Fatima by Bus and Car
March 11, 2002
Dear Friends and Families,
We'd planned a busy day, starting with a bus from Lisbon to Evora, where we had last abandoned our car. Having taken the bus once before, we felt like veterans, and the two-hour trip through farmland and cork trees passed quickly.
When we showed up at the Evora parking lot, our car was indeed still there. The engine started quickly so the only challenge was to repack both trunks. We are getting pretty good at this, but it's still a question every time we bring our bags to the car.
We drove out of Evora by noon and managed to find a nice lunch an hour later in a small town on our way north. The waiter even spoke English and insisted on reading the entire menu to us even though we'd already agreed on the second entry. He was fun though and that's been our experience in Portugal; nice people who make visiting pleasant.
Fully fed, we were back on the road. Our destination was the university town of Coimbra, but we wanted one stop first at the village of Fatima. (Background for those who avoided Catholic grade schools: In 1917, the BVM - Blessed Virgin Mary for the more traditional - appeared to three small children in a field near Fatima. She appealed for the children, and people generally, to pray more for peace. On the 13th of June, July, September and October, the apparition reoccurred. The August event was different because town officials had locked up the kids so the BVM showed up in a different but nearby location. This miracle has became one of the most famous 20 century events in Catholic tradition.)
Both Marianne and I had a dozen years of Catholic education, but we are not what one would call "active". The prospect of visiting the place of a famous miracle was intriguing, however, no matter how difficult believing in these things is. Fatima is a small village with just a single industry: religious pilgrims. On the 13th of every month, thousands arrive and attend services on the huge open square in front of the church.
On our arrival, the place was almost deserted. We crossed to the side where candles were burning. There were also small wax statues and even reproductions of legs, arms and other body parts. It seems that candles and other wax items are offered as symbols of specific needs for holy intervention.
Just beyond the fires of the candles, there is a simple open shrine erected on the exact spot of the original apparition. (Picture #5) The sense was one of peaceful, private devotion. A few people were tourists like us, but most were believing pilgrims. As hard as it is to believe in divine intervention through children of a small village in a small, poor country, it was obvious that believing brought peace to some.
We walked away from the small chapel up to the large church. It was more like our normal tourist visit to churches throughout Iberia. Large pictures of two of the Fatima children flank the bell tower. Both children died over 80 years ago but their third companion still lives in a Coimbra convent. Two years ago, the first two passed the initial hurdle of Catholic sainthood when they were beatified, based on verified miraculous cures.
On our way out of the shrine area, we stopped at one of several shops selling religious articles. Most of the shelves were full of the normal things such as statues, crosses, books, and religious pamphlets. The racks of wax body parts seemed "unusual", but I guess they have to come from somewhere. In case you are interested, body parts run several euros each. Candles are from 50 cents to almost 300 euros for a monster that weighs more than I do.
Back on the road to Coimbra, Marianne and I talked about our religious heritage. Mostly we doubt and visions of old Spanish churches filled with bones and gory statues only increase that doubt. The message of Fatima however is unassailable even today: pray for peace. Maybe we can take this message at face value and sidestep the doubt.
Take care and, if you are inclined, pray for peace.
John and Marianne
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