Women pray during the Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at Fátima Sanctuary on March 25
Women pray during the Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at Fátima Sanctuary on March 25 Photo: PAULO CUNHA/LUSA

Fátima prayers for peace

Catholic pilgrims gather in the Sanctuary of Fátima on May 13 for the 105th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary

Catholic pilgrims from around the world will gather in the Sanctuary of Fátima in central Portugal this Friday for the 105th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported by three shepherd children.

Prior to the COVID interruptions of the Fátima gatherings, several million pilgrims travelled to the shrine each year. The celebrations are held on the 13th of each month, May to October. They will be all the more notable this year because the Virgin Mary is said to have told the young visionaries that without prayer and “the consecrated of Russia to my immaculate heart”, Russia would spread its “errors throughout the entire world, fermenting wars and persecution of the Church”.

The apparitions have long been accepted as authentic by the Vatican and a number of popes are said to have carried out the act of consecration.

The majority of religious citizens in Russia and Ukraine adhere to the Orthodox Christian Church that split from the Catholic Church in the 10th century. The first formal meeting between Catholic and Orthodox leaders in a thousand years did not occur until 2016 when Pope Francis met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba.

Pope Francis has appealed for peace in Russia’s war against Ukraine but without success. He had hoped to visit Moscow and meet the Russian patriarch again – perhaps even President Putin too – but that was cancelled. He called for an Easter truce in Ukraine but was ignored.

Francis has continued his calls for peace while being careful to maintain a neutral stance between the two warring factions. His diplomatic approach is supported by the Vatican but criticised by those in both the Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches who feel he should openly declare that Putin is the aggressor and must be held to account for war crimes, including atrocities involving the brutal killing of many women and children.

While Pope Francis has stopped short of directly naming or blaming Russia or Putin, the war has a strong, underlying religious element in that Patriarch Kirill fully supports Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’ that is openly deplored by Ukrainian and international Orthodox patriarchs. Francis also deplores the war and his diplomatic approach has been described by observers as “a political and spiritual tightrope”.

There will almost certainly be prayers for peace at the Fátima Sanctuary on Friday, four days after Russia’s Victory Day commemoration of its defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War.

The sanctuary with its iconic shrine was visited by Pope Francis in May 2017, the centenary year of the apparitions. Friday’s prayers will be overseen by the Vatican’s Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra.

The number of pilgrims present cannot be accurately estimated, but a Fátima spokesperson has told us that groups from 19 mostly European countries – but also from as far away as Canada, the United States, Mexico and El Salvador – have registered to be present.

A great many individual pilgrims do not register and simply turn up. Those who have come a long way on foot, or who arrive in the hope of healing, will be especially welcome.

By LEN PORT

Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt