One hundred years ago, on May 13, 1917, shepherd children Lúcia Santos, 9, and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 8 and 6, were pasturing their flock as usual at the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal.
Suddenly, a bright shaft of light pierced the air. After a while, they saw “a lady dressed in all white, more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water, pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”
There would be more apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary after this, as well as the great miracle of the dancing sun witnessed by about 70,000 people. Since then, the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the world.
Imagine my excitement when Christine Santos-Francisco invited me to join her family and a group of friends to go on a pilgrimage to Fatima last May for the 100th year celebration of Our Lady’s apparition.
I’m an avid follower of Christine on Facebook. Her trips always look so meaningful and exciting. After Fatima, we walked the Portuguese route to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Our trip began in Lisbon. My husband Renato and I arrived a day ahead of the group and spent three days going around the city savoring different bacalao and fresh seafood dishes.
There were 13 people in our group and I only knew two, Christine and Billy Trinidad. It was the first time for me to meet the others—Ed and Lil Santos, Chris Velez, Chickie Feraren, Ana Santos, Nel and Maricel Madrid, and Boyet and Bam Gonzales.
We left for Fatima the next day and since it takes only an hour and a half to get there, we arrived early in the afternoon. After checking into the hotel, the group walked over to the square.
Love and peace
I immediately felt a serene feeling coming over me. I felt so much love and peace. I also felt a bit of sadness, as I remembered my own mother (Glecy Tantoco, the founder of Rustan’s—ed), who was a great devotee of the Our Lady of Fatima. I was with her 23 years ago when she found out that she had cancer. She would visit Fatima twice a year, praying that she would be healed.
She lived for three more years, a lot longer than the prognosis of three months. What a gift those three years were!
This trip to Fatima made me feel my mom’s presence. I felt like she was there, hugging me. I thanked my Celestial Mother for the great gift of my earthly mother.
I also thanked my mom for making me feel her love on this trip. I asked her to pray for all of us, especially for my dad and his health, all my family members, “yaya” Cion, my friends and all those who asked me to pray for them.
The square was a sight to behold. There was a multitude of people, some milling around, while others were walking on their knees towards the Basilica, starting from the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. The path is about 182 meters long. Renato and I tried to walk on our knees, too, but we only lasted for one decade of the rosary.
The main event of this centennial celebration was the canonization of Francisco and Jacinta, who both died at a very early age—Francisco at 11 and Jacinta at 10—after a long and painful illness, which she offered up for the conversion of sinners, for peace in the world and for the Holy Father.
Lúcia lived to 98 as a Carmelite nun in the convent of her order in Coimbra, Portugal. I had the opportunity to visit their tombs, located next to the main altar.
Pilgrims who visit the Shrine during the year will receive a plenary indulgence. To receive this, one must pray the rosary in front of the statue of Our Lady, go to Holy Mass, Confession, Communion and pray the Our Father and the Creed.
On the first day, we heard Mass at the apparition site, now a small chapel on the left side of the square where we also prayed the rosary. There, the statue of Our Lady is displayed in a bulletproof enclosure and on her crown is one of the bullets used against Pope John Paul II during an assassination attempt on his life. According to Pope John Paul II, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path,” accounting for his miraculous survival. He attributed the miracle to Our Lady of Fatima, to whom he had a devotion.
Balikbayan box service
On our second day, we found some time to go shopping and I bought some containers to fill with holy water. Thank goodness for Shane, a Filipina who owns a store right next to the shrine. She even provides balikbayan box service. We were able to shop without having to worry about overweight luggage at the start of our trip.
After dinner, that same day, we returned to the Apparition Chapel to pray the rosary (daily at 9 p.m.). They recite the five decades in Portuguese, while reflections in between decades were said in different languages.
At 9:30 p.m. there is a procession of lights, the most holy and breathtaking experience. Hundreds of people with their tiny candles walk behind the Our Lady’s statue, singing hymns of praise.
On day three, we hired a guide to take us to Ajustrel, the little village and hill where the children lived and played. It was here that an angel (the Angel of Peace), to prepare them, appeared to them three times before the Our Lady’s apparitions. We were able to visit the homes of the children, which were quaint and charming, filled with pictures of their families and themselves. We even met a relative of theirs who was said to be about 96 years old (my own father’s age).
On the hill, one finds the Stations of the Cross called the Hungarian Calvary, built by Hungarian Catholics who were protected in Fatima during World War II.
There is also the Chapel of St. Stephen, its ceiling above the entrance features mosaics of the apparitions in the Cova da Iria and the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.
We also visited their village, the original Chapel of Fatima, where the children were baptized and where Lúcia received her first Holy Communion.
On our last day, there was one last thing I had to do, which was to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While this seems easy enough, trying to find a priest who speaks English was not easy at all. When I finally did find one, I felt a feeling of lightness and renewal. I was ready to begin my Camino Santiago de Compostella adventure the next day.
As I reflect on my trip, the message that comes to me is that we have a mother in heaven who is constantly interceding on behalf of her children. We are not alone.
I also thought about my own mother and the gift that she was. Mothers are a miracle of God. It is their unconditional love, their tender care and the beautiful lessons they teach us that gave us a foretaste of heaven.
The true miracle of Fatima is love—the love of God for all his children, the love of our Blessed Mother and the love that unites all human beings as one family.
This trip was truly a blessing for which I am most grateful. —CONTRIBUTED