According to Joan Alix, a retired teacher, administrator, and mother of two from Tampa, Florida, the last time Our Lady of Fatima walked through the halls of the UN was on December 8, 1952. On that day, a middle-aged priest named Father Harold V. Colgan, the founder of the Blue Army, and a young writer named John Haffert, carried the same statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which had recently been blessed by the bishop of Fatima, into the meditation room at the UN where they prayed the Rosary for peace.
From that moment on the statue has been referred to as the United Nations World Apostolate of Fatima Pilgrim Statue. It has traveled the world, visiting countless churches and schools where the faithful came to hear the message of Fatima and pray for peace.
It was not until a time such as this, one of unprecedented violence, depravity, and social discord, that the Lord decided it was time for His mother to bring her message of peace to the world stage once again – and Women of Grace® was very much a part of this plan!
The Journey Begins at Women of Grace®
It all began ten years ago when Joan was living in Rhode Island and discerning a move to Tampa, Florida. A priest friend named Father Paul Desmaris, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Carolina, Rhode Island, suggested she go on retreat to discern the move. She looked around for something suitable and found the Woman of Grace® retreat in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Father Desmaris was delighted at her choice because he not only knew the ministry’s founder and president, Johnnette Benkovic, but had even been a guest on her EWTN television show. Joan went on the retreat and came back a changed woman.
“Life started to change after the retreat,” Joan said. “I felt like my faith was more important than all the other priorities I had in life. My role as a school administrator – nice house, job . . . I just let go of it all.”
She started going to daily Mass and it was through Eucharistic Adoration that she felt the move to Florida would be good for her and her husband, Patrick.
They moved to Tampa only to discover that they were in Espiritu Santo Catholic Church – the same parish that Johnnette attends.
Not long after this, in 2009, the United Nations Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima came to a local parish and Joan and Pat decided to go. They were amazed to find several hundred people in attendance – in the middle of a work week – to attend Mass, pray the Rosary, see the statue and venerate the first-class relics of two of the Fatima seers, Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco Marto.
Afterward, Joan and Pat stopped to chat with the custodian of the statue, Judith Studer. Judy serves as President of the Rhode Island Division of the only Vatican-approved lay apostolate - World Apostolate of Fatima, aka the Blue Army. The three got to chatting and because they were all from Rhode Island, an instant friendship was struck. Joan gave Judy her phone number and invited her to stay in their home anytime she came to Tampa.
Little did any of them know at the time just how providential this night – and the UN statue - would turn out to be.
Joan and Judy chatted regularly and before long, the Alixes were both very much involved in scheduling events for the RIWAF (Rhode Island World Apostolate of Fatima) ministry. Judy would often stay with them when she was in the Saint Petersburg Diocese, and they helped out whenever and however they could.
Between the years of 2009 and 2012, Joan, Pat, and Judy were privileged to meet Father Andrew Apostoli, spiritual advisor of the World Apostolate of Fatima, with whom the three became personal friends. They set up several events for him in Florida with the pilgrim statue and arranged for him to speak at conferences and parishes.
A Book, A Gift, An Invitation
One day, on October 13, she noticed a group of magnificent photos of a pilgrim statue event in the church bulletin. They would make such a beautiful brochure for Judy to use in her travels! Joan approached the pastor for permission to use them only to learn that they were the property of a wedding photographer he had hired for the event. When she contacted the 27-year-old photographer to purchase the pictures, she was astonished to hear him say, “My mother had such a great devotion to Our Lady that if I don’t do whatever you want she’ll be mad. I’ll do whatever you want.”
She had the pictures for the brochure, but now what? Not long after this, Judy invited her to Portugal where she would meet some friends and Sister Angela Coelho a medical doctor who speaks several languages and is in charge of the canonization of Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto. It just so happened that Sister Angela was working with a group of scholars who were preparing for the 2017 centennial. They had studied all the texts of Fatima and created an outline of 35 words or phrases. When Joan looked at them, they seemed to be a perfect match for the pictures she had acquired for the brochure. She shared this with Sister Angela who was so impressed she arranged for her to be granted a copyright to use the words and phrases in her brochure.
When she came home, she started putting the brochure together.
“It started getting bigger and bigger,” Joan said. “One day, my neighbor, Crystal saw it and said ‘that’s not a brochure! You’re making a book!’”
She was advised to speak with another neighbor named Paulette, who lived down the block. She did so and was shocked to hear what Paulette had to say about her brochure-book.
“When I was a little girl I grew up in Buffalo, New York,” Paulette told her. “My mother would take me and my twin sister to a shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Today I’m the head graphic designer of the largest electric company in Florida and if I don’t design a cover for you and do a logo my mother would be so upset with me.”
The Alixes were dumbfounded. Joan now had a graphic designer for the book – a publication that would play a crucial role in Our Lady’s journey back to the United Nations.
It was around this time that Joan and Johnnette’s paths crossed again. The year was 2015 and Joan was organizing a women’s retreat with Father Apostoli and Judy at the Bethany Center in Florida. Johnnette heard about it and called to ask Joan if there was anything she could do to help her with the retreat. The two met several times and Johnnette both attended and spoke at the event. At the end of Mass, Judy spoke for about 10 minutes about Our Lady of Fatima and Johnnette was so impressed that she invited Judy onto the Women of Grace® show on EWTN.
In the same year, Judy would have major back surgery and it was at this time that she confided to Joan her long-time dream of seeing Our Lady get back into the United Nations. For this goal, she would offer up all of her sufferings during a long recuperation.
