by Aaron D’Souza, University of Texas at Dallas
I stared out at the plane at the break of dawn, snapping a quick picture before heading to customs. It had been a long journey from Houston, to Indianapolis, to Boston, and finally Lisbon. After leaving the airport, I entered a pastry shop and ordered a Nutella crepe and a “café,” which I soon found out meant a shot of espresso, rather than a cup of coffee. It was March 19, the solemnity of St. Joseph, and soon I was going to be one of the many pilgrims at one of the most well-known Marian sites of the Church: Fatima.
The sun was shining on the bus ride from Lisbon, illuminating the hills, crops, and villages on the way. There were people from all over the world on the bus, including a lady from the Philippines who helped me find my seat and one from France who let me borrow her phone charger. Admire the landscape or sleep – that was the decision – but my weary eyes made it for me. The bus finally made it to our stop, and we disembarked, stepping foot in the place where the lives of three shepherd children, as well as millions of Catholics from across the world, were changed by a visit from the Blessed Mother.
A chapel stood over the spot where the apparitions had occurred, with two large basilicas looming over the site. I could see many pilgrims trodding on their knees on a specially paved path from the back of the site to the Chapel of the Apparitions. When I entered, I saw a statue of Pope Ven. Pius XII, as well as other statues around the outdoor site of José Alves Correia da Silva, the local bishop of Leiria from 1920 to 1957, and Pope St. John Paul II. At the center of the site was an elevated statue of Jesus with His hands lifted in a blessing. We prayed a Rosary and then had Mass in the Chapel of the Apparitions. I drew my Fátima centennial Rosary from my pocket, its violet beads illuminated by the sunlight in a way that I had never seen.
Up until I entered the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, I had not truly registered where I was. At the sight of St. Francisco’s tomb, I suddenly realized the profundity of what was in front of me. Here was the body of the boy, who had not been alive for even a whole decade, who saw the most loving Mother of God one hundred years ago. His body now lies within the ground, but it will surely be reunited with his soul some day. At the opposite side of his tomb were the bodies of St. Jacinta and Bl. Lucia. A year later I can’t recall what exactly went through my mind, but I do remember submitting myself more deeply to God’s will for my life.
Later on, I walked to the underground part of the site and saw the many chapels, each dedicated to various causes related to Christ or the Blessed Mother. I found the confessional chapel particularly interesting: the names of every priest hearing confessions were on TV screens outside the confessionals with flags by their names indicating which languages they spoke. Beside the chapels was an exhibit on the history of the Fatima site. In it was a painting of the Assumption of Our Lady, as well as a large statue of angels carrying her to heaven. Many museum pieces showed the beauty of the past, from a meticulously-detailed censer and bowl, to three gold roses gifted by popes, and a historic wooden confessional with a perforated metal plate instead of a mesh screen. Towards the end of the exhibit, I noticed two pictures of St. Francisco and St. Jacinta both holding a lamp in one hand and a rosary in the other, with solemn expressions. This led me to ask: what would their faces look like seeing the world as it is today?
During her visit, Mary revealed to the children a vision of Hell and explained how many go there because of sins of the flesh. Today, sexual temptations are more prevalent than ever before, as children are exposed to the evils of pornography years before they are teenagers, with more and more nations celebrating and legalizing perversion. Rather than being a witness to the teachings of their faith, many self-identified Catholics in the
United States either do not know what the Church teaches, or actively oppose it – particularly in regard to gay marriage and contraception. Our Lady did not leave her children – Francisco, Jacinta, Lucia, and all of us- unguarded. Rather, she stressed the importance of praying a daily rosary and making sacrifices for the souls of sinners; we should heed her words today more than ever. As I was leaving the site, I looked once again over the area, remembering how seventy thousand gathered to witness the Miracle of the Sun. Let us allow the story of these little Saints inspire us, particularly young people, to increasingly fervent prayer, obedience to God, and witness to our faith. Though others sometimes may not listen to our words or the truth of the Church, God is always listening to our prayers.
“Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”
To the reader: I was extremely blessed to be able to go on this pilgrimage. If you ever have the chance to visit Fatima, GO! It was a great experience – difficult at times since I only spoke English – but overall an experience that will definitely be a lifelong memory.
For a video on the 100th Anniversary of Fatima, check here: