Fátima expects 250,000 pilgrims .jpg

Fátima expects 250,000 pilgrims

MORE THAN 250,000 people are expected to descend on Fátima this Sunday (February 19) when the remains of Sister Lúcia are transferred from Carmelo de Santa Teresa in Coimbra to the Basílica of Fátima. Police in Santarém are said to be mounting the biggest security operation ever staged in the area, involving reinforcements from various areas in the country in order to cope with the crowds.

Sister Lúcia, who died aged 97 on February 13, 2005 at her Carmelite convent in Coimbra, had been the last remaining visionary of Fátima. The nun who, for decades, guarded the ‘Segredo de Fátima’ (Secret of Fátima) always believed she would leave this world on the 13th day or on a Saturday, and this belief was realised. Such was her standing that the Portuguese government declared a national day of mourning and heads of state attended Sister Lúcia’s funeral last year.

Sister Lúcia’s cousins, Jacinto and Francisca, the other two Fátima visionaries, died as children in 1919 and 1920. They were beatified – the last step to sainthood – in 2000.

Hotels full

Police sources believe that, if the weather is fine, the area could be inundated with as many people as were welcomed on the occasion of the visit of the late Pope John Paul II to the Sanctuary for the beatification of the shepherd children. The expectation is based on fact. All the hotels in Fátima are fully booked and already there are no spaces left for coaches to park.

Safety plans

Concerned about the safety of the pilgrims, the commander of Santarém PSP has revealed that more than 200 officers from his force alone will be involved in the security operation. Policing for the event has been the subject of at least two months advance planning involving the PSP, GNR, PJ and various government departments. Policemen will take their positions from as early as 8am in the morning, five hours before the arrival of the casket at the Sanctuary (1.30pm).

Traffic jams

Serious traffic jams are expected on the A1, however, heavy traffic is not the only concern for the police. According to Chief Azevedo of Santarém PSP, “the passage of the procession inside Fátima itself will also require great care. The faith is very strong and certainly many people will want to touch the coffin as it passes. As well as this, we have to be extremely alert, as this kind of happening can provoke acts of sabotage or even terrorism.”

Police in Coimbra will also be present in full force. The remains of Sister Lúcia will leave the ‘university city’ (as Coimbra is also known) for the Sanctuary of Fátima at 12.30pm, following a mass at Sé Nova, and thousands are expected to line the route up until the northern motorway.

Strong following

The cult of Our Lady of Fátima began in 1917 when three children, tending sheep in a field at Cova da Iria, near Fátima in central Portugal, saw a shining figure in an oak tree.

Ten-year-old Lúcia dos Santos and her younger cousins, Jacinto and Francisca, said the vision told them she had come from heaven and they must return at the same time on the 13th day of the month for the next five months.

On the last day, October 13, tens of thousands of pilgrims were in attendance and many claimed that illnesses were cured and the blind had their sight restored.

The Virgin is said to have imparted to the children a message or secret in three parts, including a horrifying vision of hell and prophecies foretelling World War II and the fall of Communism in Russia.

The Church was uneasy at first with the rapidly growing cult and only authorised it in 1929. Later, a grandiose sanctuary was built in Fátima to welcome pilgrims, with the encouragement of the ultra-conservative Salazar dictatorship.

Third secret revealed in 2000

The third so-called secret was passed to the Vatican by Lúcia in the 1940s and was always thought to have been of an apocalyptic nature. The last secret was not actually revealed until as late as the year 2000, when the Pope visited Portugal. The belief was announced that it related to the assassination attempt on the Pope which took place in Rome’s St Peter’s Square in 1981.

Every year on the 13th day of the months from May to October, services and candlelight processions are held, attended by hundreds of thousands of Portuguese and foreign devotees, who come to fulfil pledges made when a loved one recovers from sickness or to pray for the Virgin’s help. Many travel on foot for miles and some make the point of covering the last few yards on their knees.

It is expected that the usual time period for beatification will be cut short in the case of Sister Lúcia. In normal circumstances, five years must pass after death and only then is the long journey to sainthood begun. But, in exceptional circumstances, the Vatican can authorise the immediate commencement of the process, as took place in the cases of Mother Teresa and more recently with John Paul II.

Sister Lúcia cures four-year-old girl

ROSÁRIO ANDRÉ, a four-year-old girl from Salta, in the north of Argentina, is thought to have been “cured” thanks to Sister Lúcia’s intervention in June 2005.

“I hope that the case of my daughter will support the beatification of Sister Lúcia,” said Alexandra, the mother of Rosário and a devotee of Our Lady Fátima. She is convinced that it was divine intervention that cured her child, “it was a miracle”, she says.

Rosário was diagnosed with Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS), an illness affecting the kidneys and central nervous system. It is a rare disease and, despite today’s medical advances, has a high death rate.  Rosário was admitted for 10 days of intensive therapy, followed by blood dialysis. But, just as the doctors were beginning to see an improvement in her condition, she contracted an infection in the hospital. The doctors prescribed antibiotics to fight the infection, but her kidneys couldn’t cope with the strength of the drug.

Magical moment

On June 13, Alexandra Maria knelt against her daughter’s bed, read from the book Memórias da Irmã Lúcia and prayed. She asked Sister Lúcia to cure her daughter and for her to live a healthy life. Days afterwards, Rosário was diagnosed by the doctors to have been cured. “Tests showed there were no signs of the infection, or the illness,” Alexandra said, and the doctors classified it as a “miracle”, she added.