Vatican Radio) Tens of thousands of pilgrims are descending on the Marian Shrine of Fatima ahead of Pope Francis’ visit later on Friday. The Holy Father is due to fly to Portugal from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport this afternoon and is expected to arrive at the air base of Monte Reale at 16.20 local time.
Our Correspondent in Fatima, Chris Altieri has been out and about and sends this report on the powerful devotion at this beloved Marian Shrine.
All throughout the day on Thursday, as afternoon turned to twilight and twilight gave way to evening, and even after night fell, a steady and slowly but visibly increasing stream of pilgrims built.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims are now descending on the great square that stretches between the “new sanctuary” – the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity – and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary – both imposing structures of some grace and genius, the former in a decidedly modern style and the latter a harmonious blend of elements established in many architectural traditions and periods, including a bell tower, vaulted ceilings, a colonnade, and more than a dozen pieces of impressive statuary – the centrepiece of which is the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the niche of the tower: it is the work of the Dominican priest-sculptor Thomas McGlynn (a US citizen), crafted according to the indications of the seer and Discalced Carmelite Sister Lucia herself, and paid for by the Catholic faithful of the United States.
The story of the statue makes for great reading.
It is this reporter’s first time here, though, and the thing that has been the most powerfully affecting particular of the sanctuary complex is the chapel of the apparitions, built on the exact spot of the apparitions in Fatima in 1917.
Pilgrims of every age and state of life in the Church – some flush with the exuberance of youth, some filled with gratitude for the graces of a life abundantly blessed, and others, too – people who, to look them in the eyes, have doubtless “seen the elephant” – approach the tiny covered chapel all day long – many of them on their knees – circumambulating the site, pausing, praying, hearing Mass and offering their Rosaries, sometimes singly and in silence, and more often in groups.
The most startling thing about it is how there is … nothing strange or starling about it, really: Our Blessed Lady seems to the pilgrims I’ve observed to be a daily companion, familiar, even – their faith is as comfortable as a sturdy old pair of walking shoes, and definitely simple – simple as the Divine nature itself, which Mary carried in her womb, the bottomless secrets of which she, and she alone, has contemplated with such perfect intimacy.
Here, though, in this place, one hundred years ago, the sun danced in the sky at the command of the Queen of Heaven, who had come to visit simple shepherd children.
It is here that Pope Francis is coming as a pilgrim among pilgrims – and here, we have a powerful interpretative key to the programme of his Pontificate.
Time, and tie again, the Holy Father has encouraged popular devotion – those ancient and venerable practices of piety that Catholics can’t quite seem to quit, and everyone else doesn’t seem to “get” – and here, in Fatima, he is coming to recall the attention of the world to the power of a simple prayer.
“With Mary, I come as [a] pilgrim in hope and in peace,” Pope Francis has said in the motto of this voyage, which he himself has insisted is a pilgrimage.
He is, in other words, trusting the power of popular devotion to move the faithful, and – who knows? – perhaps even move the world once again from the brink of self-destruction.
He is also trusting the faithful to be powerful agents of change in the world, precisely by means of the prayerful witness of faith, which opens hearts to the work of charity.
In Fatima, awaiting Pope Francis, I’m, Chris Altieri
(from Vatican Radio)