A note on Our Lady of Visitation

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

When one arrives in Colorado, one soon encounters a large immigrant community originating from Latin America. But there is also another Latino community here, but it’s one that speaks primarily English, even though most speak Spanish, or at least understand it, using a very particular vocabulary. This community shares various traditions and ways of life typical of the Hispanic world. They cook tamales and green chili, make “bizcochitos,” remember the processions of the “penitentes,” and have a strong sense of family. Many have surnames of Spanish or Portuguese origin: Maestas, Vigil, Archuleta, Gallegos, Olguín, Martinez, Valdez, among others. They are Latinos or Hispanics who trace their roots back generations—some to even before the arrival of the Mayflower—in the towns and cities of New Mexico and other southern territories.

On April 27, I had the opportunity to get to know a representation of this community. They are a formidable and enjoyable group of people. They honor their roots, have a great love for their traditions and customs, and have a healthy pride of being Latino, while also being deeply American. I am referring to the members of Our Lady of Visitation Mission Church.

The reason for the meeting was important, and at the same time difficult. The archdiocese decided to cease offering Sunday Mass at the mission. I saw with my own eyes the sorrow in the community. The decision, however difficult, was one that considered the spiritual good of the community, while also bearing in mind the needs of the entire archdiocese.

Our Lady of Visitation Mission has had a regular attendance of about 100 people each Sunday for the past 10 years. The majority of those who attend Mass at the mission do not live in the area; coming from many corners of the archdiocese, the community gathers at the mission because it is there that they reconnect with their roots, with their history and family. But obviously, attending Mass on Sunday is not enough to experience a full parish life with the wide range of ministries a parish offers, including ongoing religious education, opportunities for spiritual growth, and a complete liturgical schedule.

A few streets away is the Parish of Holy Trinity, to which this mission belongs. The community was invited to participate more fully in the parish, where they could receive all the services a parish can offer, and to take advantage of opportunities to grow in their faith. It is not news that we no longer have the number of priests we did in the past, nor is it news that that the demographics of our state have changed and that there is a need to open new parishes and make a more efficient use of the resources we have.

In making this decision, a study and evaluation of the archdiocese that had taken place a few years ago was taken into account; the decision was studied by the parish council of Holy Trinity and approved by the parish priest; it was then confirmed by the presbyteral council, the archdiocesan pastoral council was informed, and it was ratified by the archbishop.

The Vicar for Clergy met with some representatives of the community of Our Lady of Visitation on two occasions, and I met once with some members, albeit more informally. Representatives of the archdiocese decided to cancel their attendance at a larger meeting in late March because, one day prior, the archdiocese received a letter from a lawyer representing some members of that community indicating the possibility of a lawsuit against the archdiocese. Once the discussion involves lawyers, the tone and circumstances of the dialogue changes to another level.

Because of the circulation of some incomplete or false information in the media, of pamphlets left in the parishes, and other means, I would like to clarify some points of what has been said about this decision taken by the archdiocese.

In making this decision, the goal was never to seize the savings of the mission, nor was it to sell the property. In fact, the idea was to leave it as a meeting place, to be used for special occasions or celebrations, for the annual bazaar, and other similar events.

Out of respect for the history of the mission, the archdiocese suggested offering Mass one Sunday a month at the mission, which would give the community the opportunity to reconnect, celebrate its roots and pray together. The caveat was that on each of the other Sundays, each one would attend his or her own parish. This solution would have achieved the needs of both sides: giving the members of Our Lady of Visitation an opportunity to gather together regularly, while also offering them the possibility of living a more complete parish life. Unfortunately, this proposal was not accepted by the representatives of Our Lady of Visitation. For them it was all, or nothing—that is, they insisted on keeping things as they were. It is a shame because this proposal met the goals of both sides, and it would have been a good solution for everybody.

It has been suggested that this decision was made because the Church discriminates against Latinos, or that is does not value the Latino tradition. This cannot be honestly considered, particularly in these times when the archdiocese is making a great effort to serve the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. The Church loves and appreciates all the cultures that it is composed of: the mainstream English-speaking community, the Native American community, Vietnamese, Hispanic, African American and African, Korean, Mongolian, Polish, Lebanese, etc. The Church also values this community of Hispanic origin, which is native to what is now the United States, and which has been so important in the history of the Catholic Church in Colorado.

The proposal suggested by some members of Our Lady of Visitation to bring in retired priests to celebrate Mass every Sunday is not a viable solution, because this arrangement does not allow for the stable connection of the community with their parish priest, which is a necessary component for a parish community. The substitute priest arrives, celebrates the Mass and leaves. He does not belong to that community.

As you can see, the topic is very complex. Some people from the community of Our Lady of Visitation have organized events to pressure public opinion, such as press conferences, protests, and petitions. Personally, I think that fostering division is never good, but I can understand the pain that those brothers and sisters of ours are going through. I even admire the love and pride they have for all the sacrifices their grandparents and fathers made when building that small community of Our Lady of Visitation.

I invite you to pray to the Lord with the same words of Jesus when he prayed for his Church: “That they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me” (Jn 17: 22-23).

And pray that he free us from situations such as St. Paul describes: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1: 10-13)

Although Sunday Mass will no longer be said regularly at the Mission of Our Lady of Visitation, I would be delighted if the community could find a way to continue celebrating its Latino tradition, history and family. And I would love to be part of it, because—as I said at the beginning—it is a great community that within five minutes made me feel like family.

