By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Sometimes, Plan B works out pretty well.
The heavens decided to bless Kansas City all day with badly needed rain on Oct. 13. That was the evening that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade had planned a one-mile candlelight procession from Divine Mercy Park to St. Patrick’s Church in Kansas City, north.
The procession was scrubbed, and the entire night of prayer and adoration was moved indoors, not knowing if anyone would show up on a nasty weather day.
But show up they did. More than 1,300 strong.
They began arriving two hours early. Faithful had packed the 550-seat church a full hour before the rosary, adoration and prayer service began, officially marking the opening of the Year of Faith in the diocese.
They soon filled up the gym in the adjacent school with another 600 or so who would watch, pray and sing the service on a giant, closed–circuit TV screen. Then they filled up the church’s daily Mass chapel, then the narthex, and even spilled outside where the church’s audio system carried the sounds.
It was a sight to behold, said Father Jim Kelleher, head of the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade, and one for which he would take no credit.
“The Virgin Mary intercedes and takes care of all these things,” said Father Kelleher after the two-hour service.
“We’re so gratified to see the joy in all these faces, and to see all the families who came,” he said.
And they came, young and not so young.
“I think it’s worth it,” said Dottie Garza, who came from St. Mark Parish in Independence. And at age 69, she had planned to walk in the procession, but was only slightly disappointed that it was cancelled.
“I am so blessed,” she said, “and this is the least I can do.”
Her friend, Theresa Bowman, walks with the help of a cane and wasn’t planning on participating in the procession even if the weather were perfect. But she did plan on fully participating in everything she could, recalling the rosary and procession in 2008 at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals, that drew thousands.
“We went to the one at the ballpark, and we wanted to experience this one, too,” Bowman said. “We want to show our support for the Year of Faith.”
Donald Zimmerman, 13, came with his parents, Mark and Christina, and his 9-year-old sister, Abby, all members of St. Gabriel Parish in Kansas City.
“I like Catholic events,” Donald said. “It helps you grow in your faith, and we pray a lot.”
Every day, said Christina, echoing the words of the late Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton whose work the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade is carrying on; “The family that prays together, stays together.”
“We also go to Mass seven days a week,” Christina said.
Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Year of Faith to begin two days earlier on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Last summer, Father Kelleher approached Bishop Robert W. Finn with the general idea of a procession, rosary, adoration and benediction on Oct. 13, the 95th anniversary of the sixth and final monthly apparition of the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal.
Quickly, the specific plan was pulled together for the Diocesan Choir to lead hymns and the singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, for five deacons each to lead a decade of the rosary of the Luminous Mysteries — the Baptism in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist — as the candlelight procession preceded the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the proclamation of the Gospel by Deacon Justin McMenamy, a reflection by Father Kelleher and a homily by Bishop Finn.
That was followed by Bishop Finn’s re-consecration of the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with benediction and a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.
Everything but the procession itself went off exactly as planned, despite the poor weather.
But the weather was also pretty crummy on Oct. 13, 1917, if you don’t like standing in a downpour in a muddy Portugese field, Father Kelleher said in his reflection.
But some 70,000 people came that day because word had spread that the Virgin had promised a miracle that day to the children — 10-year-old Lucia de los Santos and her younger cousins, the now Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto, both of whom would die three years later in the Spanish Flu pandemic.
With thousands of people, including reporters from European newspapers, pressed shoulder to shoulder, the miracle happened, Father Kelleher said.
“Suddenly, the rain ceased. The clouds separated,” he said.
“The sun started spinning, shooting streams of light a color. It got bigger and bigger as if it were the end of the world,” Father Kelleher said.
He told of one eye witness who said, “Everyone started screaming and shouting. Then I look at the ground, and the ground and my clothes were bone dry.”
The three children were oblivious to the “Miracle of the Sun,” Father Kelleher said. Instead, they were given a vision of the infant Jesus, Joseph and Mary — the Holy Family — blessing the crowd with the Sign of the Cross.
“You see tonight that families have come because you love the Holy Family, and you love Jesus,” he said, urging them to pray the rosary daily, together as a family to strengthen their families.
“You will get an outpouring of grace upon your family,” he said. “If there have been problems that day, as you pray the rosary, healing and reconciliation will come to your family.”
And the graces from the prayers that the 1,300 jammed into every corner of St. Patrick Parish offered that night would spread far beyond the church walls, throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area and the state of Missouri.
He urged the crowd to continue to pray the rosary daily and keep the graces flowing.
“Keep the rosary in your pocket or purse. Pray that first decade and the rest will fly by,” he said.
“Each one of us has a mission in life,” Father Kelleher said. “God wants each one of us to fulfill that mission.”
In his homily (page 4), Bishop Finn said that the Year of Faith, in which Catholics are called to deepen their understanding of church doctrine and unite more closely with Christ, is coming at “an extraordinary time” for the world, the United States and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“We have been through a lot. My many faults and failings have been on display,” he said.
But Bishop Finn recalled visiting a few days earlier an older priest who was gravely ill.
“He told me that God really loves our diocese to choose us for this suffering and public humiliation,” Bishop Finn said.
“He reminded me that the Holy Spirit is still in charge. What the world sees is not what God sees. God loves us a lot, he insisted. I listened,” Bishop Finn said.
“In the midst of his sufferings, this dying priest clearly believed this. With all my heart, I believe it, too,” the bishop said.
“We are working hard to correct our failures, to do more for the well-being of children and all God’s people,” he said.
“But even now, God is close to us,” Bishop Finn said. “We are going to be OK. We are going to be stronger. We are going to be holier.
“But we must ask Jesus for the faith which gives us a supernatural outlook,” he said. “We must see — by faith — beyond what the world sees.
“The Year of Faith is a providential gift to us,” Bishop Finn said. “Jesus, I believe in you. Lord, increase our faith.”