Centenary Pilgrimage to Fatima
They came from all parts of Europe, from Asia and Oceana, from the United States and Mexico and elsewhere, carrying their national flags and rosary beads, to honor the Blessed Mother of God. On August 19 and 20, Their Excellencies Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and Alfonso de Galarreta, clergy and seminarians of the Society of Saint Pius X and nearly 10,000 traditional Catholic faithful came to celebrate the greatest of the Marian apparitions. They came to pray, to sacrifice, and to give honor and glory to God at the place that Our Lady sanctified, 100 years ago, when she appeared to three shepherd children, leaving a message of timeless import, punctuated by perhaps the greatest miracle since the parting of the Red Sea: Fatima.
The Land of Holy Mary
For the Catholic pilgrim, there is something distinctive and appealing about this nation, traditionally known as “the Land of Holy Mary.” It was in the sixth century that the then Roman province known as Lusitania was first evangelized. Then, after succumbing to Moorish invasions in 711, liberation would come three centuries later, with the notable help of French crusaders. It was Alfonso Henriques, son of Henry, Count of Portugal, who consolidated the independence of Portugal with his victory over the Moors in 1139. Summarily acclaimed king by his troops on the battlefield, Henriques requested and received the protection of Pope Innocent II and placed the kingdom under the protection of Mary. He likewise ordered an annual tribute to St. Bernard’s monks and gave the Order certain extensive lands near Fatima. While he was planning the conquest of Santarem, King Henriques vowed that, if he were given victory over the Moors, he would erect a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Thus was built the magnificent Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça.
Even today, despite the Masonic persecutions of the last century and socialist government of the present, although Church and state are, regrettably, separated, it is a fact that “to be Portuguese is to be Catholic”—some 97 percent of the population considers itself Roman Catholic (the highest percentage in Western Europe). Our tour guide informed us, for instance, that the day we arrived (the Feast of the Assumption) was a national feast day. One must believe that there is a reason that Our Lady has protected this land, that she appeared here, and that she introduced the Third Secret by declaring, “In Portugal the dogma of the faith will be preserved . . . .”
The Town of Fatima Today
The town of Fatima today bears no resemblance to the hamlet of the early 20th century. In place of the groves of olive trees and holm oaks is a modern town of shops and hotels, surrounding a sanctuary dominated by two large churches—at the far end the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady at the Rosary (in which lie the tombs of the seers), and at the near end, the massive but otherwise forgettable Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity. The two are separated by an expansive esplanade on which a rosary procession is made nightly and in which is found the small Chapel of the Apparitions. The holm oak atop of which Our Lady appeared is long gone, but her statue now marks the precise spot of the apparitions. These changes aside, it is yet possible for today’s pilgrim, eyes closed, to instead visualize standing in that vast, muddy field, along with 70,000 men, women, and children, watching the sun dance in the sky, confirming the most important message since the Gospel.
Pilgrims wishing to exercise a bit less imagination and capture a flavor of life as lived by the dos Santos and Marto families a century ago need not be disappointed either. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were born and lived in the nearby village of Aljustrel, walking distance (for a pilgrim, anyway) from the Fatima sanctuary. There one finds the houses of the children still preserved, as has been some of the quaintness of the village (despite being burdened by souvenir shops). The surrounding countryside, laden with olive groves, seems much unchanged from a century ago. Other special highlights of Aljustrel and its environs include the two sites of the apparition of the Angel of Peace (1916) at the Loca do Cabeço (where the angel taught the children prayers and gave them Holy Communion) and the Poço do Arneiro, near the back of Lucia’s family home, where the angel gave the children a message that we may all take to heart: “Offer all that you do, to the Most High, as prayers and sacrifices.” Finally, Aljustrel provides a notable living connection to the Fatima story: the niece of Lucia dos Santos is there, day by day, sitting in a small, unadorned room, wearing black and fingering her rosary, greeting lines of pilgrims.
The date selected for the opening of this pilgrimage corresponded to the centenary of the fourth appearance of Our Lady to Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. It will be remembered that the August apparition was the only one not occurring on the 13th of the month; the children had been kidnapped that day by the Masonic Administrator of Vila Nova de Ourem, who threatened death by burning oil if they did not reveal Our Lady’s secret. Of course, none of them did. Neither were heaven’s designs thwarted—Our Lady instead appeared to the children on the 19th, in Valinhos. Her message to the children then remains as relevant to us today: “Pray! Pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls are going to hell because they have nobody who prays and makes sacrifices for them.”
