Last week, Pope Francis came to Portugal to canonize (declare to be a saint) two children – Francisco and Jacinta. Supposedly, Francisco, Jacinta, and their sister, Lúcia, who was already canonized several years ago, witnessed an apparition of Mary on May 13, 1917. This apparition was repeated six more times on the 13th of every month until October of that year. Over time, these apparitions gained notoriety and pilgrims began to flock to the village of Fátima where the children were from. This village is now one of the most important shrines in roman Catholicism, and millions of people visit every year to venerate and pray to Mary.
The pope’s visit captivated the attention of most of the country. Millions stopped to watch the proceedings, and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims went by foot to Fátima. Portugal is an increasingly secular country, but Catholicism remains strong, especially in the north. Many still cherish traditions such as Fátima and all that it entails.
I’ve visited Fátima several times in the past, and always left saddened and overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. How do you make a difference with something that seems so vast and deeply entrenched in a culture?
But this time would be different. A friend of mine and member of our church, Alessandro, invited me to go with him and help a Christian organization that was doing an evangelistic outreach to the pilgrims who were walking to Fátima.
There were about eight of us that spent the day on the side of a road. Thousands of people passed by on their way to Fátima and to see the pope. Many of them had walked over 200 miles from towns and villages all over the country. We handed out water, coffee, tea, candy, and fruit. We sang songs, smiled, prayed, and handed out gospel bracelets with a tract. We called these bracelets, “the pilgrim’s bracelet” because we thought it would make it more likely for people to accept them. Who could refuse a “pilgrim’s bracelet”?
All day long, groups of pilgrims would pass by. Many times, they would be praying to Mary or singing songs to Mary. Mary was receiving all the attention and affection that is due only to Christ.
While we will only know in eternity the effect of our work, it was encouraging to at least be doing something. Throughout the day, we prayed with people, shared the gospel, and showed the love of Jesus. May He be exalted, and may the thousands that gathered to venerate Mary discover that all that they need is found in Christ.
Thank you for praying for Portugal!
The following pictures were taken on a different day when I was in Fátima. You can see the sadness and despair in the faces of the people.