By now, Joan had published her book on Fatima and was invited by Ken Corcoran of the Knights of Columbus to give a presentation on the book at the museum at the Knight’s Headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut on the weekend of October 13.
At the reception afterward, she met a woman named Alex Faiz, a lay Dominican and freelance writer, who came up to her and asked, “Have you ever thought about doing something with the United Nations?” Alex had done a lot of volunteer work for peace and had attended different UN functions and thought they should give it a try. The two exchanged numbers with the agreement to think and pray about it.
By the end of the month, Alex was on the phone asking for seven copies of the book. “Gift wrap them,” she said. “I’m going to go to the Ambassador’s office at the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the UN and I’m going to give them the books and let them know that if they’d ever like to do so, we would love to meet with them.”
Only a month later, Alex got an email from the Ambassador requesting a meeting!
It was now April, 2016. Joan, Pat, Judy, Ken, and Alex walked into the office of H.E. Alvara Mendonca e Moura, the Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations.
“We let the Ambassador know that we were there because we loved his country and felt that if he would consider doing something with the UN, with us, that it would help promote Fatima and promote tourism in Portugal – a country that many people will be visiting in 2017. Is it possible to do this?” the small team asked.
The Ambassador said he was intrigued by the idea, but reminded them that the UN is not a platform for any one religion.
Joan remembered: “It was almost as if the Holy Spirit came down upon me and I heard myself saying ‘Fatima is a Muslim name; Mary was Jewish, and she’s the mother of our Christian God.”
Mary was truly a woman for all people!
The Ambassador was intrigued and promised to speak with the Nuncio to the Holy See, H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza – whose brother just happens to live in the same diocese as Joan and Pat!
“You’ll hear from us,” the Ambassador said.
During this time, she was planning another retreat at Bethany House and Johnnette was helping her. Even though the UN Fatima conference was in draft form and Johnnette knew nothing about it, Joan and Judy asked for prayer and Johnnette told both that “I see priests, bishops, cardinals and lots of doors opening. I saw them gathered in a large room with a statue of Our Lady and I said to them ‘you are like the shepherds leading to the sheep to Our Lady’.”
During the same time period, Claudine Holt, a doctor from New York City who was a member of the Junior Board of Catholic Charities in NYC, attended the Women of Grace® retreat in Malvern where the Lord put it upon her heart to have a holy hour and Mass in honor of the Fatima centenary on the weekend of the anniversary at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. After the retreat, she sent an email to Joan asking if the UN Pilgrim statue would be available to come to the Cathedral on May 13, 2017. Although Dr. Holt had no idea of what was being considered at the UN for the same weekend, she later confided, “I feel like Our Lady wants to be in New York for her 100 year celebration.”
Just a few months later, Joan received an invitation from Archbishop Auza, who serves as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, for the small team of the five (Joan, Pat, Judy, Alex, and Ken) to meet with him and the Ambassador in New York to discuss a possible scenario for an event in honor of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. During this meeting, the Archbishop said the theme for the day would be the message of hope, love and peace that Fatima brings and how they would arrange for speakers from the ranks of experts in various fields.
Could they bring the statue to the event? Joan asked.
“Yes, I believe as far as having her be a part of what we do would be welcome. It would be very good,” the Archbishop said.
Our Lady was now just a few steps away from the door of the UN!
Providentially, on October 13, 2016, the UN held its elections – which only happen once every five years – and the new Secretary General just happened to be the former Premier of Portugal, Antonio Guterres!
God’s Will is Done
On December 22, Joan received an email from the Archbishop along with a draft concept of what the event would entail. She was named as the event coordinator for the laity and Father Roger Landry, one of the priests serving Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission, would coordinate for both Portugal and the Holy See.
Shortly after this, Joan got the official conference itinerary with list of the topics. One of the topics was about Mary and the dignity of women and she knew in her heart exactly who should give this talk – Johnnette Benkovic.
But they weren’t looking for Catholic speakers and everything had to go through Father Landry.
"When the Holy See hosts events at the UN, we make sure that they are done with all the members of the UN community in mind, and so we look for the relevance for everyone rather than just for Catholics,” Father Landry recently told The Marians.
Joan suggested Johnnette anyway and Father Landry quickly wrote back outlining the protocol for the speakers. Would Johnnette agree to it?
It was a phone call Joan remembers with great pleasure. Johnnette had no idea that she was even being considered for a role in the actual event.
“Johnnette was shocked,” Joan remembered. “She was on her way to the airport at the time and just said, ‘Oh! Of course!”
Johnnette sent a description of what she would talk about to Father Landry who wrote back to give his approval.
It was all official now!
“I think it’s a big deal,” Joan said about the event, which will take place at the UN in Conference Room 2 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on May 12.
“This was Our Lady’s plan,” Joan said. “They’re going to talk about Mary in the United Nations with 600 people -and the world - Mary is going to be there and the statue is going to be there! Only God could do this!”
“This is a continuation of the prophetic word at Fatima, pulling together a cross section of religions, a cross section of peoples of diverse religions and culture, a microcosm of the world, and I believe Our Lady has been orchestrating this,” Johnnette added.
The ministry of Women of Grace® is deeply honored to have played a role in this historic event which was chosen by God for precisely such a time as this!
There is room for 600 people at this historic event. Be a part of it by sending your RSVP here.
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Women of Grace is commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Fatima at our annual retreat entitled, "Our Lady and the Triumph: How the Battle Will be Won," in Malvern, PA July7-9. Click here for more information.