The call of Fatima

Fr James Cadman is the parish priest of St Mary’s in Hawick, Jedburgh, and Kelso. Ordained as a priest in the Philippines, he is originally from Birmingham. He talks about his experience of Fatima in shaping his spiritual life.

How did you discover Fatima?

In my home parish there were Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate that were living in Croydon, who were devoted to sharing the message of Fatima. At the age of 16 I became involved with a lay apostolate called A Day With Mary, which week-by-week takes the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to parishes around London.

Second, it was through a famous Jesuit, Fr Hugh Thwaites. He was a great promoter of the Rosary. Of course, the central call of Fatima is prayer and penance. Our Lady of Fatima said that unless we pray the Rosary daily there won’t be peace in the world.

In a sense, you go to Lourdes for the body, and Fatima for the soul.

When did you first go?

My first time going was when I was 19 years old, that was my first pilgrimage. The next time I went was as a deacon when I was in seminary. My first trip after my ordination, I promised Our Lady that I would make an annual pilgrimage to a Marian shrine.

Why is it important to you?

I try to go once a year to Fatima. My vocation was guided by the prayers of Our Lady of Fatima. The Fatima message has shaped my priestly life.

Our Lady said to Sr Lucia: “Francisco and Jacinta will die before you; you will be left behind to spread devotion to my Immaculate Heart”.

When she said she was afraid to be left alone, Our Lady comforted her that she would have the refuge of her Immaculate Heart. Personally, I find consolation in that. In the life of a priest, there are many challenges – not alone our own sinfulness and shortcomings. That refuge is at the heart of what I take from Fatima.

When Our Lady appeared in 1917 the world was troubled by war, but Fatima remained a peaceful place. God uses unlikely instruments as the means of communicating his message.

Outside of the message, there’s always the people you get to know, the lives that you get to share in. I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world. There’s a great family spirit: Fatima is an experience of the universality of the Church.

How would you describe the experience?

It’s a bit like a boot camp. There’s days of devotion, hiking to do the Stations of the Cross. Of course, when you go on pilgrimage, you’re with other people – and that’s part of the penance!

But the joy of pilgrimage is to embrace these penances and to grow. It’s like Holy Hour: you sometimes have to drag yourself to go, but by the end you have to drag yourself away. I’ve seen weekly Mass-goers become daily communicants. When I look at a daily Mass congregation, inevitably, all the congregation have had some contact with a Marian pilgrimage.

What moments stand out to you?

The torchlight procession in the evenings. The candles, the prayers, the signing of the Ave, all as we follow the statue of Our Lady. In a sense, its an image of the Church walking towards heaven. The Church isn’t static, it’s always on the move.

What did the Holy Father’s Consecration of Russia mean to you?

It encouraged me. Many within the Church have worked to spread its message even at the cost of ridicule.

The young Bergoglio found what he called the ‘loving gaze’ of Jesus in the sacrament of Confession which led him to enter the Jesuit Order. I think to understand Pope Francis we need to go back to this moment of encounter, which of course is very much at the heart of the Fatima message: one of repentance and the encounter with the mercy of God. Pope Francis chose for his episcopal motto an obscure phrase given by St Bede, which was ‘lowly but chosen’.

We can see that in the three children at Fatima: lowly, but chosen. That’s often the way God works.

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