An Teaghlach Naofa

Roses for Mary

“You are all beautiful, O Mary! You are the glory, you are the joy, you are the honour of our people”.

It’s 7 a.m. and the parish priest opens the large doors of the oldest church in the city and a new day begins in the life of St. Mary’s. People waiting outside in the crisp morning air welcome the warmth of the church, stopping to bless themselves at the holy water font before making their way to their usual place. Ordinary people, from all walks of life, each in quiet reverence, offering their morning prayers. Some are praying the rosary on their beads, some sit in quiet contemplation, others light candles and some bring roses for Mary. In the centre of the altar, the tabernacle, sits on an old chest of drawers from penal times, a reminder of the stoic faith of our fathers when masses were celebrated in safe houses. On the left of the main altar, is Our Lady’s altar and, to the right, St. Joseph’s altar - The Holy Family of Nazareth. In the little adoration chapel it is the same, Mary and Joseph on each side of their beloved Child.

Roses for MaryA statue of Our Lady of Fatima, stands at Our Lady’s altar, in a bed of roses. Outside, in the garden, the grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, is filled with all varieties of flowers. At the left gate of the Church, a statue of Our Lady of the Garden and in the back porch a picture of The Immaculate Heart of Mary from a 1954 diocesan rosary crusade on which is written “You are all beautiful, O Mary! You are the glory, you are the joy, you are the honour of our people”. Our Lady is everywhere in this beautiful church, called in Her name. St. Mary’s was also my mother’s favourite chapel, she often came here to pray to Our Lady for a baby, a prayer answered five times. My own earliest memory of praying to Our Lady, gathering cut roses in the garden, and bringing them to the May altar with my mother and praying a Hail Mary.

The rose is the flower most associated with Our Lady. Cardinal Newman said, “Mary is the most beautiful flower that ever was seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there have ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory. And Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers and therefore She is called The Rose, for the rose is fitly called the most beautiful of flowers. Moreover, She is The Mystical Rose for She is hidden”.

Bringing roses to Mary, is a long standing tradition in the church. St. Bernard of Clairvaux compared Our Lady’s virginity to a white rose and her charity to a red rose. In 1979, Pope John Paul II presented a rose of gold to Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, in Knock, as a testimony to his gratitude to Mary, when he also said, “we entrust to your motherly care the land of Ireland, where you have been and are so much loved. Help this land to stay true to you and your Son always”. In 2013, Pope Francis sent a golden rose to Our Lady of Guadelupe describing it as “a sign of love, gratitude and enthusiasm”. In presenting the rose to Our Lady on behalf of The Holy Father, Cardinal Oullet prayed, “we beg you to visit us again to illumine the path of the evangelisation in our age, which is so forgetful of God, for you are the living memory of His graces, the polestar in the heaven of His wonders”. In 2010, Pope Benedict brought a golden rose to Our Lady of Fatima, as “a homage of gratitude for the marvels that the Almighty worked through you in the hearts of so many who come as pilgrims to this your maternal home”. Each of the papal roses, are made of gold, as gold is the most precious metal.

St. Ambrose believed that there were roses in the Garden of Eden, initially without thorns, but after the fall, roses became thorny. The Blessed Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as a “Rose Without Thorns”. The Little Flower said that after her death, she would let fall a shower of roses from heaven. There have been many miracles associated with roses. During the Miracle Of The Sun on 13th October 1917, rose petals fell from the sky. When Juan Diego carried Castille roses from Our Lady of Guadelupe on Tepayac Hill in his tilma to Bishop Zumarraga, the Bishop saw not only the beautiful flowers but also the beautiful miraculous image of Our Lady. St Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Elizabeth of Portugal, were each challenged by their husbands for carrying food to the poor; on opening their cloakss, the food had turned to roses. One day, Jesus wanted to show His love for St. Faustina and He miraculously changed a pot of potatoes into a pot of roses (Diary 65). St. Rita, before her death, requested a rose from her garden, her cousin found a beautiful red rose growing in January, thought to present God’s love for Rita. The Augustinian convent in Cascia gives pilgrims powdered rose petals, thought to have healing properties. The Dominican breviary also has an old blessing of roses for healing of the sick.

