By Rev Fr (Prof.) Fidelis I Agwulonu
May 13 (Newshour.com.ng) – Childhood memories remain sweet, and get sweeter as long as one advances in age, with a desire to grasp the distant past full of unalloyed innocence and tenacious inclinations to the Divine. The elusive past of childhood (in a loose sense) is a déjà vu of Plato’s idealistic world (or world of forms) in a very diminished and conservative connotation, as most of what one encounters in advanced age will only be measured by the yardstick of the purity and transcendental perfections of the formative years, believed to belong to the sanity of angelic standards, and vivid reminiscences. Classmates spend more time on varied platforms, recalling the sweet days of yore: the errors and glories, failures and wins, wretched helplessness of certain situations with the concomitant risks, yet the succeses of salvaging interventions by parents and caregivers, including mischievous helpers who pilfered from the lunchbox, yet threatening to kick the little human beings if they ever reported to parents.
So, at the formative assessment of childhood, one recalls the ever eventful Saturdays, that happen to be May 13th, which faithfully occur every six years, when school attendance during the weekdays would not interfere with May 13th Bloc Rosary Congress. Incidentally, today, is Saturday, May 13, 2023.
Children received the formation at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Bloc Rosary Centres, and each day was a year-long anticipated preparation for the next year’s Bloc Rosary Congress on May 13th (or the next Saturday after it). The Catholic prayers especially the Rosary, the Litany in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Marian Hymns, the Catena, the Angelus, penny Catechisms, and stories about the three children of Fatima and other children-friends of the Blessed Virgin like St Bernadette of Lourdes, were learnt and retold. Being a child from a Catholic family, was a foundational prepaideutic for the infantile formations in spirituality that usually guided many a faithful Catholic adult to higher attainment of fruitful engagement with the benefices of a continuous studentship at the feet of the Seat of Wisdom, Mary Mother of God.
It had its prices: In order to be a good child and to be allowed to attend the Bloc Rosary Congress as a member, one had to do house chores and finished satisfactorily before before 5pm. Having dressed neatly, one was not to be reported by family and relations as insulting the seniors nor beating up the younger ones. The one had to do well in school and not have the workbook dainted with red pen and the Zero mark. The very ‘Mortal Sin’ of stealing and or dipping hands into the pot of soup should never be heard among the least of the brethren. With all these unwritten laws observed, and being saintly-garbed in the immaculate white attire, with the Rosary and/or Marian Miraculous Medals hung on the neck (which comes to mind each time I remember Chimamanda Adichie’s cover title: The Thing Around Your Neck), each child filed up in two concomitant lines. Led by the bossy and domineering senior, usually a girl carrying the picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and singing that lovely composition of the Fatima Hymn (N’Obodo Fatima, na 1917…) IN THE TOWN OF FATIMA, IN 1917…, each Bloc Rosary Centre marched joyfully towards (usually) the Parish Centre for the Congress. Sometimes, the convergence points might take over an hour, from multiple micro-centres, under the sun and sometimes the rains of the month of May. Crested and predictable like Lilliputian Soldiers in their infantile military formations, these ‘Legions of Mary’ assembled for the day, for an encounter with Mary. Every Centre displayed their own Statues or Pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Mary-Fair of sorts, with the decorous venerating reverential bows when passing each mini shrine of each centre displayed at the Parish Church or common halls. This lovely bowing and expression of a kiss to the Holy Images of the Virgin Mary, I would fondly refer to as PROSKYNESIS in its Greek language term.
To be denied the opportunity of attending the Congress is, to say the least, unconscionable on the part of whoever weilded that authority, in spite of the fact that this journey could mean being beaten by the bossy leader who does not smile with the truant members nor allow anyone to buy candies and cookies on the way. It was an exciting adventure of faith, a day to see other children from other Bloc Rosary Centres, arrive at in Church, sing and pray, look around and see new things (as children love to look and look and look to see new things to talk about when they got home). No one ever saw the Virgin Mary, nor heard her voice; she never served ice-cream nor Pop-Corn, no one ever fed from Her Eldorado kitchen of delightful dishes, but every child got something more than Cinderella’s coloured stick candies and the Cakes of Disney Junior, but the inexplicable joy of being ‘a CHILD OF MARY”. Those were gatherings of love and spiritual fulfilment, a prayer and social adventure, mind-blowing walk of faith; in fact, strides to ‘Mount Olympus’.
