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November 22, 2013

Fatima Shrine prepares for Christmas season

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — YOUNGSTOWN — The Rev. Julio Ciavaglia, CRSP, director of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine was serving as a parish priest in Stoney Creek, Ont., when he decided on a unique way to celebrate Christmas.

"I remember being in a shopping mall where they had a humongous Santa Claus (with the long line of youngsters waiting to talk with him) and not a single sign of anything related to the true significance of the season," Father Julio recalled. "It made me angry."

Father Julio, as he is known, quickly shuns any credit from his personal involvement in the success of the event. "I like to be the person behind the scenes while I prefer that Father Peter (Calabrese) be the person out front and on stage," Father Julio quipped, alluding to the associate director of the shrine.

In earlier days, the large shrine parking lot was often filled on weekends with countless cars and motor coaches, many bearing Ontario license plates. 

"Our traffic from the Canadian side is definitely down," Father Ciavaglia said, attributing the decline to the perceived delays at the border. 

"Since 9-11 (the terrorist attacks in the U.S.), our traffic from Ontario has diminished a great deal," Father Julio said. 

Previously on many weekends the shrine parking lot would be virtually filled with cars and chartered buses, many bearing Canadian license plates. In the wake of the attacks, the sharp increase in security at the border resulted in lengthy delays that discouraged many people from visiting the festival.

Father Julio explained that the real impetus in founding the festival was to counter the crass commercial aspect of what should be a holy season. He recalled walking the grounds early one evening when a woman with a tour group stopped briefly to survey the scene and observed, "Now I feel like I'm in Christmas." The priest said, "That helped convince me that perhaps we were doing it right." Too many people tend to get distracted and forget the true meaning of Christmas, he added. 

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