Parishioners pray before the pilgrim Our Lady of Fatima statue at St. James Church in Abbotsford. The World Apostolate of Fatima wants to revive devotion to Our Lady of Fatima in Canada. (Paul Schratz photo)

Our Lady of Fatima’s visit to Vancouver: a decade-long journey

For Ethelyn David, Catholic event organizing seems to be second nature. From Marian conferences to parish missions, she has been promoting and coordinating celebrations of faith and devotion across the Archdiocese of Vancouver through her Mediatrix Conferences organization.

But she hadn’t intended to be front and centre in Our Lady of Fatima’s visit to Vancouver. She isn’t even sure how it happened, although it seems to have started 10 years ago in Chicago.

Our Lady visits her namesake parish in Vancouver, Our Lady of Fatima Portuguese Church. (Ethelyn David photo)

She was attending a Catholic conference where she met David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima. “We were talking, and I said, ‘David, I’d love to work with you one day. I don’t know how. I don’t know when, but let’s see how it goes.’”

Father William Ashley crowns Our Lady at St. James, Abbotsford
Parishioners at St. James.

Over the years, they remained in touch, running into each other from time to time at events. Suddenly, three months ago, she received a call from the World Apostolate of Fatima, organizers of the pilgrim Our Lady of Fatima statue tour that spreads the message of Fatima around the world.

“We would like to bring Our Lady to Vancouver,” they told her. “She’s travelled around the world for 77 years, visiting 105 different countries. She’s been to Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, but she’s never been to Vancouver.”

Startled but undaunted, David replied, “OK, what is it that you need?”

Officials needed someone who could organize an archdiocesan tour from April 1 to 14. Ideally, it would be someone who knows the Archbishop and the priests in the Archdiocese.

“I said, ‘I think it would be me.’”

She called Archbishop Miller and asked, ‘Your Grace, is this something you’d like?’ He said, ‘Yes. Go for it. Take care of it.’”

Knights of Columbus honour guard at Immaculate Conception Church in Delta. (Ethelyn David photo)

Although tour officials were accustomed to having days off between parish visits, David decided a 14-day tour demanded 14 parishes.

“I found 14 of my favourite priests, and some of them said yes right away.” She kept contacting parishes until she had 14 in place.

Then she started getting additional requests.

Speaking at St. James in Abbotsford as the statue was being prepared for a procession into the church, David said St. James wasn’t originally on the list. But she received a phone call from pastor Father William Ashley. “He said, ‘Please, please, please, can you bring her out here? I’m a huge devotee.’ I said OK.”

Then Father Giovanni Schiesari in Chilliwack asked if she could visit his parish of St. Mary’s. As providence would have it, some parishes that had planned to host the statue weren’t able to, and Mary was able to visit 16 parishes.

The statue, which flies in its own dedicated seat on aircraft, is accompanied by a custodian who ensures she’s safely handled. Our Lady’s custodian during the end of her visit to the Archdiocese of Vancouver was Patrick Sabat, who described the history of the world-famous travelling statue.

“That she may lead us to Jesus.” Our Lady of Mercy Church in Burnaby. (Ethelyn David photo)

Created by artist Jose Thedim, known as the “Michelangelo of Portugal,” the statue is modelled on the original statue at Fatima, which wears the crown containing the bullet that hit Pope St. John Paul II in 1981.

The second statue was made under the direction of Fatima seer and future saint Sister Lucia, who guided the artist in some changes to achieve “as close to the likeness of the Virgin Mary as possible.”

Sabat described how the statue was carved from mahogany, with Sister Lucia keeping the image faithful to her appearance and instructing the artist on what changes to make.

In the end, Sister Lucia said the likeness of Mary on the pilgrim statue was the best she had seen of the Blessed Mother. Even the artist is said to have knelt down before her after completing his work, the only time he ever did so.

The statue was blessed and commissioned for its international mission on Oct. 13, 1947, in the presence of 150,000 pilgrims at Fatima by Bishop José Alves Correia da Silva. The statue has been travelling ever since, resulting in miracles as she directs people toward her son, said Sabat. “We are to do the same.”

Relics of Fatima children Saints Francisco and Jacinta were also displayed for veneration.

Although he’s called a custodian, Sabat said he’s more of a companion, knight, or guard. But his favourite title is “Our Lady’s Donkey” as he carries her around the world.

Part of his job is to ask that people not touch the statue. A sign displayed at Mary’s feet says, “Do not touch me. I will touch you.” It appears Mary is already touching hearts in the Archdiocese as the Fatima apostolate becomes more established in Canada.

Called “Our Lady’s Blue Army,” Sabat said Mary’s troops are called to pray for the conversion of sinners as she asked at Fatima. “It’s a spiritual army on our knees, praying the Rosary, with hearts open to Mary.”

School children pay a visit at Our Lady of Fatima in Vancouver. (Ethelyn David photo)

He quotes St. John Chrysostom, who said, “By virtue of our baptism in Christ, we become a living catechism.” As Sabat gestures toward Mary, with her serious gaze but loving face, he reminds those in the pew of Mary’s message: “To pray. That is what it’s all about, that she may lead us to Jesus.”

It’s been a busy two weeks for Sabat and David, who admits that 12-hour schedules and no days off are tiring, especially for Mary’s custodian.

Archbishop Miller meets with Ethelyn David and David Carollo. (Archdiocese of Vancouver photo)

She was happy that Carollo, had a role in the launch of Mary’s journey to Vancouver 10 years ago, was able to visit during the tour, meeting with her and with Archbishop Miller. They discovered they all belong to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. And then Carollo, delighted with the Vancouver pilgrimage, sprung a surprise on David.

The world apostolate wants to revive devotion to Our Lady of Fatima in Canada, he said. To do that, the Blue Army needed a Canadian liaison.

No surprise, Ethelyn David is the new Blue Army representative for Canada. No surprise, she’s already looking at her first challenge, a return visit. “Demand has been really big, so we’re talking about bringing her back next year.”

The 2025 tour is scheduled for July 13-26.


Scroll to top
Skip to content