Mary Page News items give insight into our interest areas, our outreach, and the many ways people honor Our Lady. We welcome your input and your comments.
To celebrate the month of April with Mary:
Marian Commemoration Days
Mary Page offers a variety of resources inviting study, reflection and meditation. We also list important Marian dates for each month of the year. Please see Marian Commemoration Days for the month of April.
The Eucharist with Mary
Eucharist with Mary is an answer to John Paul II's proclamation of "a special Year of the Eucharist" (2004-2005). This feature will explore facets of Mary's relationship with the Eucharist and will be updated frequently throughout this year. Our latest addition is Anticipated Eucharist.
A section on Marian Spiritualities has been added to our About Mary page. The latest addition was "To Minister That Matter": Mary And The Trinity In Hopkins’ "The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe." Expect more articles to follow.
We have our answers to two reader questions: What is the Sabbatine Privilege?; and Who was Sister Lucia dos Santos? as well as updated information about the logo for The Mary Page web site, The Marian Library Medal.
New Web Addresses for The Mary Page
In order to make our web site more accessible, The Mary Page may now be reached at the following URLs: marypage.org; themarypage.org; and themarypage.net. The original address on the University of Dayton site remains active as well.
Collaboration with CatholicWeb
An important Catholic web site, CatholicWeb.com, has added The Mary Page to their list of Media Partners. They will highlight particular items from The Mary Page in their section on Catholic News. Please visit their site in return. We expect continued collaboration with them in the future.
Symbols of Grace Booklet Available at The Marian Library
The ML/IMRI recently produced, Symbols of Grace, a pamphlet showing many emblems representing Mary's Immaculate Conception along with explanatory text for each. The emblems featured in this booklet were reproduced and restored by The Society for the Preservation of the Roman Catholic Heritage. Robin Smith designed the layout, while Father Johann Roten and Brother William Fackovec contributed the text. These booklets are available for $1.00 per copy in The Marian Library on the seventh floor of U.D.'s Roesch Library. For more information, call 937-229-4214.
Polish Madonnas in Art and Poetry
Starting on May 17, The Marian Library will host an exhibit by Wislawa Kwiatkowska consisting of 50 paintings of the Madonna inspired by Polish poems and folks tales. The works are on loan from the Diocesan Museum of Plock (Poland) until September 9. The exhibit will be the cover story of the June issue of St. Anthony's Messenger.
The paintings will be on display in the galleries of The Marian Library and the Roesch Library, Mon.-Fri., 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Evening and weekend tours may be arranged for groups. Screensavers and notecards featuring the art will be on sale. For further information call 937-229-4214.
Creches and Straw Art are also on display in our museum.
Raymond Boutin, a Marianist Brother from Canada, has been visiting Dayton to work on digitizing our collection of Marian stamps from around the world for The Mary Page web site. He plans to continue working on this project until our entire set of around 13,000 stamps is accessible on-line along with descriptive information. An expert philatelist and member of Collectors of Religion on Stamps, his article, "Name of God," was published in the November 2004 issue of The Coros Chronicle. This journal is available at The Marian Library.
Michael Duricy, webmaster for the Mary Page and IMRI graduate, is currently facilitating an on-line course on Mary for catechists through U.D.'s Institute for Pastoral Initiatives. He is also an independent filmmaker. His latest production, Nesiur: The Dayton Mummy, a documentary short on the Egyptian collection at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, has been given repeat airings on Dayton Access Television, and is next scheduled for cablecast on DATV on 4/23 at 12:30 pm and 4/26 at 1:35 pm. Copies on DVD or VHS videotape are available at the circulation desk of Roesch Library.
Korean Marian Studies
The Mariological Society of Korea recently published the Korean-language proceedings of their annual Mariological Conference. Their first issue [Spring 2005] included the following articles: "Foundation and Meaning of Doctrine 'Immaculate Conception'" by Kwang Soo Kim; "Mary, the Model of Discipleship of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: The hope of the Realized Eschatological Model of All Christians" by Tae Oh Kim; "Documents of Inculturation in the Church and Mary in the Korean Religions" by Kyong Sun Choi; and Immaculate Conception: Perception of the Concept as it Emerges From the Popular Piety in the Indian Context" by Bernadette Sangma.
The 56th Annual Meeting of The Mariological Society of America will be held at Marie Joseph Spiritual Center in Biddeford, Maine, May 18-21, 2005. This year's theme is Mary, Eschatological Icon of the Church. The program is as follows:
Attendance open to all. You need not be a member to register.
For attendees residing at the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center:
Room and Board Package:
Early arrivals? Late departures?--Contact the MSA Secretariat at 937-229-4294 for information about possibilities, rates.
Payment may be made now or at the time of the meeting. Make check payable to the Mariological Society of America. Note: No refunds possible after May 13, 2005
International Marian Research Institute Course ScheduleIMRI courses for the Spring 2005 semester concluded on March 18. The course schedule through Fall 2005 is now available.
Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary (ESBVM-USA)
Next Meeting: Saturday May 7, 2005 at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.
The meting will begin at 9:30 AM. After ESBVM prayer and announcements, there will be a brief presentation by Rev. Don Lacy on ecumenical reports in the media and other recent ecumenical activity. There will be two presentations:
The Rev. Dr. J. Gentle (Anglican) will speak on "The Eucharist and Mary"
For more information click into ESBVM-USA.
Click this link for a list of all of the current Marian Events by geographical position.
You are invited to help us pray for our Prayer Corner intentions. Please take a look! This site has been updated and enhanced and now allows users to directly submit prayer requests or to volunteer as a prayer partner for these intentions!
Benedict VXI's Primary Commitment: Christian Unity
Pope Benedict XVI has assumed "as a primary commitment" the work of promoting full unity among Christians separated in various churches and confessions.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained this in the first message of his pontificate, read in the Sistine Chapel today, at the conclusion of a Eucharistic concelebration with cardinals.
The Successor of the Apostle Peter, as he describes himself, "aims, as a primary commitment, to work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ. This is his ambition, this is his imperative duty."
"He is aware that for this, manifestations of good sentiments are not enough," the new Pope said. "There must be concrete gestures that penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that interior conversion that is the assumption of all progress on the path of ecumenism."
"Theological dialogue is necessary, in-depth knowledge of the historical reasons of choices made in the past is perhaps indispensable. But what is urgent in the main is that 'purification of the memory,' so many times recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose spirits to receive the full truth of Christ," Benedict XVI stated.
"It is before him, supreme Judge of every living being, that each one of us must place himself, in the awareness of one day having to render an account to him of what one has done or not done for the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples," reminded Benedict XVI.
The Pope "is prepared to do all that is in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism."
"In the footsteps of his Predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate every initiative that might seem appropriate to promote contacts and understanding with representatives of the diverse churches and ecclesial communities," asserted the Pope.
To all Christian leaders he addressed "the most cordial greeting in Christ, the only Lord of all."
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had a decisive role in the writing of the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," signed in October 1999 by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation in Augsburg, Germany.
The declaration, one of the most important ecumenical steps since Martin Luther's split with the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, took place thanks to the dialogue held in November 1998 between Cardinal Ratzinger and Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselman in Munich.
Cardinal Ratzinger was also a committed promoter of the recognition that the Catholic Church expresses to the Orthodox Churches, which maintain the apostolic succession and the sacraments.
As was John Paul II's custom, Benedict XVI addressed his last words to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in whose hands he placed "the present and future of my person and of the Church."
Benedict VXI's Message to Cardinals
Here is a translation of Pope Benedict XVI's first full-length message, which he read in Latin at the end of a Eucharistic concelebration with members of the College of Cardinals. He presided over the Mass this morning in the Sistine Chapel.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Men and Women of Good Will!
1. May grace and peace be multiplied to all of you (cf. 1 Peter 1:2)! In these hours, two contrasting sentiments coexist in my spirit. On one hand, a sense of inadequacy and of human anxiety before the universal Church, because of the responsibility that was entrusted to me yesterday as Successor of the Apostle Peter in this See of Rome. On the other hand, I feel very intensely in myself a profound gratitude to God who--as we sing in the liturgy--does not abandon his flock, but leads it through the times, under the guidance of those whom he himself has chosen as vicars of his Son and has constituted pastors (cf. Preface of the Apostles I).
Beloved, this profound gratitude for a gift of the divine mercy prevails in my heart despite everything. And I consider it in fact as a special grace obtained for me by my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II. I seem to feel his strong hand gripping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and to hear his words, addressed at this moment particularly to me: "Be not afraid!"
The Holy Father John Paul II's death, and the days that followed, were a time of extraordinary grace for the Church and for the entire world. The great sorrow of his death and the sense of emptiness that it left in everyone were tempered by the action of the risen Christ, which was manifested during long days in the unanimous wave of faith, love and spiritual solidarity, culminated in his solemn obsequies.
We can say it: John Paul II's funeral rites were a truly extraordinary experience in which in some way the power of God was perceived that, through his Church, desires to make of all peoples a great family, through the unifying force of Truth and Love (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 1). At the hour of death, conformed to his Teacher and Lord, John Paul II crowned his long and fruitful pontificate, confirming the Christian people in the faith, gathering them around himself and making the entire human family feel more united. How can we not feel supported by this testimony? How can we not perceive the encouragement that comes from this event of grace?
2. Surpassing all my expectations, Divine Providence, through the vote of the venerable Cardinal Fathers, has called me to succeed this great Pope. I reflect again in these hours on all that occurred in the region of Caesarea Philippi, some 2,000 years ago. I seem to hear Peter's words: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," and the Lord's solemn affirmation: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:15-19).
