Beliefnet News

Associated Press – May 13, 2010
FATIMA, Portugal – Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday at Fatima, the Catholic shrine that pilgrims visit in search of cures for their ailments.
The Mass was the centerpiece of Benedict’s four-day visit to Portugal and marked the anniversary of the day 93 years ago when three local shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin in this small farming town.
The May 13 celebrations are one of the Catholic church’s major annual pilgrimages to a site where, many believe, the Virgin still works miracles.
“I have come to Fatima to pray, in union with Mary and so many pilgrims, for our human family, afflicted as it is by various ills and sufferings,” Benedict, the third pontiff to visit Fatima, said to an audience of at least 400,000 people.
Urging the infirm to take heart, he told the crowd it can “overcome the feeling of the uselessness of suffering which consumes a person from within and makes him feel a burden to those around him when, in reality, suffering which is lived with Jesus assists in the salvation of your brethren.”
His message struck a chord with many in the huge gathering, among them elderly and infirm people who, with their heads bowed, fingered rosaries.
Aurora Clemente, a 65-year-old cook from Portugal’s northeastern tip, close to the border with Spain, said she had been coming to Fatima on May 13 for more than 30 years.
“Fatima makes miracles. When my son was seriously ill, I prayed to the Virgin of Fatima and he survived,” she said.
“I find it very moving here. For me, this is the most beautiful place in the world,” she said, sitting beneath a red umbrella on the fringe of the crowd.
Like Lourdes in France, Fatima attracts millions of pilgrims a year seeking cures. One of the rituals pilgrims perform at Fatima involves casting replicas of body parts – eyes, lungs, hearts – on sale at local shops into a big bonfire while reciting a prayer asking for healing.
The pope blessed more than 400 infirm people after the Mass. He also visited the tombs of the shepherd children in the shrine’s basilica, where he knelt and prayed.
Pope Paul VI visited Fatima in 1967. Pope John Paul II – who was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 – came three times before his death, believing that the Virgin’s “unseen hand” had “rescued him from death,” Benedict said Wednesday.
The bullet that almost killed John Paul forms part of the crown of Fatima’s statue of the Virgin. The statue, decked with white and yellow roses, was carried shoulder-high through the crowd by soldiers before the Mass.
Benedict has spoken repeatedly about the sufferings of the world and even the church’s troubles during the trip, saying the “sins of the church” were responsible for the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Portugal is nearly 90 percent Catholic, but only around 2 million of its 10.6 million people describe themselves as practicing Catholics. In recent years, Portugal has drifted away from the church’s teachings.
Since arriving in Lisbon on Tuesday, the pope has scolded society for failing to care for the needy. He has said the global economic crisis demonstrated the need for greater moral responsibility in running the global financial system.
A mass of people filled the shrine’s bowl-like square sloping down from the Holy Trinity church, which can hold close to 9,000 people, to the tiny Chapel of the Apparitions and, behind it, the 70-meter-(yard)-high basilica with a golden crown and a cross on its bell tower.
Many arrived with a fold-up stool in one hand and an umbrella in the other due to occasional downpours, but as the Mass began the sun emerged from behind dark clouds and stayed throughout the ceremony.

Associated Press Writer Nicole Winfield in Fatima, Portugal, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus