The warm Mediterranean sun hung low above the western horizon. Our bus slowed and turned into a parking lot. Our pilgrimage director announced, “We’ve arrived at Fatima. Before going to our hotel, we are stopping so you can shop for souvenirs.”
I looked at the building next to the parking lot and commented to my daughter Tammie, “This is different. Usually there are dozens of small souvenir stores near pilgrimage sites. All I see is one huge store.”
Following the others off the bus, I entered the store and discovered why there was only one building. It was set up like a department store devoted to all things religious and in particular, objects showing they came from Fatima, Portugal.
As I made a circular tour of the store I came across luggage, which I reasoned was for pilgrim trips, veils and shawls to wear in church, statues of every size up to full scale, medals, biographies of saints, prayer books, bibles, rosaries and rosary-making supplies. The variety of each item was staggering. I felt like a child in a candy store.
After our late evening dinner several hours later, our tour manager posted the schedule of activities planned for the following day. Tammie got up from our table to take a picture of it. She came back and said, “Juan changed our wake-up call time.”
I optimistically responded, “Good. We get to sleep in an hour longer?”
My night-owl daughter grumpily answered, “No! Tomorrow morning, we have to get up an hour earlier; we have a 5 a.m. wake-up call.”
In the morning, night-time darkness enveloped us as we quietly made our way to the church. Despite our sleepiness, there was a beauty to the quiet stillness, especially since no pressing crowd of tourists and pilgrims competed for attention.
After breakfast we took a bus ride to the Hungarian Way of the Cross located on the western outskirts of Fatima. Built using funds from Hungarian Catholics, the first stone at the first Station was laid on June 21, 1959. At each of the 14 Stations, large white statues depicted scenes from Jesus’ Passion and death.
The winding route of the Stations of the Cross follows the path Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, three young shepherd children had usually taken to reach Cova da Iria, where they pastured their family sheep.
Mary appeared to the children, standing on a holm oak, in Cova da Iria in 1917. She promised the children that she would appear to them in the same place on the 13th day of the next five months. In August, on the day Mary was to appear, the children were taken away for questioning by a local government official.
The four children became living martyrs when they refused to recant that they had seen Mary, even at the threat of death. Since they had missed seeing Mary on the 13th, Mary appeared to them six days later along the route to Cova da Iria. A pure-white, life-sized statue of Mary marks the exact spot, between the 8th and 9th Stations of the Cross.
The messages given to the children by Mary warned of more war, like the one raging in Europe at the time, if people did not pray and amend their ways.
Near the Stations of the Cross is also the place Saint Michael the Arc Angel had appeared to the children the year before. The angel taught the children several prayers. Statues mark that place, also. Olive, oak and fig trees, wild roses, flowering grasses and weeds surrounding the area shows off the natural beauty of rural Portugal.
As the hours passed, more and more pilgrims joined our group as we moved on to visit the preserved homes of the children. Seeing the house where they had lived, the trees they had played under and the barn where the sheep had stayed at night, made the children relatable to us.
The exhaustion and gastrointestinal upset Tammie and I experienced the day before still plagued us. We spent the rest of the afternoon in our hotel room sleeping and resting.
At first, I felt bad about missing the chance to do more exploring at Fatima, but now realize that we had received what we were meant to experience from this holy site. We had related to the children who saw Mary. Like Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, Tammie and I desired to follow Mary’s example in bringing Jesus more fully into this world.