Niagara Gazette — “Most of our visitors come from Canada,” he noted, adding that in Canada there are many large ethnic Christian groups and “they have it in their blood to go to a shrine. To them it’s a pilgrimage.”
The priest’s interest in art has certainly helped the shrine to shine. Most recently because he was able to obtain a truckload of handmade Filipinocarvings, including statues and reliefs of the members of the Holy family — Jesus, Mary and Joseph — massive, handcarved candleholders and one unique carving from a slice of a giant tree, adorned with angelic cherubs.
Beyond the handcarved Filipino art, which the priest secured at the closing of the Candian National Exposition one year from friends he made at the Phillipines exhibit, there are other special items donated to the shrine, including a hope chest from the 1600s that is an altar in one small chapel, and a massive painting of the Sacred Heart, gifted to the shrine by the niece of an European painter.
The Fatima Shrine, which has hosted up to 100,000 visitors a year, is more lightly attended these days. Still, there are regulars who come to the domed basilica for the daily and Sunday masses. And visitors still come to see the hundreds of twinkling lights and holy statues that light up the evening sky during the holiday season.
Gregory Pope, a Lockport native and Buffalo area attorney who spearheaded the shrine’s last fundraising drive said there is a wide range of fans who support the shrine, but there is still a need for donations. “We’re hoping and praying that people who have seen what we have done already respond to the needs of the shrine. There’s a continuing need for more renovations.”
Pope, whose grandparents and parents were benefactors of the shrine, attends the annual holiday Festival of Lights with his extended family, including his 14-year-old daughter whom he hopes will continue the family’s loyalty. “It’s a great place, a spiritual oasis, and I just really love going there,” he said.