Parents were very trusting and believing, that their wards would go for the Rosary Congress and return safely, under the care of the slightly senior members, who could be roughly in their fifteen or sixteen years. Those kids were usually ‘in the shelter of Elyon, and abideth in the shade of Shaddai’ (Psalm 90:1). Children always invoked the Mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary to cover them, and there were nerve reported any incidents of doubt nor loss. Those were the days before the importation of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and political violence, as part of the dividends of democracy and illegal mining in Nigeria. Parishes today are within short distances from different homes and Centres, and easier to access than there were before 2007. Most devotees to the Blessed Virgin Mary and other Saints, the Legionaries, Blue Army of Our Lady, Purgatorians and especially Apostleship of Prayer (Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary) Charismatics and Bible Study Groups, had their unshakable formations at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Despite the multiple denigrating comments and atracks against the person of and venerative devotions to the Mother of God, the love for the Bright Star of the Sea never faded and will never fade, for those who love Mary as Mother and Mediatrix of all graces.
So, on February March 13, 1917, the Queen of Heaven visited the Kingdom of God and of His Christ on Earth. It was at the peak of the First World War, when humanity suffered cruelty in the hands of deranged opposing political ideologists. It was regarded as one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. The Holy Virgin appeared to the three Shepherd children of Fatima in Portugal, asking them to pray for peace in the world and an end to the war. She instructed them to make reparations for the sins of the world.
The Angel of Peace taught them to say this prayer thrice: “My God, I believe, adore, hope and love you! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you”. Mary made frequent visits to see these children, Lucy, Francesco and Jacinta, from May through October, 1917, on the 13th days of these months. Little wonder, May 13th is ‘Children’s Day’ with their friend who loves thems from Heaven and visits them on the 13th, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mystical Rose, Beautiful Bride. To encourage children to build their spiritual lives around and upon the love of Mary is plausible, and a sustainable avenue to knowing and loving God. Since she is the Star of the Sea, we accept Leonardo Da Vinci’s saying that: “Whoever follows the right Star never misses his (her) path”.
Portugal has been a Christian Country, so why is there a city called Fatima, which is a symbolic name in Islam? Story has it that a 12th Century Moorish Princess whose name was Fatima, was kidnapped by a Christian Knight. She fell in love with her kidnapper, and converted from Islam to Christianity in order to marry him. She was baptized and named OUREANA, but the Arabic name was more popular, reminder of her Muslim origin. Our Lady is Lady over every Queen, even of the very outstanding female name in Islam, which is FATIMA, because Mary is: “Blessed among all women”. The Quranic Islamic figure, Fatima, was born in about 604 CE, and was the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad and his first wife Khadija. Fatima means – one who is beautiful like the Stars; and we know who it points to.
Covered by the Mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Saint John Paul II survived an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, at the St Peter’s, Vatican City, by Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot the Pope twice. He had bent to carry a child, when the shooter pomped the bullets into him, making him lose lots of blood. God saved the Pope, after surgical operations. Miraculously, through prayers of the Church, and especially, that of the Blessed Virgin of the Visitation of May 13th, the Pope survived; he dedicated himself to the Blessed Mother, with the words: TOTUS TUUS (wholly thine). Those who love Mother Mary, and Children (her beloved little ones) usually enjoy plenitude of graces (we could say, in a participatory way, GRATIA PLENA). Mehmet Ali Agca was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Italian Courts, but at the request of Pope John Paul II, he was granted pardon and released, but deported to Turkiye. Agca converted to Catholicism in 2007.
With these in mind, whisper a prayer today to the Blessed Mother, and never miss saying the Rosary, which is part of the May Devotion, in honour of her visit to Fatima in 1917. Children are encouraged, especially at this time, in this age of conflict and conflicting culture, to immerse themselves in this ageless practice of the Bloc Rosary, and FLY TO HER PATRONAGE, who always protects Her Children. Parents should ensure that medals and scapulars hang around the necks of their wards, with the Rosary ever at their fingers. May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for us. Amen.
Rev Fr (Prof.) Fidelis I Agwulonu
May 13, 2023
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