Big things come from small beginnings
John Haffert recounts to us, “Ever since I first traveled through Europe in 1946 to visit the major shrines of Our Lady, I had planned to take a group with me to relive that tremendous experience, particularly the experience of the reality of Our Lady’s gift of the Scapular.” He further relates in his book, To Shake the World, “And most people, in 1946, knew nothing about it [the message of Fatima]! If I could get others to come to Fatima, perhaps they, too, would become convinced.”
In 1947, John returned to Fatima accompanied by 120 pilgrims. He witnessed Most Rev. Jose Correia da Silva, Bishop, bless the two statues of Our Lady of Fatima John had commissioned: one destined to circulate the Americas; the other to be held in reserve for Russia.
No room at the inn
John observed at the time there were no hotels in Fatima except a few rooms in private houses. They decided to build, what John called a “pilgrimage facility” to accommodate the religious travelers he knew with fervent certainty would come.
In 1954, John chartered a plane to take 125 pilgrims and the Pilgrim Virgin Statue to Fatima. During this first trip, they laid the cornerstone of their new facility.
And so began the History of the Peace Flights
In a short period of time, John established a travel agency, Fatima Travel, to exclusively accommodate the vast amount of people lining up to visit Fatima. Fatima Travel chartered planes to take the pilgrims from cities all around the United States to the different shrines around the world before finally landing in Lisbon, Portugal, to pray at Fatima.
Established for liability reasons under John’s name, the travel agency flourished. John decided to include other shines and holy places such as Lourdes, Loretto, Ars and several more sacred locations, as stops along the way to increase interest in Fatima. John never anticipated his pilgrimages to international Marian shrines would be so successful.
Our Lady’s Own Plane
With the Peace Flights becoming increasingly more popular, John and a group of investors purchased a Boeing 707 plane, which they fittingly named “Queen of the World.” Our Lady’s own plane now boasted an altar to celebrate Mass, a statue of St. Joseph to welcome all travelers and a special throne for Our Lady of Fatima. The symbol of the Blue Army was on the door. Emblazoned on the plane’s side read the words, “Queen of the World.”
“The Queen of the World” was able to fly directly from cities across the United States to Lisbon four times a week, carrying thousands of Blue Army Pilgrims a year at a low cost, with the profits made going directly back into the agency .
The Peace Flights expanded so rapidly that by 1986, John established Skystar Airline in honor of Our Lady as the Morning Star, Star of the Sea, and “Our Guiding Star” for the religious travelers. Our Lady’s fleet now comprised of John’s Boeing, and five additional leased airplanes to accommodate the vast number of pilgrims.
Sign of the Times
A year after Skystar was established, the main airport in Rome, one of airline’s chief destinations, suffered a terrorist attack. Because U.S. Intelligence had learned of other and, perhaps imminent threats, President Ronald Regan advised Americans to cease travel for the time being.
This caused a number of main airlines, including Skystar, to go bankrupt, and it was determined that Fatima Travel must be sold.
Resolved to retain the travel agencies’ low prices, John decided to give the agency to the Columbian Monument Foundation, which was formed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America under the patronage of Our Lady.
The Seed is Sown… Worldwide
John Haffert, with 30 years of successful pilgrimages to major holy shrines worldwide, saw his Skystar Airline Peace Flight fleet, emblazoned on its side, Queen of the World, fail. He experienced the great sorrow of disbanding Fatima Travel.
However great was the sorrow, even greater was John’s ultimate conviction that “…tens of thousands of men and women, who, because of them [those who funded the airline] experienced Fatima.”
During the last 22 months of Fatima Travel, 22,000 pilgrims traveled from the United States to Fatima, and visited and venerated holy places around the world.
In 1972, The Portuguese Ministry of Tourism calculated more than 30 million people had come to venerate Fatima since 1946 because of John’s enthusiasm, unparalled energy, foresight and innovative methods to spread the Fatima devotion.
“The Ultimate Peace Flight – to Moscow!”
After condensing the exhausting and time-consuming preparations of such a large undertaking into a mere 12 months, everything was in place. Two Jumbo Jets left New York for Fatima and Moscow, carrying a total of 940 pilgrims.
On October 13, 1992, the “Victorious Queen of the World Peace Flight” pilgrims attended the 75th anniversary of the Miracle of Fatima. October 16, 1992, the pilgrims fulfilled their ultimate wish: arrival in Red Square with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima…