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Novato parish, local Portuguese community celebrate Fatima

03 PAGE FatimaprocessThe Our Lady of Loretto Parish community led by its pastor Father Brian Costello processed around the church neighborhood in Novato on July 9 with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Local Portuguese Catholics were invited by the parish to commemorate this year’s 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions. (Photos Courtesy Catherine Starek)

July 27, 2017
Christina Gray

For as many decades as she can remember, Maria Ramos and other Portuguese Catholics in and around Novato have celebrated as a community the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. This July 9, they were invited for the first time to share their festivities with Our Lady of Loretto Parish in Novato.

“Our Lady of Fatima, she belongs to all of us, to the whole universe,” Ramos said. “But we Portuguese, we feel she belongs to us. It was very gratifying to see the parish pay so much attention to Our Lady, who we consider ours.”

Our Lady of Loretto, which is honoring the 100th anniversary of the event with six months of activities, invited its Portuguese Catholic parishioners to help shape the day which began with a procession led by Father Brian Costello with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and a morning Mass. After Mass, participants enjoyed Portuguese cheese and sweetbreads.

“It was very emotional for me seeing Our Lady being so welcomed,” she said. “I am very grateful to Father Costello who welcomed us with open arms.”

Ramos, a longtime parishioner, told Catholic San Francisco that the day served to connect the parish more directly with the local Portuguese Catholic community which has been anchored to the Independent Brotherhood of the Divine Holy Ghost Society or, Irmandade de Divine Espirito Santo, Independente, since 1906. Ramos is current president of the 400-member organization.

“That day was wonderful for us because we were able to share with the American community our faith and culture and the message of Our Lady,” said Ramos, who emigrated from Portugal’s Azores Islands to Novato with her family in the 1960s.

Portuguese immigrants to early Marin County founded the Novato organization and built a block-wide historic downtown structure less than a mile from Our Lady of Loretto Parish. Among the traditions that they brought with them was an annual celebration of thanksgiving called the “Festa do Espírito Santo, or Holy Spirit Festival held on the sixth Sunday after Easter. The festival commemorates the 16th century feeding of the famine-stricken Portuguese people by Queen Isabella, who prayed to the Holy Ghost for relief and sold her crown jewels for food for her people.

Inside is a massive dining room and commercial kitchen that has been used for generations to serve traditional Portuguese meals for the Holy Spirit Festival and more recently, the Our Lady of Fatima celebrations. Upstairs is an equally large and exquisitely painted “chapel” where the statue of Our Lady of Fatima used in the July 9 procession normally resides on the altar along with other cultural and spiritual religious art work.

Somewhere along the way in the history of the organization, according to Ramos, someone donated the Fatima statue and the organization began celebrating an annual celebration of Our Lady of Fatima in addition to the Holy Spirit Festival.

Ramos and her longtime friend Zoriada Mederios, who emigrated from a different island in the Azores, told Catholic San Francisco that the Portuguese devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is as natural as a child’s devotion to his or her own mother.

“All Catholics love our Blessed Mother,” some more than others, said Mederios. “In Portuguese households though, it’s like when you go to your own mother and ask, ‘Mom, help me with this.’ Same thing.”

Ramos agreed.

“We were taught as children that we have mom on Earth and we have mom in heaven,” said Ramos, who prays to Our Lady of Fatima to look after her adult children.

“When your children grow and leave their home, as a mother you can’t protect them, she said. “I just pray to Our Lady to take care of them.”


03 children for Fatima procession 4x6 HALFChildren of the parish dressed up as the three Portuguese shepherd children, Lúcia Santos and cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917.

03 Fatima.Portugesewomen HALFPortuguese-American parishioners Zoriada Mederios and Maria Ramos belong to the Divine Holy Ghost Society in Novato founded by Portuguese immigrants.

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