Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 9, 2005
Our Lady of Fatima still intrigues
Pilgrims search for the shepherds' awe when visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary
Our Lady of Fatima — Feast Day — May 13
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
On Feb. 13 in the sheltered cloisters of the Carmelite Convent in Coimbra, Portugal, Sister Lucia dos Santos passed away at age 97, causing many to recall the amazing days almost 90 years ago, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young shepherds at nearby Fatima.
Lucy, the oldest of the trio, outlived her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto by 85 years, in obedience and seclusion. Her death adds another chapter to the remarkable story of Our Lady of Fatima and of the millions who have visited the famous shrine.
Today's pilgrims can get a feeling for the environment shared by the children in 1917 as they tended their charges to the west of Aljustrel, near Fatima. The series of apparitions may be followed in sequence by visiting the open olive tree-dotted pastureland in the rural hill country where the children lived.
In tiny Aljustrel, the homes of Lucy, nine years old at the time, and of Francisco and Jacinta (eight and six) remain much as they were 90 years ago and are furnished and open to the public. Their still active parish church prizes the font where the children were baptized and the places where they prayed.
The first apparitions experienced by the children took place in the spring of 1916. The glowing Angel of Fire appeared to the astounded three at the Cabeco, a rocky hillside west of Aljustrel and prayed with them. That summer, they were visited again by the angel at a well in Lucy's yard in town and were exhorted by him to adopt habits of regular prayer and penance. Today, four life-size marble figures identify the spot.
The third appearance of the heavenly visitor was again at the Cabeco in the autumn when he taught the children additional prayers. The rocky site, surrounded by trees, is now marked by an attractive, sculpted marble group.
The children were secretive about their experiences until on May 13, 1917, they were amazed by a vision of Our Lady at the Cova da Iria, a shallow valley much further from their homes.
Other appearances followed at the same place, except for the fourth, which was at Valinhos, a site in the hills near the Cabeco. It is marked by a small chapel containing a statue of Our Lady. Her message encouraged people to reform their ways, to atone for sin and to pray the rosary daily.
Her final appearance was accompanied by the famous miracle where some 70,000 people witnessed the sun gyrating in the sky.
The Cova, now paved over, is the focus of the Fatima experience for pilgrims. The precise site of the apparitions is marked by a stone pedestal surmounted by an image of Our Lady of the Rosary. It is adjacent to the Chapel of the Apparitions and the two occupy a shelter beneath which Masses are offered daily and where evening candlelight processions originate.
Both the Valinhos and Cabeco are accessible from the Way of the Cross, constructed by Hungarian ‚migr‚s to remember the 1956 uprising in their country. Chapels at each station lead to an open, hilltop shrine dedicated to their patron, St. Stephen. Its roof supports a life-size Calvary from which there are spectacular vistas of the main Fatima shrine and basilica.
Dominating the square at Fatima, the basilica is most noted for containing, in separate chapels, the graves of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta.
They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000 and their cause for sainthood continues. Sister Lucy, "humble and devout who consecrated her life to Christ" according to Pope John Paul will hopefully be the object of similar attention in the near future.
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