On March 12, 1950, Auckland Bishop James Liston blessed and dedicated the first shrine in New Zealand to Our Lady of Fatima.
The shrine was situated in the parish of Meadowbank which was only two years old at that time. The Carmelite fathers ran the parish from the church which was made from two American Quonset huts used in World War II.
Fast forward to 2016 and hardly anyone remembered the parish as being a shrine until parish priest Fr Sam Pulanco and his assistant, Dadai Norman, ran across a book called Diary of the Parish of Our Lady of Fatima 1949 -1971 written by Carmelite Fathers G. P. Clery and L. P. Harney.
“I asked other priests and they didn’t know this was a national shrine. As we are going to have the centennial [in 2017] of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima to the three children, I think it is important to remember that this parish is the national shrine,” he said.
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the shrine, Zealandia reported on March 2, 1950, came from “Fatima where it was blessed in the presence of 100,000 pilgrims on October 13, 1948.”
It was created by Portuguese sculptor of sacred art Guilherme Ferreira Thedim in 1948 and was formally enthroned after the blessing of the Meadowbank church and the inauguration of the shrine.
Mrs Norman said after Vatican II, devotions and novenas were discouraged and the shrine became less popular.
“Probably, also because the Carmelite Fathers moved back to Australia in the 1970’s. They were behind the devotions. And when they left the diocese, the devotions stopped,” she added.
Fr Pulanco and Mrs Norman tapped another parishioner, Vivian Chow, and formed a small committee to coordinate a Marian pilgrimage next year and other projects celebrating Mother Mary’s Fatima apparitions.
Mrs Chow, who converted to Catholicism more than 30 years ago, said this was a real honour for her.
“I studied in a Catholic school in Malaysia as a young girl. The sisters would always tell me when I have a problem to pray to Mother Mary,” she said.
Though she did not grew up with novenas, she said she finds the prayers are now striking a chord within her.
“There is so much violence in the world. Some parts of the world is torn up, disguised as religious zeal,” she said. “We need to promote the rosary devotion.”
Mrs Norman echoed this sentiment. “We need to rekindle the devotion,” she said.
Fr Pulanco said they are preparing novena Masses for next year.
“We will be inviting the different parishes [in Auckland diocese] named after the Blessed Mother to our Masses. We will assign the parishes who wish to take part a night when their parish priest would celebrate the Mass,” he said.
Fr Pulanco said when he arrived at the parish in February, 2015, he had already started on novenas and processions without realising that the parish was a national shrine.
He said Meadowbank in the 1950s had been the site of many Marian festivals.
“The statue of Our Lady of Fatima itself travelled first to Whangarei, Kaitaia, Auckland, Opotiki, Whakatane, Hamilton and finally back to Auckland, “ Fr Pulanco added.
“Why did she move so much? Probably because the statue was trying to find a home.”