By CHRIS GRAEME
A REGIONAL airport close to Fátima to help bring foreign pilgrims to the world famous Catholic sanctuary is just one of a parcel of measures being called for by religious leaders and devotees.
Religious leaders at the sanctuary claim that the secular Portuguese government shows little enthusiasm or will to cooperate more with the Catholic authorities at the shrine to ease the many problems associated with the thousands of pilgrims and faithful that descend on the town several times a year.
The Fátima hierarchy say the government does nothing to ease the “constant jams” caused by traffic in the town and “shouldn’t tax” church money and donations given to the sanctuary.
Religious leaders also announced that they would lay on psychologists and counsellors to help journey-weary pilgrims, and that the monies donated for this year’s annual May pilgrimage should be given to Cáritas Portuguesa to ease the distress and suffering caused by the Darfur conflict.
Fátima Sanctuary Rector, Luciano Guerra referred to “various necessary work within the precinct and surrounding area” that needed carrying out.
“I moan about politicians but what use is it me moaning?” he said, adding that a tunnel needed to be built on the main Fátima avenue which was usually choc-a-bloc with traffic and parked cars.
“Neither the Câmara nor the government move forward with the plan because they (the government) won’t make a decision,” said the rector, who stressed that he wasn’t making any “accusations.”
The Câmara Municipal de Fátima is currently examining a viability study into an 80 million Euro regional airport to bring charter loads of pilgrims into the town from all over the world.
“Anything that can bring the pilgrims closer to Fátima is a good thing but we must make sure that the airport doesn’t ruin the atmosphere and environment in and around the sanctuary,” said Rector Luciano Guerra.
The runway being studied is considered too close to the town and religious leaders would prefer the airport to be at least 11 to 12 kilometres distance from Fátima, such as in the case of Lourdes in France.
On Monday and Tuesday thousands of pilgrims and faithful marked the 91st anniversary since the three shepherds saw the Virgin Mary at Fátima in 1917. However, there have been at least 20,000 visions of the Holy Mother around the world in the last thousand years or so, of which the Catholic Church only recognises 15 as authentic.
Lourdes, in the French Pyrenees, is one of them and the most visited Catholic sanctuary in the world with around six million visiting the site annually.
Did you know?
Before the Reformation, England had its very own equivalent to Fátima, the Holy Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk.
The site has been a place of pilgrimage for English Catholics and other visitors since early medieval times when Richeldis de Faverches was visited by Our Lady and told to build a chapel at the site.
The original shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, founded in 1061, was destroyed during the English Reformation and the miraculous statue of Our Lady taken to London and burnt.
However, the so-called Slipper Chapel was restored and pilgrimages to Walsingham have been popular at the site since the 19th century.
Most Kings and Queens of England have visited Walsingham of various times up until the reign of Henry VIII, who was a frequent visitor with Catherine of Aragon to pray for the desperately needed heir that never came to the couple and led to Henry’s eventual split with Rome.
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