Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 24, 2005
Hungarians honour heritage
Freedom fighters revered in Via Sara (Holy Way) at Fatima
St. Stephen – August 16
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
A popular devotion for pilgrims visiting the great Marian shrine of Fatima is praying the Way of the Cross in the countryside that was home to the three children who were graced with apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1917.
The route meanders from the town of Fatima, climbing gradually to end at a prominence overlooking the great sanctuary dedicated to the Mother of God.
The story of the development of this walk of faith begins 50 years ago in far-off Hungary, then a subject state of the Soviet Union.
There, in 1956, a popular uprising attempted to throw off the communist yoke that had been imposed on the nation following the defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of the Second World War.
When the rebellion was crushed, many Hungarians were able to escape (37,000 to Canada alone) to join others who had earlier made their way to the West. Some of these expatriates wished to provide a physical memorial to the freedom fighters of 1956 and in 1962, constructed the Via Sacra (Holy Way) at Fatima.
The Way is the tradition, as developed by 13th century Franciscans, of walking in Christ's steps through 14 "stations" from his condemnation to his crucifixion.
At Fatima, the Sorrowful Way begins at the St. Teresa Roundabout and follows the route taken between low, olive tree-dotted hills by the little shepherds. It is marked at intervals by half-open roofed concrete kiosks that contain bas-relief images of the subject of the particular station.
At each stop, appropriate prayers and responses are recited and pilgrims meditate on an appropriate scriptural text. A familiar hymn is sung when moving between stations.
Halfway along the route, a short diversion allows participants to pray at the Valinhos where a shrine commemorates one of the appearances to Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Beyond the conventional final 14th station, a 15th , placed in 1992 by a parish in Hungary, celebrates the most important Christian event, the Resurrection, and commemorates the restoration of the Hungarian homeland after a generation of Soviet domination. On the adjacent natural prominence, a modest chapel was built and dedicated to Hungary's patron saint in 1964.
Stephen I, Magyar leader after 977 AD, fought determinedly to spread Christianity in his realm and was anointed king by the pope with the famous crown that was recovered and returned to Hungary following the Second World War.
He was noted for his charity and concern for the poor and was considered a sagacious ruler. Canonized in 1083, Stephen is acknowledged as the founder of Hungary.
His Fatima chapel contains 11 colourful stained glass windows that portray Hungarian saints and beati, arranged around the country's patron. The walls are covered with plaques that acknowledge the contributions of donors from around the world to the project. It's a serene place and provides a welcome respite for those who have travelled the Way.
A final ritual for many is the climb to the flat chapel roof to admire the Hungarian Calvary and enjoy panoramic vistas of Fatima and the Cova da Iria, where the children first experienced apparitions of Mary. Many will interrupt their return walk with a detour to visit other places associated with the miracles of Fatima - the children's homes, a sacred well, their parish church.
Home and faith
Memories of the experience of travelling the prayerful route past places that the little shepherds knew well will hopefully remain with participants for a long time, thanks to the religious fervour of dedicated people from another place who loved, not only their Blessed Virgin, but their distant homeland of Hungary.