Pope Francis came to Fatima, Portugal on May 12-13, 2017, which marked the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady to the three shepherd children. I live in Portugal, but unfortunately I was unable to be present. I did interview two of my friends who were there. Vanessa Machado is 34 years old, a nurse, and a Creighton Model Fertility Care Practitioner. Alexandra Ferreira is 44 years old and works for Aid to the Church in Need as a translator. Both live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pope Francis did not come on an official Papal visit, but said that he came as a pilgrim. He surprised everyone in his typical manner by walking to the Chapel of the Apparitions, instead of riding in the Popemobile and greeting people along the way.
How did the Pope’s closeness and visit impact your life and faith, at the time and now a month later?
Vanessa: “Those were beautiful days, in Fatima. The Pope’s attitude to step down was truly remarkable. I was sad I was not closer to that place. Actually I was taking home a couple of young girls, so I actually lost the moment live, only after did I see it. His attitude reminds me of Jesus’s closeness, when He lived here. It was pretty much the same, just being himself among the people, in simplicity and always available.
About the visit, it touched me to be part of that giant light, everyone with the same purpose, under the mantle of Our Lady, focused in the Chapel. But what really struck me the most was the silence… a million people in silence, while the Pope was praying to Our Heavenly Mother. It was impressive.”
Alexandra: “I went to Fatima not only to see and listen to Pope Francis but to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima and the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco. I could not miss that combination of events! It was a time when I experienced a lot of peace and harmony, both in my heart in the environment and with the people I was traveling with. She was present and that’s the way I know it’s true. The presence of the Pope was for me a way of consolidating our faith, as a nation and as a people, and of course also as an individual. It was like a validation, a gesture of renewal, like saying “Keep going that way, keep loving our Mother and let her love you.” We need it. The presence of the Holy Father in Portugal made my faith a little stronger and reinforced my identity as a Catholic. He brought blessings to my people and to my nation and I’m very grateful for that because we do need it very much.”
Portugal’s socialist and non-Catholic prime minister declared a national holiday, and the entire country came to a standstill, either to travel to Fatima or to watch it on TV. Both President and Prime Minister met with the Pope and the Portuguese airline TAP named a plane “Fatima”.
In a country of ever increasing lapsed Catholics and many who are vocal against Fatima, wouldn’t you say that the positive reaction in all of Portugal with the Pope’s visit was surprising?
Vanessa: “It was really surprising, but I’m not so optimistic to think that this will change anything… I guess it was more for historical purposes, human respect, than for the Faith itself. But, who knows? I met some people who converted because of simple actions, moments, words, so maybe this event and the importance given by the government can be such an occasion to open hearts, to help people wonder about Heaven’s matters/issues. I hope so and I even dare to trust God on this, He’s usually great on using everything He can to draw us closer to Him.”
Alexandra: “Well, I think it’s always surprising, just as God is surprising. We never really know all the stories and how these visits affect everyone’s hearts, even people who don’t care of even know who the Pope is. It’s true that sometimes there is strong opposition and these visits seem not to be “effective” but that is just what the media shows… The thing is if we believe that the Pope is the representative of God on earth he can’t really pass without showing Him, sowing seeds, leaving grace… He is the ultimate “official” tool God uses to talk to men, so nothing can really surprise us.”
In the homily of Cardinal Parolin at the Vigil Mass, he stated: “Our responsorial psalm was the Canticle of the Magnificat, with its sharp contrast between the “great” story of the nations and their conflicts, the story of the great and powerful with its own chronology and geography of power, and the “little” history of the poor, the humble and the powerless. The latter are called to work for peace with another force, with other seemingly useless or ineffective means, such as conversion, reparation, and trust.”
It seems that if one were to choose a country for Our Lady to use to spread a message, human criteria would chose perhaps the United States, which is great at marketing and English is spoken all around the world. Instead, Our Lady chose Portugal, a tiny country with little or no influence on the world at the time, marked by poverty, and chose shepherd children who were even more poor, humble and powerless than the country itself.
Is there any characteristic of the Portuguese or in Portugal’s history that you think could indicate why Our Lady would choose a “little” country and “little” children?
