Thursday, June 09, 2016
Technically, our pilgrimage only started on the 13th. Got our morning call at 6:30 AM, but on and off I was awake because I could hear my mother rummaging through her luggage whole night. Breakfast was not half bad with a good selection of local breads and buns, eggs and breakfast meats. Coffee was mild though.
While waiting for the group to assemble at the lobby, I realized that I was quick becoming the de facto IT support guy for the group of old aunties (average age was 65). They come to me for all sorts of problems-- How to log in to the wifi? Why won't my phone charge? How do I use the travel power adapter? How do I What's App this picture to my daughter? Why can't I switch on my phone? Quite a serious situation because one lady actually was trying to plug in the travel adapter to her phone sans the power cable!
On that day, we had a local tour guide who brought us around the grounds. Dominating the grounds is the Sanctuary of Fatima with a tall central bell tower topped with a giant bronze crown and a cross. Like St. Peter's Basilica, it has colonnades and a large square. According to our guide, Fatima got its name from a beautiful Moorish princess who was captured by Gonçalo Hermigues, a Portuguese knight. It was said that the knight married the princess and converted her to Christianity. The lands were named after her. Had our first good view of the place and it was huge.
Ave Maria from William Ng on Vimeo.
Our guide explained how Our Lady of the Rosary had revealed Herself to three shepherd children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto on the 13th of May 1917 while they were guarding sheep. The message consisted of three secrets-- a vision of Hell "where the souls of the sinful would travel" without prayer; the second, prophesied the beginning of the Second World War; and ultimately, the mysterious Third Secret that was only fully revealed by the Vatican in the year 2000. The official interpretation of the Third Secret is that it predicted Pope John Paul II's assassination attempt. Another interesting event was the Miracle of the Sun where thousands of people witnessed the sun spinning in the sky.
By Attributed to Joshua Benoliel - http://www.santuario-fatima.pt in Ilustração Portuguesa no. 610, 29 October 1917, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6785257
By Unknown - Illustracao Portugueza, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35012904
Then we went to view the exhibits of ex-votos to Our Lady of Fatima. Ex-votos are offered for prayers answered and vows fulfilled. These offerings can take many forms, from cross-stitch, wax models of afflicted body parts, soccer jerseys to wedding gowns. Most amazing is the 1.2 KG gold crown that was offered by the mothers of Portugal in 1942. They donated their jewelry as thanksgiving because Portugal remained neutral in WW II. The crown's finishing touch was the bullet that hit Pope John Paul II in the abdomen. The bullet was a perfect fit for a hole at the center of the crown. Amazing.
Once we exited the museum, we were greeted by a morning procession. We didn't join them but proceeded to the Sanctuary of Fatima.
The main feature of the sanctuary is the tomb of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacintha. Above the altar is also an impressive plaster relief of Our Lady of Fatima where is shown being crowned by the Holy Trinity. The stations of the cross are represented with beautiful bronze plaques in alcoves around the sanctuary. An Indian family was making their rounds, praying the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary.
Left Fatima after that to get into Aljustrel, a small village out of town where Jacinta and Lucia were born. The roads were narrow and the houses were built with limestone. Interesting to see how people lived back then. As people were of smaller stature back then (lack of nutrition), the ceiling and the doorways were low. Windows were small for better insulation and there's a cistern in the house to capture rain water. The stables doubled as the toilet. Agriculture was also limited to broad beans and other crops that required no irrigation (most of the rainwater seeps through the porous limestone). Outside of Lucia House, the group managed to interact with Lucia's niece who is already nearly a century old. She was dressed in all black, the traditional garb of a widow. For our journey back to Fatima, we used an old road that wound its way around hills. In the old days, pilgrims would walk from Lisbon to Fatima, some 80 kilometers away. Dotted along the way are stone crosses where pilgrims would stop to pray.
What tour would be complete without some kind of shopping at a tourist trap? We were brought to Centro Comercial Fatima which was a wholesaler for religious memorabilia. Shelves and shelves of rosaries, statues, crucifixes, key chains, fridge magnets, tryptichs, medals, pins, Portuguese tiles and anything that you could ever want for your Catholic altar. The aunties went crazy.
Lunch was at O Recinto (dunno why, but all restaurants are prefixed with O), a local restaurant in Fatima. Right at the entrance was a leg of jamon iberico. My heart skipped faster at the sight of that. But.... that wasn't for us. We started with bread, olives and potato soup. The main was rice with a yummy grilled chicken (lebih sedap dari Nando's). Then came the usual salad and we completed the meal with a slice of caramel pudding.
Next stop was the Chapel of the Apparition with the famous crowned statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The small chapel was built there by the request of Our Lady of Fatima near a great oak tree were the apparitions happened. Cedar timbers from Russia were used for the ceiling to represent the conversion of Russia. And for that same reason, a piece of the Berlin Wall is also found on the grounds.
The private mass of the day was at the Chapel of St. Joseph. No activity was planned after that, so we went around taking pictures at the plaza. Pilgrims actually kneel a distance of more than 200 meters to the Chapel of the Apparition as an act of penance. At the other end of the square is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, an auditorium style cathedral to cater to the masses. The altar is made up of gold mosaics. Underneath the cathedral is small chapels and exhibition spaces. Near the cathedral is a giant crucifix by Robert Schad, called the "High Cross". The sculpture is an imposing piece of industrial-looking art. While camwhoring at the plaza, I managed to catch sight of a family with three yummy sons. Thank you Mother Mary!
We had a buffet dinner at the hotel. Among the spread was a dish of pork and clams, fried potato cubes and grilled octopus tentacles (sedap). Our activity for the night was the candlelight procession at the Chapel of the Apparition. Rain and wind made us look for cover behind a glass wall. The proceedings were in Portuguese with visiting priests from all over. The rosary was recited in ten languages with different representatives praying 5 beads of the rosary. I could only make out French, Italian, Mandarin (our spiritual director), English, and Korean. Once that was completed, a lighted cross and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima led the procession of the clergy and the faithful. With the strong winds, it was a challenge to keep the candles lit. One loop around the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and it was done. Headed back to the warmth of my bed.