Fatima exhibit commemorates papal visits

By  Lorraine Williams, Catholic Register Special
  • May 7, 2010
FatimaIt’s 93 years since the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to three peasant children, Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco, at Fatima, Portugal. Mary appeared six times entrusting to the youngsters three “secrets.” The first two, when revealed, urged the necessity of prayer and sacrifice so that Russia and the forces of atheism could be converted. At the last apparition, thousands witnessed the miracle promised to the three children: the sun, resembling a silver disc, could be gazed at without difficulty and, whirling on itself like a wheel of fire, seemed about to fall upon the Earth.

Since that time pilgrims, now up to seven million per year, have thronged to Fatima for prayers of petition and seeking miracles. Pope Benedict XVI will be one of them, making his first visit to Fatima May 13.

The three children, who were cousins, are all dead. Francisco died when 11, Jacinta at 10 and Lucia in 2005 at the age of 97. The former two have since been beatified.

Benedict’s visit will be the fifth time a Pope has visited Fatima. A new exhibit opened in March to commemorate those visits. John Paul II visited in 1982, 1991 and 2000. He was convinced the Virgin of Fatima saved him when attacked by an assassin on May 13, 1981, Our Lady of Fatima’s feast. He presented the bullet that hit him to be encrusted in the precious crown of Our Lady donated by the Portuguese women in 1942.

The Pope’s pastoral visit begins May 11 in Lisbon and concludes May 14 in Porto. There’s speculation about what his visit will entail. Is he speeding up the canonization process of Lucia, one of the visionaries? Is he going to attempt to heal this nation of Portugal, described as “torn between traditional faith values and a liberal agenda opposed to those values”?  

Benedict has an important connection to Fatima. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote the thoughtful theological commentary that went along with the revelation of the third secret, the one kept unread for many decades. According to Church officials, the “third secret” prophesied the 1981 attempted assassination against John Paul II.

The Pope’s itinerary is rugged. He arrives in Lisbon at noon to attend a welcome ceremony, followed by a courtesy visit to the president. At 6:15 p.m., he’ll preside over Mass in Lisbon. During the Mass, he’ll deliver “a fundamental message for this period in which we are living, which is the challenge of sanctity.” On May 12, more meetings with representatives of the world of culture, then with the Brazilian prime minister in the apostolic nunciature, are scheduled. At 4:40 p.m. he’ll leave by helicopter for the 120 km ride to Fatima.

The Fatima schedule is also intense. He’ll visit the Chapel of the Apparitions, then preside over 6 p.m. vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. At 10 a.m. next morning, Benedict will celebrate Mass at the shrine, after which he’ll visit its basilica, where the Fatima visionaries are buried. Later he’ll dine with the bishops of Portugal and meet with representatives of charity organizations. At 6:45 p.m., he’ll meet with the Portuguese bishops in the House of Our Lady of Carmen, at the shrine. On the last day of his Portugal visit, he’ll head to Porto to celebrate a 10:15 a.m. Mass. It’s back to Rome that afternoon.

Each stop will centre around a diverse theme. In Lisbon, “Sanctity and Evangelization”; in Fatima, “To Share with Joy”; and in Porto, “Church and Mission.”

Visitors to Fatima will enjoy the region, replete with historic sites and cultural and artistic treasures set in quiet rural countryside. One visitor stated, “Nature is an inevitable part of any visit to this region.” There are two UNESCO World Heritage sites. One is the 14-century late Gothic-style monastery at Batalha, built by Joso I in fulfillment of a vow to the Blessed Virgin after a victory against the Castilians. The other is the Cistercian Monastery of Alcobaca, founded in 1178, also honouring a vow after a victory against the Moors. There are at least four castles and sanctuaries in the region.

The 35,000-hectare Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros and the Serra de Sicó Park are a nature lover’s paradise. Pinhal de Leiria, an area of 12,000 hectares, holds both ecological and historical value. Its wood was used to build the ships for Portuguese voyages of discovery.

Among the green trees, with the blue sea so close, is the longest cycle path in Europe, extending 65 km from Nazaré to the golden beaches of Osso da Baleia. The spa of Monte Real is another favourite destination. Other attractions are the dinosaur tracks at the Monumento Natural das Pegadas de Dinossauros. Caves there reveal spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.

The region’s coast has many stunning beaches at Nazaré and São Martinho do Porto, along with 57 km of more natural and wild beaches. Pottery and glassblower craftsmen produce fascinating works of art. On top of all this, there are the Portuguese people themselves — warm and extremely helpful in extending a helping hand to visitors. An extended visit to Fatima will result in an unforgettable experience on many levels.

(Williams is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register.)

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