You may not have heard of the town of Fatima, Portugal, located about 70 miles north of Lisbon. While the city only has a population of 11,000, thousands more make a pilgrimage to Fatima each year. This year even more pilgrims are expected to flock to Fatima since it is the 100 year anniversary of the events that started it all. Since we were so close, we thought might as well make our own Fatima pilgrimage and learn what all the fuss is about.
The Story of Fatima
I was really intrigued to know why a Fatima pilgrimage became so popular. Between May and October of 1917, three young children, Lucia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, reported visions of the Virgin Mary on the 13th day of each month at approximately noon.
Mary urged the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. She also explained to the children that war is a punishment for sin and warned that God would further reprimand the world for its disobedience by means of war, hunger and the persecution of the Church. Additionally, Lucia said that the Lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to peace.
At first, no one believed them and they faced ridicule. Their parents and city officials asked them to retract their story, but the children stood their ground. During the last apparition on October 13th, 1917, there were 70,000 people present. The Lady told them that she was the “Lady of the Rosary” and that a chapel was to be built in her honor.
Today, Fatima attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, particularly on the pilgrimage days in May and October. The large torch-lit processions in the evening are particularly impressive, often lead by Cardinals and Bishops. Some pilgrims will even walk all the way from Lisbon to Fatima. May 13th, 2017 will be the 100 year anniversary of the first apparitions of Mary in Fatima and Pope Francis will visit.
Jacinta and Francisco both died at a very young age. Lucia devoted her life to God and became a nun. She lived to be 97. On February 13, 2008 (the third anniversary of her death) Pope Benedict XVI announced that in the case of Sister Lúcia he would waive the five-year waiting period before opening a cause for beatification, a step toward canonization.
Churches of Fatima
The spiritual center is a large plaza, known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, with impressive churches at each end. Everything is white and on a sunny day like when we were there it is really bright. First, we went inside the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, which was built in 2007 to help accommodate the crowds. The building is round, with very impressive wooden doors. The main attraction inside is the beautiful mosaic at the altar.
Next, we visited the Chapel of the Apparitions, located where the Virgin Mary appeared back in 1917. A marble pillar and enclosed case, with the image of the Virgin Mary, marks the exact location of the Marian apparitions. The chapel is a small open air space and when we were there it was pretty crowded.
Then we went to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. It felt much smaller than I expected it to be. Just like the plaza, the dominating color inside the church is white. Inside the church, you can visit the graves of the three children. Lucia’s grave is on the right side of the altar and her cousins are buried on the other. All the graves had beautiful flowers.
If you go to the Visitor Center, close to the Chapel of the Apparitions, you can get a brochure that includes a schedule of the services.
Other Points of Interest in Fatima
Some people just make a Fatima pilgrimage for the holy water, which supposedly can even cure illnesses. You get the holy water from a fountain in the center of the square. We both tasted a little bit of the water and splashed in on ourselves. Many people bring bottles and fill them up to take the water away.
It was also interesting to see that there is a section of the Berlin Wall in Fatima. This segment is here placed as a monument to God’s intervention for the fall of Communism as promised at Fatima. Architect J. Carlos Loureiro designed the monument and it was inaugurated on the 13th. of August 1994.
You can also visit the children’s homes. We decided to do a quick drive-by since it was not very far away from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. The children came from very humble roots, as the houses were small. If I would have had more time, I would have loved to go inside.
I would recommend a Fatima pilgrimage any day! Regardless of your religious beliefs, the story is uplifting and the churches are impressive. Have you ever visited any pilgrimage sites? I would love to hear about your experience.
Expert Tips for Your Fatima Pilgrimage:
- If you plan on going the 13th of the month between May and October, especially in 2017, prepare for large crowds and plan ahead.
- Bring bottles so you can take home some of the holy water.
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