WILKES-BARRE — Worshippers took turns reciting portions of the rosary Saturday in Our Lady of Fatima Grotto in quiet reverance.
Behind them, two protesters stood for the length of the service, which was part of a national Catholic event called Public Square Rosary Rally. The protesters stood equally as quiet but holding a sign that read “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.”
The two men, Justin Vacula and Bill Dickerson, said they attended not to cause anger, but to tell the worshippers prayer has never effectively solved anything and they should not depend so heavily on it. They had been joined by a third person but he left shortly after the service began.
“Human efforts are the only thing that work,” Dickerson said. “There’s no scientific evidence that prayer works.”
Motorists traveling on North Street looked first to one side and then to the other as they passed, taking in the dichotomy separated by the pavement.
About 65 worshippers, members of the Lay Servants of The Immaculate Heart of Mary, nestled in the grotto and recited prayers without paying much notice to the protesters behind them.
Oct. 13 is Marian Day, a Catholic celebration to mark a series of apparitions to three poor children from Fatima, Portugal, in the early 1900s. The Vatican is also noting this day. Pope Francis is to consecrate the Earth to the Sacred Heart of Mary today, when the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima will be in St. Peter’s Square.
Vacula is a leader in the NEPA Freethought Society, a group that promotes atheism. His greatest concern is that prayer gives false hope, an opinion opposed by those praying who gathered to honor the account of a miracle.
“We’re totally fine with them to assemble,” Vacula said. “It might give people hope, but we don’t see it translating to anything. We have hope in human progress.”
Ending the gathering, Walter Camier, a member of the group America Needs Fatima, addressed his audience and spoke of declining faith in Jesus’ mother and encouraged the Catholics to stand strong in their belief.
“We don’t have the confidence that we should in Our Lady,” Camier said. “We must never give up. … Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and accomplishes the impossible.”
Though he said his comments were not directed toward the protesters, he said those who oppose God will fail in the end.
“God is allowing the evil to march proudly with a feeling of victory,” Camier said. “But they are walking blindly toward their defeat.”