PROVIDENCE — On Sunday, January 1, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin will celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul at 1 p.m. While the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is a holy day of obligation that coincides with New Year’s Day, Catholics in the Diocese of Providence will have additional cause to celebrate this year, as the feast day also marks the beginning of the upcoming Marian Year.
“This is an opportunity to renew and to refresh our devotion to Mary that we have as Catholics,” Bishop Tobin said in a recent interview. “And also because we need her example of all her virtues and we need her prayers. Catholics for generations have turned to Mary for assistance and inspiration and we need to do that again because of our troubled world and our nation and our community and our Church.”
In October, Bishop Tobin announced that the 2017 calendar year would be celebrated as a Marian Year in the Diocese of Providence following the close of the Year of Mercy in November. Like the Year of Mercy, the Marian Year will provide special opportunities for Catholics in the diocese to increase their devotion to a particular aspect of the Catholic faith.
“It’s going to be an important year in the Church because it’s the 100th anniversary of Mary’s apparitions at Fatima and we’re going to be celebrating that particular event in the diocese along with the universal Church,” said Bishop Tobin. “But it just seemed to me that we could build on that and turn the whole year into a special time for Mary. It’s such a beautiful and important part of our Catholic faith and devotion that sometimes we forget about and overlook.”
The anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima will feature prominently in the diocesan celebrations of the Marian Year. Father Jeremy Rodrigues, director of the Office for Divine Worship, will lead a pilgrimage to the Portuguese town in August accompanied by Bishop Tobin and parishioners from the diocese. There, pilgrims will visit the site where Mary first appeared to three shepherd children as a lady clothed in brilliant white.
“I think it’s good that the bishop has taken the opportunity to call this year in light of the miraculous events of Fatima in Portugal,” said Father Rodrigues. “It’s rather timely for us, I think, and very providential.”
The first apparition to the children of Fatima occurred on May 13, 1917, several years after the start of World War I. Among other intentions, the lady asked the children to pray for world peace, a request that continues to weigh heavily on a world that can at times seem rent with war and divisions in the political sphere.
“We can certainly talk about Mary in many different aspects and many different ways, but this year, in particular, I think more than ever our world is so divisive,” said Father Rodrigues. “Everyone has sort of polarized themselves in so many different areas. And the blessed mother is a perfect example of tremendous balance for our life.”
In addition to the requests of Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop Tobin has provided monthly prayer intentions to coincide with the liturgical schedule of the Marian Year. The first intention, an increase in respect for life, especially for unborn children, places before Mary an issue close to her role as mother while supporting the efforts of pro-life advocates as they observe the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22.
“I think that a lot of single moms or women who are pregnant and found in some difficult circumstances can find in Mary a great deal of inspiration and strength,” said Bishop Tobin. “If they share in Mary’s faith and Mary’s trust, then even the most difficult of pregnancies can be a life-giving experience as it was for Mary and as it was for the world.”
The diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry has organized several opportunities for Catholics around the diocese to support Respect Life efforts during the month of January while also increasing their devotion to the Virgin Mary for the Marian Year. Between January 6 and January 30, the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will visit parishes throughout the Diocese of Providence, with various presentations, holy hours and venerations occurring during that time. Carol Owens, coordinator of Life and Family Ministry, invites all to participate and to pray in a particular way for a greater respect for life.
“People are more in tune with what’s happening and gravitating toward any opportunity to pray to Mary,” she said. “She is the patroness of the Americas. She’s everybody’s lady.”
The office will also coordinate the annual Respect Life Mass at St. Paul Church, Cranston, on Saturday, January 21, and the annual bus trip to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 27. Owens stressed that these events call upon Catholics and our nation’s leaders to protect not only the unborn, but all those who suffer from a lack of respect for human life.
“It’s not only the baby in the womb, it’s also the person on the street who’s homeless and hungry and the person at the end of life,” she said.
As the Marian Year approaches, Owens advised all to continue praying the rosary, adding that prayer, especially prayer for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an essential component of the Church’s efforts to promote greater respect for life. Prayer to the Virgin Mary has been an important part of her own life as well as her work with the Office of Life and Family Ministry.
“The greatest tool we have is praying the rosary and praying it every day,” said Owens. “I’ve had remarkable things happen. I believe Our Lady is at work.”