The Blessed Virgin, Virgin Mary, Our Lady, Holy Mother, Mother of God, Earth Mother, Mother Goddess, she’s all one and the same, and lots of people like her a lot. I read somewhere she’s most popular with middle aged women who were raised Catholic, but no longer feel the attraction to that church. I will confess to being one of them. So, when I came across Stealing Fatima, by Frank X. Gaspar, at the library, I had my own small miracle.
I chose it simply because I’ve never been sure of how to pronounce Fatima, and I thought the book might give me an idea. I will also confess I’ve been recovering from an illness, and my energy is low and I’m easily distracted.
I should have realized from the author’s name, Frank X. Gaspar, that maybe the book is about the Portuguese story concerning ‘Our Lady of Fatima’, or maybe I saw that on an unconscious level and that’s why I grabbed it. That was a story I have long cherished.
If I’d known the novel is about a Catholic priest and his quest for an ornately carved statue, I might not have picked it up. I’d have expected too much sentimentality or dogma, so I’m glad I got to this novel with an open mind. Manny Furtado, the priest, is bothered by a prank he and his best friend committed when they were teenagers. Angry at his domineering father, the boy Manny convinces his friend to help him steal the statue his father has proudly purchased for their parish. This mischief might not have added to much, but the next day the best friend reports to the draft board, and he doesn’t keep in touch. Manny is also drafted into the Vietnam war, and it is the war that causes the major damage to these two young men.
The novel is set in the present, with Manny as an aging troubled priest working in his childhood village in New England. The town he grew up in was once so isolated that even though teenage boys had heard of draft resistors, they couldn’t imagine themselves as being able to pull off such a citified act. All of their parents were Portuguese immigrants, the fathers supporting their families as fishermen, as they had in the Old Country. Life was impoverished and hard. Manny and his generation are now astonished at the wealthy, sophisticated people ‘from away’ who pour in to buy ocean front homes and open boutique hotels.
His parish consists of a motley crew of original inhabitants and a few eccentrics. Although one of the main characters is obsessed with experiencing a miracle, Manny expects very little from life. This novel explores the meanings of miracle, the many ways of perceiving miracles, and miracles in this book do happen, as unlikely and impossible as that may be.
Stealing Fatima is funny and charming, yet it deals with serious issues.
Our Lady herself makes her presence known, and if you like to bathe in Her presence, and you’re not attached to dogma or sentimentality, you will enjoy this book.