AN ESTIMATED half-a-million Catholics from all over Portugal and other European countries descended on Lisbon last Saturday in what is believed to be the largest concentration of believers nationwide since Pope John Paul II’s visit to Fátima in 2000 for the beatification of the three shepherds.
Lisbon streets were swelled by a sea of candles carried by the faithful, stretching from Avenida de Berna, down Avenida da República, Fontes Pereira de Melo, Marquês de Pombal, Avenida de Liberdade and finishing up at Restauradores. The candlelit procession, which followed the image of the Virgin Mary from Fátima, was the culmination of a week’s activities by the International Congress for New Evangelists.
Despite the rain, from lunchtime crowds began congregating outside the Church of Our Lady of Fátima in Avenida de Berna at the beginning of the day’s activities, which ended with the consecration of Lisbon by the Virgin of the Chapel of Apparitions (the chapel in Fátima built on the site where the Virgin appeared before the three shepherds).
The white and gold statue of the Virgin, which was last seen in Lisbon in 1959, was carried atop a Lisbon fire service jeep from the church at 5pm, escorted by mounted horse guards, police jeeps and motorcycles. The clergy were followed by a multitude singing ‘Avé Maria’ until around 8pm, winding up in Restauradores where Cardinal José Policarpo conducted the ceremony for the consecration of Lisbon by Our Lady of Fátima.
During the service, the cardinal said that Our Lady served as a model of inspiration for all Portuguese women, while criticising the permissive culture and placing emphasis on the liberties of individuals. He also refuted criticism that the Catholic Church in Portugal was male dominated.
The first time that the statue of Our Lady of Fátima was brought to Lisbon was in April 1942 for a congress organised by the National Council for Young Catholic Women. In May 1959, Our Lady revisited the capital for the inauguration of the Cristo Rei monument.