WAVERLY (SNR) - On Wednesday, September 14, St. Teresa Parish of Lincoln will sponsor the 24th annual Marian Mass, celebrated by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz. This evening of spiritual inspiration and devotion is spent outdoors at the Catholic Retreat Center near Waverly, beginning at 6 p.m.
The event starts with a play about the Blessed Mother’s appearance at Fatima, performed by S.T.A.G.E. (Student Theater And Godly Evangelization).
Mass follows at 7 p.m., and then there is a candlelight procession for an international Rosary – the Rosary prayed in different languages. The decades are led in English, German, Czech, Spanish and Vietnamese (with English responses), and the Glory Be is chanted in Latin.
This annual event began in 1988 after several St. Teresa parishioners returned from a pilgrimage to Marian shrines at Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal, with then-pastor Msgr. Myron Pleskac.
"We were so inspired by our experiences there," commented Msgr. Pleskac, "that we felt it was something we wanted to share with our friends and fellow parishioners."
Saint Teresa parishioner John Sinclair wasn’t one of the original pilgrims, but he remembers their enthusiasm for bringing the Lourdes and Fatima experiences home to Nebraska.
"When they came back, they were so inspired, they said, ‘We really should do something so the rest of our parish can experience what we did,’" he recalled.
Mr. Sinclair participated first as a reader and now as a cantor.
"I look forward to it every year," he said.
Attendance has grown exponentially as the parish has welcomed people from across the diocese – and even neighboring dioceses. Recent estimates set the number of attendees between 1,500 to 2,000 people.
There are many people who work behind the scenes as well. Volunteers set up chairs, wire the loudspeakers so the Rosary can be heard throughout the candlelit procession, and so on. Then there are the volunteers who lead the international Rosary, a tradition at the famous Fatima shrine.
At Fatima, organizers gather volunteers to lead the Rosary in different languages, according to what nationalities are represented among the day’s group of pilgrims. One might hear Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Croatian, French and any number of other languages.
During the Diocese of Lincoln’s annual Marian Mass, the international Rosary is prayed in languages that reflect the people who live in Nebraska. It serves as a vivid reminder to all who have made the pilgrimage to Fatima, and an inspiration to those who haven’t.
"Seeing all the people there, praying the rosary in these languages really gives a sense of the universality of our faith," said John Kopetzky, who serves as a lector for the event. "And it shows the heritage of Nebraska… where we’ve come from."
"It’s very comforting to know, yes, the Church really is universal," added Hans Gilde.
Mr. Gilde, the father of Father Lothar Gilde, who is assistant pastor of St. Patrick Parish in McCook, was born in Germany. While he grew up in Nebraska, he spoke German with his parents. He leads the German decade, which he learned off the Internet, since he only knew how to pray in English.
Kristina Fitzpatrick and various members of her family have led the Czech decade. The family lived on a farm near Prague, Nebraska, so praying the Rosary in Czech was a common part of their Catholic culture. Mrs. Fitzpatrick also studied Czech when she was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Initially, it was Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s father who led the decade. As he grew older, the role fell to his wife and daughters. In 2000, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, her mother and one of her sisters went on a pilgrimage to Fatima and were able to pray the Czech decade there, too.
"It was the most amazing experience," she remembered.
She said the international Rosary with its candlelit procession is her favorite part of the annual Marian Mass at Waverly.
"It always brings back the memory of being in Fatima, seeing that light, and the symbol of that light in the darkness and the hope and the beauty that surrounds it..." She sighed and then admitted, "It’s hard to pick one favorite thing. It’s just the overall experience, and the weight of it all."
All are welcomed and encouraged to attend this once-a-year event, even those who don’t have an especially strong devotion to Mary.
"I think it’s a good way to invigorate that part of their life," suggested Mr. Sinclair.
A mother of young children herself, Mrs. Fitzpatrick encouraged parents to bring their kids.
"You remember those experiences you had as a child," she reasoned. "It is a precious thing."
Seating is provided, as is handicapped accessible restrooms. Mrs. Fitzpatick noted especially that the elderly and those with physical challenges can safely participate in both the Mass and the Rosary procession with a bit of assistance.
"It really is a gift that we have in the Diocese of Lincoln, because it was brought back by those who said not everybody can get on a plane and fly there," she noted.
Mr. Kopetsky agreed.
"Someday, God willing, I’ll be able to go see some of those Marian shrines in Europe," he said, "but until then, I look forward to the Marian Mass in Waverly."
For more information, contact Msgr. Joseph J. Nemec, pastor of St. Teresa Parish, at 402-477-3979.