A Pilgrimage for Our Lady
The faithful attending the pilgrimage this year had much matter for sacrifice, having had already come from long distances, now arriving at the Mass location, an expansive field with a paucity of trees for shade, and most standing for some 2 ½ hours. Even so, one could look about and see nothing but joyful countenances, quiet children with their families, scores of priests hearing confessions, and an abundance of religious, including Dominican, SSPX, Franciscan, and Benedictine.
On that first day Solemn Mass was celebrated by Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Rector of the SSPX’s seminary in Zaitzkofen. During his sermon (delivered in at least four languages), Father Rector reminded the pilgrims of the relevance of the message of Our Lady of Fatima, inviting them to offer up their sufferings so that the Church might overcome her present crisis and for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Immediately following Holy Mass, the clergy led a nearly two mile procession to Valinhos, where a statue of Our Lady stands at the apparition site. The faithful, segmented by language groups but united in faith and fervor, chanted or recited the rosary along the way sang Marian hymns as they made their way through the country roads, fields, and woods en route. Once gathered at the apparition site, beneath the olive trees, kneeling on the stone pavement and in the surrounding groves, the gathered multitude prayed the holy rosary in the universal language of the Church. After dinner, many spent part of the night in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for adoration and reparation.
The next morning, Sunday, under a bright sun, the pontifical Mass was celebrated by Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X. He was assisted by Frs. Niklaus Pfluger and Alain-Marc Nély. Fr. Yves le Roux, rector of the SSPX seminary in the United States served as the Assistant Priest.
In his sermon, His Excellency first recalled the vision of hell that the three shepherd children of Fatima contemplated with horror; he explained that this fear is salutary. To the contrary, those who seek today to anesthetize consciences by offering them a broad path are truly assassins of souls.
Then Bishop Fellay emphasized that the message of Fatima is a message of hope: those who practice the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary will be saved. This divine promise of salvation offers us an easy means: all we have to do is take it seriously. We must make reparation for the offenses against the Most Blessed Mother of God. Like little Francisco, we must seek to console the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. We should accept all trials generously, offer them up, and sacrifice ourselves by faithfully accomplishing our duty of state, seeing souls through the eyes of Our Blessed Lord as He gazed at them from His Cross, and the eyes of Our Lady, standing at the foot of the same cross, “stabat Mater.”
In conclusion, the Superior General forcefully repeated that the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is willed by God for the world today. Not a superficial or mechanical devotion, either, but a profound one: her heart must be our intimate refuge. The prelate also announced that he would renew the consecration of Russia right after the Mass, just as Archbishop Lefebvre did here in Fatima thirty years ago. (It is understood, of course, that it is up to the Holy Father and all the bishops of the world in union with him to make this consecration authoritatively so as to satisfy the demand of the Blessed Virgin. The Society’s act of consecration is a way of expressing its desire to answer Heaven’s request, while fully aware of its limits, with the lively hope that the Vicar of Christ will one day consecrate the country himself.)
Later in the afternoon, our group and others walked the Stations of the Cross from Fatima to Valinhos, in temperatures exceeding 100 F. There, at 3 pm, thousands of traditional pilgrims, sons and daughters of Our Lady, gathered one last time for the final recitation of the rosary, this time with substantial meditations being offered by two Society priest between decades.
The final rosary having been said, the pilgrims dispersed from Valinhos into the town of Aljustrel. On the way to our bus I walked next to a young boy whose parents and sister were members of our tour group. I asked him what he found most meaningful about the pilgrimage. He mentioned the Church of the Holy Miracle that we had seen in Santarem, the actual Body and Blood of Our Lord having been preserved above the sacristy after the Eucharistic miracle 792 years ago. He mentioned as well having walked the penitential path down the esplanade of the Fatima sanctuary on his knees, as Lucia de Jesus had done, a century ago, in thanksgiving for her mother’s cure. And, finally, this young lad, about the age of St. Francisco Marto, said to me, “I want to be a saint”—the message of Fatima taking root in a new generation, no doubt bringing consolation to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart.