A trip to Fatima
There was a crunching of stone as the tires spat out gravel as I turned into the huge open-air car park, outside what was once a little village called Fatima. Fatima is situated about 100km north of Lisbon and inland from the Atlantic Ocean about 50km. This small farming municipality was supposedly the place in 1917 where a succession of apparitions and visitations of the Virgin Mary to three Portuguese children, Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. They were guarding their families’ sheep and was bestowed the title of ‘worthy of belief’ by the Roman Catholic Church. Fatima is now one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world to the Catholic faith.
Many in need of healing
The children claimed to have seen the Marian apparitions on six successive occasions with the last one on October 13th 1917. It was estimated that some 70,000 pilgrims attended, many in need of healing, for this last prophesied apparition. Many of the witnesses claimed and testified to a falling from the skies of flower-like petals that disintegrated and disappeared when trying to pick them up. It was also claimed that the Sun danced across the sky, appearing to zigzag, emitting multi-coloured light and radiant colours for approximately 10 minutes. This was later documented as the ‘Miracle of the Sun’.
They maintained their stories
The children were arrested in September by order of the local mayor and put into confinement, where they were individually interrogated and threatened with severe punishment and death if they did not confess to say that they had made up their stories.
They maintained their stories steadfastly and they were later released for the October final apparition. In one of their claims, they were told that 2 of them would die young, which happened in the international Spanish flu pandemic that began the very next year in 1918. Francisco Marto died in 1919 at the age of 10 and Jacinta Marto died in 1920 at the age of 9. Lucia Dos Santos dedicated her life as a nun and went on to live until short of her 98th birthday, passing away in 2005.
We seem like ants
Today this area is completely different to how it would have been. There were no vast car parks like the one I am in, to accommodate the estimated 6 to 8 million visitors to Fatima every year. It’s a nice bright day with clear deep blue skies as I park under the shade of a tree.
There is plenty of choice of parking places as tourist destinations are only just awakening from the present-day pandemic. The area could take around 100,000 people. Today we seem like ants with the hundred people give or take that are here today. It is a huge site, and as normal befits a Catholic site, there is a mixture of architectural designs, from the beautiful ‘Basilica of our lady of the rosary’, a solid limestone Church built in a neo-baroque style, with its 65-metre-high Bell tower.
The 12,000 pipe organ it in itself is a sight to behold. Contrast that with the ‘Basilica of the most holy trinity’ a 9,000 seater church which from the outside looks quite frankly like a concrete bullring. From the inside, its sloping floors and ample light somehow make it not seem so vast. The demand for its bi-hourly mass service is far busier during its commemorative times.
A quite stunning cross
There are statues of bishops and one of Pope Paul VI, an area for reflection and lighting candles of remembrance, confessional areas and there is a quite stunning cross. Named the ‘High Cross’, a 24-metre high steel construction that casts a furtive shadow breaking the blue skyline, and there is peace here, one that comes with safety as people saunter around in a trance of solemnity. All that one needs to embrace an air of religiosity can be found here.
What are you looking for?
But there is one thing that cannot be found here. Depending on what you are looking for. If it is Salvation and eternal life, that can only be found by repentance and putting all of your faith, all of your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and resurrection for the atonement of your sins, according to the scriptures.
Seeking spiritual guidance
People all over the world tend to their spiritual needs by a plethora of means. Many are tending to their emotive state than their true spiritual needs. The bible says that God made man in His image, and that those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth. The pilgrims that come here are in the majority seeking spiritual guidance.
To evangelise along the way
So, I came here not as a tourist, not to pray or to worship Mary. Mary was the mother of the humanity of Jesus and not the mother of God. Mary was a favoured one, but only by God’s grace as we all believers are. No, I’ve come here to see what the location and setting is like, as I intend to return here God willing, to evangelise here or along the way. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “to the Jews I became as a Jew…I might win those under the law… to those without the law I might win those without law… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”