In her apparitions, it is most often to children that Our Lady appears and entrusts her messages. St. Bernadette in Lourdes, Melanie and Maximin in La Salette, Lucia, Bl. Jacinta and Bl. Francisco in Fatima and the visionaries of Medjugorje – Viscka, Ivan, Jakov, Mirjana, Mirjana and Ivanka. Four of the 15 witnesses of the Knock apparition, were children, Patrick, Catherine, John and Patrick. At the beatification of Bl.Jacinta and Bl. Francisco, Pope John Paul II said “Father to you, I offer praise for what you have hidden from the learned and clever you have revealed to the merest children” (Mt 11.25). A beautiful prayer to teach children is “Dear Mary, my Holy Mother, I offer myself to you and I love you with all my heart. Please make me your child, like Jesus, by loving God, by loving people and by loving myself. Amen”.

Many of the saints, were greatly influenced by Our Lady in their childhood. St. John Paul, who lost his mother a few before his ninth birthday, went to pray in the local church, weeping he said, “Blessed Lady, I don’t know why God took my mother home at the time He did, but I do know one thing, You are my mother now”. St. Catherine Laboure also lost her mother, aged 9 years. The day her mother died, Catherine climbed up on a chair and took down a statue of Our Lady from a shelf and hugged it tightly to her, saying, “Now dear blessed Mother, you will be my Mother”. When St. Faustina was 5 years old she dreamed she was walking hand in hand with Our Lady in a beautiful garden. Padre Pio had visions of Our Lady before his 5th birthday and Our Lady spoke to St. John Bosco, in a dream when he was 9 years old. St. Maximillian Kolbe received a visit from Our Lady when he was 12 years - She came carrying two crowns, a white crown for purity and a red crown for martyrdom and asked which he would accept and he replied both. The Little Flower, St. Therese of Liseux, who also lost her mother in early childhood, was miraculously cured when close to death, aged 9 years, by Our Lady of The Smile. The tragedy is in Ireland, many children don’t know about Our Lady.

Our Lady is the Mother of all children. Kathleen, was 4 years old when World War 1 broke out. Speaking about it, a few months before she died last October, then 106 yrs, she said: “I was sitting on the pavement outside our house playing with friends, when the news of the war broke. I wasn’t sure what war meant but I knew it wasn’t good. We didn’t have any money, or any shoes, so my father went off to the war to get a wage. We prayed the family rosary together every night and asked Our Lady to keep him safe, and She did, and he came home to us when the war was over”.

As a child, Mary, now 88 years, prayed the daily rosary with her parents, six brothers and sisters, and an aunt who lived with them. “We prayed the rosary at 6.30 p.m. after tea; in school, we prayed the rosary every Friday with prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for our teacher loved the Sacred Heart. Our family home was in Lincoln St. and when World War 2 started, every family in the street came out each evening and prayed the rosary on their knees. During the Belfast Blitz in Easter week 1941 that claimed so many lives, only one window was damaged in our street when other areas were completely destroyed. When I got married, the first thing my husband and I did on honeymoon was kneel down and pray the rosary together; we continued to do that that all our married life. I love Our Lady and I love the rosary and I still pray it every day”.

Rose, 93 years, and a former primary school teacher says, “Our local church was St. Colmcille’s in Carrickmore. One of my fondest childhood memories was walking to the church with my family every evening in October to pray the rosary. Families walked from miles around and there was great joy going to and fro from the church; a few who had bikes, would cycle. I have always loved October. Other months, we prayed the rosary at home. There were 7 of us in our family and no one went to bed until the rosary was prayed; that was the rule and the custom in most houses. My father always prayed the rosary in Irish. When he was dying, a nurse asked him, Peter, why do you pray in Irish? He replied, because it was my grandmother who taught me my prayers and she prayed in Irish. I don’t remember hearing about the story of Fatima at school, however I do recall a celebration for the canonisation of The Little Flower. When teaching in my first school in Teconnaught, the rosary was prayed each afternoon by the Head Teacher, no matter who came to the school it was expected they would join in the rosary”. Asking Rose about why the family rosary has died out in many homes, she says, “TV destroyed the family rosary, I think TV has destroyed family life generally”. Fr James, the parish priest of St. Mary’s who is from Donegal recalls, “every night we would sit around the fire as a family and pray the rosary; as a child I found it routine, but as a priest I truly appreciate the value of the rosary”. He agrees with Rose and says “ in too many homes television took over and killed the family rosary”.

