the U.S. through his diocese when its Canadian tour ended.
On Dec. 8, 1947, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the statue crossed the border into the United States where it was greeted by Bishop O’Hara. Haffert writes, “The Buffalo police recorded that for the visit of the statue to their city, they witnessed the greatest traffic jams in their history. One nationally-recognized newspaper reporter, who was commenting at the end of that year on the greatest news events of the past twelve months, cited—out of all the news of the world that year—the visit of the Pilgrim Virgin Statue as the most outstanding.”
With Bishop O’Hara’s help, requests came pouring in from other U.S. bishops asking for the statue in their dioceses, and thus began the travels of the Pilgrim Virgin Statue.
The Pilgrim Virgin touches millions of lives
In the intervening years, under the direction of its first custodian, Monsignor William C. McGrath of the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society, the Pilgrim Virgin Statue visited more than 50 dioceses in Canada and the United States, attracting crowds in the hundreds of thousands. The message of Fatima was preached to more than 5 million people coast to coast.
Monsignor McGrath states in his book Fatima or World Suicide: “Two things we have learned during the course of the Fatima Pilgrimage that has already taken us to more than fifty diocese in these United States. First of all, the countless, unceasing miracles of grace, whereby sinners have returned to the sacraments in almost every one of the 900 parishes visited, are evidence of the fact that the Blessed Mother is calling her own children back to the wounded Heart of her Divine Son, in preparation for whatever may lie ahead in the uncertain days before us. In their thousands, to the amazement of priests from end to end of America, they have returned to the sacraments…Repeatedly, we have been told that nothing like this has ever been seen before and it is idle to seek any merely human explanation.”
The second thing we have learned is that the little people are keenly aware of the significance of the Age of Mary. They have been bitterly, almost cynically disillusioned by our human leadership and now, in their millions, are turning not to Big Fours or United Nations, but to Mary, the Mother of God. …Something truly cataclysmic is in the offing and they are hastening to make their peace with God.”
National Pilgrim Virgin Statues assigned to various countries
In its first two decades, the Pilgrim Virgin Statue’s mission had become one to the universal Church. The statue had already had been to numerous countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Within 25 years, it had visited every single country of the free world, according to Haffert. Its 1965 visit to Vietnam was so powerful, with great crowds attending, that “the Vietnamese did not want the statue to leave their war-torn country and pleaded that the statue remain until hostilities were over,” writes Haffert. That plea was the basis for 25 National Pilgrim Virgin Statues that were commissioned and blessed for various nations – the first one going to Vietnam.
In 1967, the first around-the-world peace flight ensued with Bishop Joao Pereira Venancio of Fatima, who personally delivered the national statues to the other 24 nations.
Peace Flight to Moscow
In subsequent years the statue reached from South America to India, from Europe to Asia, traveling to more than 100 countries and touching millions more people. The most famous “peace flight” occurred in October of 1992, after the fall of Communism, when John Haffert made a pilgrimage to Moscow with the Pilgrim Virgin Statue, accompanied by two jumbo jets full of pilgrims (over 900 people). The statue was brought into Red Square where it was crowned in front of Vladimir Lenin’s tomb.
John Haffert stated, “If we started to speak of all the wonders, the crowds, the miracles, there would be room for nothing else in this ‘history.’”
Those who have been privileged to travel with the statue as one its custodians have seen many miraculous and unexplainable events, attributed to the favors of Mary. But most will say the greatest miracles are those of the heart – conversions – people returning to the Church and sacraments, tears of joy and sadness, people strengthened in faith and hope, and all of them not wanting Our Lady to leave.
Today the statue travels under the auspice of the World Apostolate of Fatima USA under the direction of Patrick Sabat, the primary custodian since 2010.
The Pilgrim Virgin Statue completed its second coast-to-coast tour of America during the Fatima Centennial, 2016-2017, reaching all 50 states and 145 dioceses.
She continues her travels to new generations in need of the Mother’s message from heaven.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Soul Magazine. To learn more about statue tours visit bluearmy.com/statue-tours or contact Patrick Sabat, PVS Program Manager, [email protected].