Vanessa: “Well, I guess power and ambition were the mains reasons to create Portugal, but Faith was pretty much connected to our origins. Our Golden times, the Discoveries, were not just about discovering new places, but also spread the Catholic Faith around the World. Our ships’ sail had the cross. Also our national flag has the symbol of the five wounds of Jesus. So, you see, Faith is tied to our origins and History.
Portuguese people, though I’m not neutral in saying this, are quite amiable, open and hospitable. I’m deeply thankful to God for belonging to a people with such traits.
Why “little” children from Portugal? God loves the little and simple. They have their hearts open, they don’t mind changing life, they can hear better than the ones who are full of their pride. Plus, in a practical point of view, it is easier to prove that something supernatural happened when you have children saying impossible things to know n such age. However, I don’t think this was the main reason ever, just a help for the skeptical.”
Alexandra: “I don’t know if I can say that the Portuguese are a humble and faithful people. That might be a good reason to be chosen. But what I know is that we don’t deserve it. It is a pure grace and unfortunately we keep forgetting to correspond to that preference shown by Our Lady.”
Pope Francis referred the daily prayer of the rosary at the Blessing of the Candles and Cardinal Parolin in his homily also. “Each time we recite the rosary, in this holy place or anywhere else, the Gospel enters anew into the life of individuals, families, peoples and the entire world” (Blessing of the Candles)
How do you see the rosary in your own life related to Fatima, and do you think this is a message that still needs to be spread?
Vanessa: “Though I’ve been a Catholic for many years and though my parents pray the rosary every day, only recently have I started to do it. I guess I had to find out for myself that it really makes a difference in my life. I see Our Lady untying the knots as I pray the rosary. I see incredible changes in people’s lives for whom I prayed for. How it took me so long to believe in Our Lady’s words, I don’t know. But now, I must spread this good news to the others. It is urgent!
The rosary is the prayer of the poor, the ones who couldn’t read the psalms, the ones who didn’t have anything to say. Our Lady made it really easy, just recite the simple prayer over and over again. The simple prayer which leads you to great miracles!”
Alexandra: “A lot could be said and has been said about the importance of the rosary by saints, popes and public figures. I believe that the prayer of the holy rosary is a powerful weapon against evil, a magnet of graces and the solution for all our problems and of the world. I believe in it so I think it should continue to be spread relentlessly. But most of all it is a request from a loving Mother to her children, a Mother who wants to save their children. How will we answer Her?”
Pope Francis met with sick people and highlighted their important role in the salvation of the world, as is central to Fatima’s message and the shepherd children’s lives. “I invite those of you who are sick to live your lives as a gift. Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart. Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission. Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.” (Greeting of the Holy Father to the Sick)
Do you think this is a message that also still needs to be spread?
Vanessa: “As a nurse, who has met so many sick people, and a person who sometimes needs to be taken care of as well, I cried and cried with these words. For me, it was the most important part in the whole pilgrimage. Our society despises what it cannot understand, like suffering, and tries to eliminate it. I don’t know why and no one has the answer, but suffering is part of life, you cannot runaway, erase it, without losing yourself. And these words of the Pope did exactly what we need: give meaning to what we live. It exalted the suffering not as an end in itself, but as a means to something greater. The sick, the old people often feel useless. That is so wrong. We need to tell them of their value, so beautiful, so great, so needed. I felt deeply loved by these words and I will keep them in my heart, like Mary used to do.”
Alexandra: “Yes, absolutely! I think that as suffering is so unattractive and undesirable and even repulsive. That’s natural that we reject it. But what Christ came to show us is that it is also a, or should I say THE, means of excellence of redemption. We all agree that suffering is part of life. It affects all of us sooner or later, in one way or another. What this message wants to teach us and to which we resist so much is that instead of wasting time and energy fighting against it, we should actually accept it and embrace it as a means to help saving souls. We don’t have to look for creative sacrifices; we just need to accept and offer every little or big pain, physical or emotional, spiritual or psychological. It’s not easy but it’s so simple… Suffering, just like health, is a gift and we should learn how to make a good use of it in order to make it productive for our sake and the sake of the whole wounded mankind. In our fast and sophisticated world we often miss good opportunities of making the difference in simple ways that are accessible to all of us just because they don’t look glamorous.”