Our Lady gave the rosary, as we know it, to St. Dominic in 1214, to pray for conversion of sinners. “Dear Dominic do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”, She asked. “ I want you to know that in this kind of warfare, the principle weapon is the Angelic Saltar (rosary)”. The rosary means “crown of roses” and each time we pray a Hail Mary, we give Mary a beautiful rose and each rosary makes a crown of roses.

St. John Paul said, “To recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary, the face of Christ”. Pope Francis said recently, “the rosary is a prayer that accompanies my life; it is also the prayer of simple people and saints”. The Holy Father also said, “Mary joins us, She fights at our side, She supports Christians in the fight against evil, especially through praying the rosary. Pray the rosary every day”. Pope Pius XI said, “The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin. If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labours”. Two days before Padre Pio died, he said, “Love Our Lady and make Her loved. Recite the rosary and recite it always and recite it as much as you can”. Archbishop Fulton Sheen noted, “The power of the rosary is beyond description”. St Faustina witnessed that power; when praying the rosary for Poland:, “I saw between heaven and earth, the Mother of God, clothed in a bright robe. She was praying with her hands folded on Her bosom, Her eyes fixed on heaven. From her heart issued forth fiery rays, some of which were turned towards heaven while others were covering our country” (Diary 33). How Ireland needs those same fiery rays. Many say, Ireland has gone, it has fallen. We must not lose heart, God and Mary are with us, as they have always been for centuries, even in our native tongue.

This year is a beautiful year for the catholic church, the 100th anniversary of Fátima when Our Lady appeared to three little shepherds Lucia, Bl. Jacinta and Bl. Francisco with an important call to prayer and conversion for the world. Before the apparitions, the Angel of Fátima appeared to the children to prepare them for Our Lady coming. The prayers the Angel taught the children are prayers from heaven, we should treasure them and include them in our daily prayers. The children prayed these prayers many times a day in reparation and for conversion of sinners and salvation of souls.

In his homily for the beatification of Bl. Jacinta and Bl. Francisco, which Lucia attended, Pope John Paul II said “according to the divine plan, a woman clothed with the sun (Rv 12: 1) came down from heaven to this earth to visit the privileged children of the Father. She speaks to them with a mother's voice and heart: she asks them to offer themselves as victims of reparation, saying that she was ready to lead them safely to God. And behold, they see a light shining from her maternal hands which penetrates them inwardly, so that they feel immersed in God”. Later in his homily, he explains, “God does not want anyone to be lost; that is why 2,000 years ago He sent His Son to earth, "to seek and to save the lost" (Lk 19: 10). And He saved us by His death on the cross. Let no one empty that Cross of its power! Jesus died and rose from the dead to be "the first-born among many brethren" (Rom 8: 29). In Her motherly concern, the Blessed Virgin came here to Fátima to ask men and women to stop offending God, Our Lord, who is already very offended. It is a mother's sorrow that compels her to speak; the destiny of her children is at stake. For this reason she asks the little shepherds: pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners; many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them".

The three little shepherds of Fátima were transformed into heroic children who prayed fervently and offered sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls. We need to follow their example of prayer and sacrifice. Many of us pray the rosary, but as a nation, we are not good at fasting. or making sacrifices, outside of Lent. Our towns and villages are full of fast food outlets and online shopping delivers food to homes at the touch of a button. We need to fast twice a week and make many sacrifices. The little children of Fátima knew the power of fasting and offering sacrifices and mortification and often went without water or gave their lunch to the sheep. When suffering came their way, they remained stoic and prayed the sacrifice prayer taught to them by Our Lady, “O my Jesus, it is for love of you, in reparation for the offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary and for the conversion of poor sinners”. Lucia, throughout the remainder of her 98 years, had much to suffer and prayed this prayer many times each day. It takes personal sacrifice for the conversion of souls.

I was in Fátima for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in June 2015 and at the time like many people in Ireland, disheartened by the increasing secularism and corruption of children and our youth culture and the persistent attacks on the sanctity of marriage, family and life. I met a priest from Mexico, who said, what is happening in Ireland is exactly what happened in Mexico. “First Mexico had contraception, then divorce, then legalisation of abortion then same-sex marriage and now evil spirits are reeking havoc all over the country. And it’s the same in Ireland. “What Ireland needs to do”, he said “is to bring a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to each diocese and parish and infuse Ireland with the rosary”. He said Our Lady and The Rosary will save Ireland and not to lose heart. Our Lady of Guadelupe said to Juan Diego, “hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little child: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing altar your heart of countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?” Our Lady said to little Lucia in Fatima, “Don't lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God."

