Fourteen days after setting off on her 397km marathon charity walk from Cape St. Vincent, west Algarve resident Christina Vandermeulen arrived in Fátima, one day ahead of schedule.
Christina, 61, from Belgium, decided to make this personal pilgrimage to raise funds for the poor children of Aljezur.
It was an ambitious project as it meant walking a distance of 397km as the crow flies, or anything up to 450km depending on any variations or detours along the route she mapped out, passing through Odeceixe, Sines, Setúbal, Lisbon and Santarém.
Christina, who lives in the west coast community of Vale da Telha, Aljezur, kept an online diary on her Fatimacharitywalk Facebook page and last weekend she was able to triumphantly announce: “Yes! Yes! I did it.”
This was a double mission for Christina. Firstly, she set out to raise funds for the poor children of Aljezur, specifying that she wanted to help a deserving local cause.
The charity is Conferência de Nossa Senhora D’Alva, Aljezur, a purely local division of the international St Vincent de Paul Society, set up to help local people in urgent need of support.
Her second reason is more personal and all the more poignant for that. Forty-two years ago in 1973, when Christina was just 19, her first child, a son named Lieven, died at the age of only 16 months. He would have been 43 this month.
With the heartbreaking memory of that tragedy still fresh in her mind when she became pregnant in 1977 with her daughter Veronique, Christina, a Catholic, made a vow to the Virgin Mary that if her baby was born healthy and survived she would one day make a pilgrimage of thanks for the life of her child. That pilgrimage is now completed, her promise kept.
Christina will conduct a final totting-up of funds raised when she returns from a trip to Belgium on May 17 and anyone wishing to do so can still contribute with donations by contacting her.
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By Matt D’Arcy
Photo: Walk over! Christina arrives in Fátima