We left the Hotel Mundial early to beat the crowds to Santarem and Fatima. The freeway was packed with cars headed toward Lisbon while we were headed the opposite direction. The rolling hills were covered with oaks, olive trees, and eucalyptus like California. It was clear, sunny, and warm. Miguel miraculously maneuvered our bus up the narrow streets of Santarem to the Church of St. Stephen.
Latin inscription: Truly the Lord is in this place.
Fr. Frank said Mass, and then we toured the church to see the monstrance which holds the remains of the Eucharistic miracle which took place in the Thirteenth century (1247): A poor woman had become frantic over her husband’s infidelity. A Jewish sorcerer promised that all her difficulties would disappear if she brought her a consecrated Host. When she hid a Host in her veil, it began to bleed. Later that night she noticed rays of light coming from a chest where she tried to hide it. The next day the parish priest took the Host and placed it in a case of wax. The wax case was miraculously replaced by a crystal pyx (container) which is now displayed in a gold-plated silver monstrance.
After Mass and a short visit to a nearby mall, we were on or way to Fatima. Javier pointed out Fatima, Aljustrel, and Cova da Iria in the distance as we approached the area from a high ridge.
Our first stop was Alustrel where the young visionaries were born. As Javier pointed out the home of Jacinta and Francisco, I was deeply impressed by how Francisco lived in such a small house, sometime hiding in the attic to escape the inquisitive pilgrims. I sat on the bench by the fireplace where he said his rosary then took a picture of the bed where he died at age 11.
It was sad to recall how Jacinta left this poor home to die alone in Lisbon just before she turned 10 in 1920. The simple, childlike dedication to a life of sacrifice which Mary had requested is moving beyond all words and challenges all of us to follow Mary’s message to the children of Fatima.
We walked a short distance up the street to Lucia’s home. A much nicer home than that of her two cousins, it was still very simple. It was sad to recall how Lucia’s mother did not at first believe in the apparitions and punished Lucia for telling others about them. When she was fourteen, Lucia left home to find peace from the crowds in a convent school near Lisbon.
From Lucia’s home we boarded the bus for Fatima. I felt like a rich American as we pulled into one of the fanciest hotels, Hotel Santa Maria. I envied the campers in their simple tents a few blocks away.
After some rest we took the bus to the entrance of the stations of the cross which traced the children’s typical walk with their sheep from their home in Alustrel to the sites of the apparitions (Cova da Iria, Loca do Cabeco, Poco do Arneiro, Valinhos).
“Don’t be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace! Pray with me. My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask your pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.”
After the stations we had dinner at the hotel then met in the main square for the evening rosary. For the rosary we bought some candles and portable seats. The rosary was a very special ending to our first day. It included a magnificent procession of banners followed by priests and bishops and the statue of Our Lady of Fatima (lit from the inside, topped with a golden crown) borne on a platform covered with flowers and candles.
The immense crowd (100,000+) sang in unison: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria… The rosary and procession lasted until 11:30pm, so we meandered through the throng back to the hotel while the rest of the crowd remained for a midnight Mass.
My mind wandered back to our visit to the basilica when we first arrived and then to the festival of lights during the procession. The candles created waves of light spots which stretched for many acres in the square. All candles were lifted high when the Gloria Patria was sung at the end of each decade. Later when we went to bed we had to close the window because the crowd was singing chants for the Mass.
NEXT: OCTOBER 13
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