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In the year 1917, in a mountainous region at the center of Portugal, the Mother of God appeared six times to three young children. Elsewhere on the continent the “Great War” raged, that would cost Europe an entire generation, over 37 million lives. Besides sending her own sons to die (in France and North Africa) Portugal was in political chaos at home. There was a dizzy succession of governments following a revolution in 1910. The monarchy had been replaced by a republic, with a new liberal constitution separating Church from state. Government officials, under the influence of Freemasonry, were not sympathetic to the Faith. But for the people themselves, the Faith was the air they breathed, as in the village of Aljustrel, a collection of whitewashed houses on a dusty road in the parish of Fatima.
There Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were born and raised in homes where the catechism was their daily bread, stories from the Bible their recreation, and the word of the village priest was law. Lucia de Jesus Santos was born, the youngest of seven children, to Antonio and Maria Rosa Santos, on 22 March 1907. She was a plain child with sparkling eyes and a magnetic personality, a natural leader to whom other children looked with confident affection. Blessed with an excellent memory, Lucia was able to learn her catechism, and make her First Communion and Confession, at age six. She herself became a catechist at nine. Lucia would be the constant guide and companion to her first cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, through the trials that accompanied the apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
With a monumental columned staircase, the Holy Way has paintings of polichromatic ceramic. In front of the basilica, in the colonnade, we can see statues of four Portuguese saints: S.João de Deus, S.João de Brito, Santo António e Beato Nuno de Santa Maria. From side to side, from left to right, there are these too : Santa Teresa de Ávila, S. Francisco de Sales, Beato Marcelino de Champagnat, S. João Baptista de La Salle, S. Afonso Maria de Ligurio, S. João Bosco as well as S. Domingos Sávio, S. Luís Maria Grignion de Mofort, S. Vicente de Paulo, S. Simão Stock, S. Inácio de Loyola, S. Paulo da Cruz, S. João da Cruz e Santa Beatriz da Silva.
Candles and wax figures (limbs, legs, heads and so on) were burned in the past as offerings for miracles performed by the Virgin. Today only candles are burned since the wax figures are recyled to make new candles.
The "Little Chapel of the Aparitions" is the real heart of the sanctuary. It was the first building constructed in the Cova de Iria, in the place of the Aparitions of Our Lady. The exact spot is signified by a marble column on which an image of Our Lady is placed. Four million pilgrims converge here each year to visit the Sanctuary.
Begun in 1928 and sanctified on 7 October 1953. Its 15 altars are dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. The painting on the main altar represents the Message of Our Lady to the clairvoyants, prepared by the Angel of Portugal, about his encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.
The Bishop of the diocese, D.José is seen kneeling, on the left, and figures of Popes Pius XII (that consecrated the world of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in 1942, and whose emissary acclaimed the Image of our Lady in 1946), Joseph XXIII and Paul VI. The stained-glass windows represent scenes and innovations of the Litany of Our Lady. In the four corners of the Basilica’s interior are statues of the great apostles of the Rosary and the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: S. António Maria Claret, S. Domingos de Gusmão, S. João Eudes and S. Estevão, King of Hungary. There are also the tombs of Francisco and Jacinta in the Basilica, and, in the main chapel, the remains of D. José Alves Correia da Silva, the first bishop of Leiria (1920-1957) of the restored Diocese.
For many people the most impressive sight is the intense emotion and faith of the penitents who approach the shrine on their knees. In the past, the number of people who came to Fátima on their knees was huge, sometimes they walk on their knees for many kilometers (or miles) on end. But now the Catholic Church tries to discourage that sort of behavior.
Please see in my travelogue "Popular devotion" some sights of that sort of devotion.
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