Our Lady told Mirijana in Medjugorje, “what I started in Fatima, I will finish in Medjugorje, my Heart will triumph”. The last message of Our Lady in Medjugorje on 2nd February read, “Dear children, you who are striving to offer every day of your life to my Son, you who are trying to live with Him, you who are praying and sacrificing - you are hope in this peaceless world. You are rays of the light of my Son, a living gospel, and you are my beloved apostles of love. My Son is with you. He is with those who think of Him - those who pray. But in the same way, He is patiently waiting for those who do not know Him. Therefore, you, apostles of my love, pray with the heart and with your works show the love of my Son. This is the only hope for you, and this is also the only way to eternal life. I, as a mother, I am here with you. Your prayers directed to me are the most beautiful roses of love for me. I cannot but be where I sense the scent of roses. There is hope. Thank you.”

We need to fill Ireland with roses of prayer and sacrifices for Mary, in our homes, our schools, our parishes and our prayer groups. For those already doing that, we need to step it up, and try to do something extra. One lady said she is adding an extra rosary to her daily rosaries for this Marian year, a friend is offering 100 days of prayer for Ireland up to 13th May in honour of Lady, another friend has given up drinking tea. For those of us who find it difficult to fast, we need to pray for the grace to fast. Every suffering that comes our way, pray the sacrifice prayer. Learn the angel of Fatima prayers by heart and include them in your rosary and adoration, for these are beautiful prayers of conversion. Make an extra effort to promote the first five Saturdays. Jesus said to Lucia, “many souls begin the first Saturdays but few finish them. It would please me if they did five with fervour and with the intention of making reparation to the heart of your heavenly mother”. For those in a position to, consider buying a statue of Our Lady of Fatima as a centennial gift to your parish and encourage, if not already doing so, encourage your parish to do the first five Saturdays. You could also help promote the Jubilee Indulgence announced by the Holy Father for this Marian year. The biography of Sr Lucia, A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary is a great book and makes an ideal gift. School teachers consider innovative ways of teaching the story of Fatima to children at school. Most prayer groups and events are geared towards adults, we need prayer events for children too. In some places in Ireland, the roses are really blooming and the scent of the roses is incredible e.g. Emmanuel House in Clonfert, where large crowds are attending first Saturday devotions, St. Matthias Church in Belfast, where each month the numbers grow for first Saturday devotions.

Sister Lucia, in a letter to her Mother Superior in May 1946, one week before the anniversary of the 13th May apparition, wrote, “I was offered two radios to listen to the ceremonies on the 13th in Fatima. I also bought the ribbon to use with the bouquet of roses from our garden that I will send with the pilgrims. How she must have longed to go, this the first year of peace after the end of World War 2, but as the shepherdess, it was just not possible. Before sending the bouquet to the shrine, Sister Lucia wrote a poem to Our Lady on the white ribbon that tied the roses – “I miss you dear Mother, I offer with love to see this longing in every flower of this bouquet. I do not offer you a golden crown, because I am poor. I offer you this crown of love O Heavenly Queen. How would your heart tremble in condition so unique and solemn?!” signing the ribbon Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus”.

Consider joining in a spiritual bouquet in honour of Our Lady of Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. A copy of the pink prayer card can be viewed here ». A large bouquet of roses for Mary will be presented in Fatima on behalf of the people of Ireland. All names received will be included in the rose bouquet. If you wish, like Sr. Lucia, you can write a poem to Our Lady. You can enrol any time. For those wishing to join the spiritual bouquet, read the pink prayer sheet and if you wish to enrol, complete and return the pledge card in an envelope to An Teaghlach Naofa, c/o St. Mary’s Church, 25 Marquis Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim, BT1 1JJ. If you want copies of prayer cards and pledge cards for your parish or prayer group email

Of the story of Fatima St. John Paul said “Father, to you I offer praise for all your children, from the Virgin Mary, your humble Servant, to the little shepherds…may the message of their lives live on for ever to light humanity's way!” May each of us learn from the incredible example of the three little shepherds and light the way for others to return to the right path. Be not afraid, Our Lady has promised, My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge.

An Teaghlach Naofa
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