SOUTH BEND — “What is the most important question in the world today?” began William Sockey, custodian of the USA Pilgrim Virgin Statue. Speaking to an assembly of Saint Joseph High School students, Sockey proffered, “Does God exist? That’s the fundamental question that is being discussed. Because if He does exist it makes all the difference.”
Former Vice President of the World Apostolate of Fatima (formerly known as the Blue Army), Sockey has been the caretaker of the National Pilgrim Statue for six years. It is his austere duty to protect the statue and to traverse the country heralding a message of peace, conversion and salvation through prayer and sacrifice.
The statue is an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as she appeared to Sister Lucia of Fatima, Portugal. Blessed by Pope Francis in October of last year for the purposes of the New Evangelization, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades encouraged all parishes and schools in the diocese to welcome the statue and to learn from Sockey the important messages associated with Fatima.
Quoting from St. John Paul II, Sockey told his student audience that the Fatima message is more urgent today than when it was first received in 1917. That was a time of horrific warfare in Europe. Pope Benedict XV, after numerous failed attempts to broker peace between world leaders, asked that a prayer novena be made to the Blessed Mother under the title “Queen of Peace.” Eight days later, on May 13, 1917, heaven responded. Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field in rural Portugal.
The central messages of Fatima, Sockey suggested, are “to be convinced of the existence of God, to realize the truth of the Catholic faith, and to be motivated to participate in the salvation of souls through the simple daily offering of prayers and all of our daily suffering.”
“The only thing that matters in the whole universe,” he exhorted his teenage audience, “is how many souls make it to heaven. Our principle job is to renew the face of the earth by bringing souls into the state of grace, primarily through prayer and sacrifice.”
The students listened in rapt attention as Sockey described the appearance of the Angel of Peace, who prepared the little shepherd children for the Blessed Mother’s coming. The description of Mary and her instructions to the children, the heroic response of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta to her call for prayer and sacrifice, the subsequent arrest of the children by the political authorities and the amazing miracle of the sun that took place on Oct. 13, 1917, kept his Saint Joseph audience reverently attentive.
Emily Anderson, a junior at Saint Joseph High School, agreed, “as the presenter said, one of the major questions today is, ‘Does God exist?’ I felt that the presentation was important because Fatima was and still is such an important part of Catholic (devotion). It is distinctive proof that God is there and looking out for us every single day. By having students go to this presentation, I feel like many are going to reevaluate their faith because this event is so extraordinary and awestriking. By raising awareness for it, more young people can see how God works in our daily lives.”
Stanley Liponoga, IV, the principal of Most Precious Blood School, Fort Wayne, noted similar reactions to the visit of Our Lady’s statue to his school on Sept. 17.
“It was a powerful presentation and moving for all of our students to hear the miraculous stories,” he said. “A student said to me, ‘I felt a really powerful presence when I venerated Mary (the statue).’ Other students expressed amazement over the presentation. Christ was alive in them. It was great to hear them continuing the conversation during their own social time.”
Carol Bunt, corresponding secretary, World Apostolate of Fatima, Fort Wayne-South Bend Division, sought to impress the students assembled of the graces that can be gathered simply by venerating blessed images of Our Lady.
She explained, “We can’t all go to Fatima, so today Fatima has come to you. Take this time to realize whenever there is a special image of Our Lady, like this statue of Our Lady of Fatima, she has many blessings that she wants to hand out. So take this time to ponder some situations in your life for which you would like to have Our Lady’s graces and ask her for them.”
Students finished the presentation by praying aloud the prayers offered on the World Apostolate of Fatima website (wafusa.org).
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