COMING UP: Our Lady of Fatima marks iconographer’s 100th icon

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Vivian Imbruglia, the iconographer who was commissioned to write the icon of Servant of God Julia Greeley for the Archdiocese of Denver, recently wrote her 100th icon: Our Lady of Fatima.

It’s a milestone for the California-based iconographer that is made all the more significant by the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. The beautifully crafted and exquisitely detailed icon resides at the World Apostolate of Fatima Shrine in Washington, N.J.

“I had known the anniversary of Fatima was coming up, and I had [a] strong Holy Spirit urge to write an icon for it,” Imbruglia recalled. “As I noted the three [other] icons I was already working on would be numbers 97, 98 and 99, it occurred to me Fatima would be 100.”

The preparation that goes into writing an icon is more of a spiritual process than it is about the actual painting of the icon, Imbruglia said.

Vivian Imbruglia is an iconographer based out of California. She was commissioned to write the icon of Julia Greeley for the Archdiocese of Denver, and recently wrote her 100th icon, which depicts Our Lady of Fatima. (Photo provided)

“With every icon, I need to spend time getting to know the subject, and this was especially so with Fatima. It is true that I had an urge that told me I needed to write an icon that celebrated the 100th anniversary, but in reality, I didn’t actually know that much about Fatima,” she said.

Her research ensured, which usually consists of some Google searches, but more important, conversations with people. A friend of Imbruglia’s, who is a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima, provided her with a good base knowledge and referred her to a few more experts, including Father Andrew Apostoli, whose book Fatima For Today is one of the most widely respected volumes on the historic event.

Father Apostoli affirmed the very important elements of the Fatima story that were critical for Imbruglia to include in the icon, which was exciting for her, but also overwhelming.

“I was going to have to depict the visions experienced by the children, some of which were really elaborate,” she said. “I had no idea how I would do it.”

Imbruglia began praying a novena to Our Lady, and within three days, the icon came more and more into focus. She began to paint, and gradually within the larger icon, six smaller icons appeared. Once she finished, she sent the finished product to Father Apostoli, whose words of encouragement were exactly what Imbruglia needed to hear.

“He said the message of Fatima needed to be spread, he said it several times, and he said that message had been captured in the image,” Imbruglia recounted. “His affirmation meant the world to me. This is the goal of every iconographer: To put word into image.”

The Icon explained

Image of Our Lady: Sister Lucia, one of the visionaries to whom Our Lady appeared in 1913, wrote of seeing her: “It was a lady dressed in all white, more brilliant than the sun shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water pierced by rays of the sun.”

The young shepherds: Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia showed great faith and held steadfast to her command to return each month on the 13th day. They have halos painted around their heads as indicators of their holiness. Francisco and Jacinta were recently canonized as saints on May 13.

The Immaculate Heart: Our Lady revealed her Immaculate Heart to the three shepherd children during her apparitions, which Sister Lucia described as “a heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. … Outraged by the sins of humanity and seeking reparation.”

Vision of Hell: Our Lady revealed to the children a terrifying vision of hell, which Sister Lucia describes in her memoirs. Here, as per Sister Lucia’s words, hell is depicted as a “vast sea of fire” and “plunged in this fire” are “souls [of the damned] … transparent like burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms.”

The Angel of Peace: In 1916, an angel of peace appeared to the children as a means of preparing them for their meeting the Queen of Heaven. He appeared to them a total of three times bearing a message of prayer, reparation and sacrifice.

The Miracle of the Sun: On Oct. 13, 1917, 70,000 people gathered to see the final apparition of Our Lady. When she appeared, she opened her hands and made them reflect on the sun, making the sun look like it was dancing. After she had disappeared into the sun, St. Joseph, the child Jesus and Our Lady in a blue mantle appeared beside the sun. St. Joseph and Jesus traced the sign of the Cross with their hands, blessing the world.

First Saturday Devotion: On Dec. 10, 1925, the Virgin Mary and child Jesus appeared to Sister Lucia in her convent cell. They instructed her to “say to all those who, for the next five months, on the first Saturday, confess, receive Holy Communion, recite the rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes while meditating on the 15 mysteries of the rosary, in a spirit of reparation, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls.”

Vision of the Trinity: In June 1929, Sister Lucia received a vivid vision of the Holy Trinity, which she describes in her memoirs. She saw a cross appear over the altar, with a man appearing above it and another nailed to the cross. A dove of light was over the chest of the man above, and a chalice with a host dripping blood floated in front of the cross. Underneath the right arm of the cross was Our Lady of Fatima, and under the left arm were the words “grace” and “mercy.”

The Third Secret of Fatima: Our Lady bestowed upon the three shepherds three apocalyptic visions and prophecies that are known as the three secrets of Fatima. The first was a vision of hell; the second was a foretelling of World War II, and the third was revealed as a series of symbols. In her vision, Sister Lucia saw an angel with a flaming sword; a bishop dressed in white; a cross atop a mountain; and angels shouting, “Penance! Penance! Penance!”

Consecration of the world: On May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II invited the bishops of the world to join him in consecrating the world, and with it Russia, to the Immaculate Heart.