You are the Christ! You are Peter! I seem to relive the same evangelical scene; I, Successor of Peter, repeat with trepidation the anxious words of the fisherman of Galilee and I hear again with profound emotion the reassuring promise of the divine Teacher. If the burden of responsibility that is placed on my poor shoulders is enormous, exceeding is as well the divine power which I can count on: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 16:18). In choosing me as Bishop of Rome, the Lord has desired me to be his Vicar, he has desired me to be the "rock" on which all can lean with security. I ask him to make up for the poverty of my strength, so that I will be a courageous and faithful Shepherd of his flock, always docile to the inspirations of his Spirit.
I prepare to undertake this peculiar ministry, the "Petrine" ministry at the service of the universal Church, with humble abandonment in the hands of the Providence of God. In the first place it is to Christ that I renew my total and faithful adherence: "In Te, Domine, speravi; non confundar in aeternum!"
To you, Lord Cardinals, with a grateful spirit for the trust shown to me, I ask that you support me with prayer and with constant, active and wise collaboration. I ask also all brothers in the episcopate to be by my side with prayer and counsel, so that I can truly be "Servus servorum Dei." As Peter and the other apostles constituted, by the will of the Lord, a unique Apostolic College, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the apostles, must be very closely united among themselves, as the Council confirmed forcefully (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 22).
This collegial communion, though in the diversity of roles and functions of the Roman Pontiff and of the bishops, is at the service of the Church and of unity in the faith, from which depends in notable measure the efficacy of the evangelizing action in the contemporary world. Therefore, I wish to continue on this path on which my venerated Predecessors advanced, concerned only to proclaim to the whole world the living presence of Christ.
3. I have before me, in particular, the testimony of Pope John Paul II. He has left a more courageous, free and young Church. A Church that, according to his teaching and example, looks with serenity to the past and has no fear of the future. She was led into the new millennium with the Great Jubilee, carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the present world through the authoritative rereading of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul II indicated the Council precisely as a "compass" with which to orient oneself in the vast ocean of the third millennium (cf. apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," Nos. 57-58). In his spiritual testament he noted: "I am convinced that the new generations will still be able to draw for a long time from the riches that this council of the 20th century has lavished on us" (17.III.2000).
Therefore, in preparing myself also for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I wish to affirm strongly my determination to continue the commitment to implement the Second Vatican Council, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year tradition of the Church. This year in fact will be the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the conciliar sessions (Dec. 8, 1965). With the passing of the years, the conciliar documents have not lost their current importance; on the contrary, their teachings reveal themselves particularly pertinent in relation to the new needs of the Church and of the present globalized society.
4. How very significant it is that my pontificate begins while the Church is living the special Year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can one not perceive in this providential coincidence an element that must characterize the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, heart of Christian life and source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but constitute the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service that has been entrusted to me.
The Eucharist renders the risen Christ constantly present, who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate at the table of his Body and his Blood. From full communion with him flows every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place communion among all the faithful, commitment to proclamation and testimony of the Gospel, the ardor of charity toward all, especially toward the poor and the little ones.
In this year, therefore, the solemnity of Corpus Domini must be celebrated with particular prominence. The Eucharist will be at the center, in August, of the World Youth Day in Cologne and, in October, of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the theme: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." I ask all to intensify over the next months their love and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to express in a courageous and clear way their faith in the Lord's real presence, above all through the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations.
I ask this in a special way of priests, whom I am thinking of at this moment with great affection. The ministerial priesthood was born in the Cenacle, together with the Eucharist, as my venerable Predecessor John Paul II underlined so many times. "The life of a priest [must] be 'shaped' by the Eucharist," he wrote in his last letter for Holy Thursday (No. 1). To this purpose contributes first of all the devoted daily celebration of the Holy Mass, center of the life and mission of every priest.
5. Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend to that full unity that Christ so ardently desired in the Cenacle. The Successor of Peter knows that he must take charge in an altogether particular way, of this supreme longing of the divine Teacher. To him in fact has been entrusted the task of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32).
Fully conscious, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome, which Peter bathed with his blood, his present Successor aims, as a primary commitment, to work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ. This is his ambition, this is his imperative duty. He is aware that for this, manifestations of good sentiments are not enough. There must be concrete gestures that penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that interior conversion that is the presupposition of all progress on the path of ecumenism.
Theological dialogue is necessary. Also, in-depth knowledge of the historical reasons for choices made in the past is perhaps indispensable. But what is urgent in the main is that "purification of the memory," so many times recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose spirits to receive the full truth of Christ. It is before him, supreme Judge of every living being, that each one of us must place himself, in the awareness of one day having to render an account to him of what one has done or not done for the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples.
The present Successor of Peter lets himself be challenged in the first person by this request and is prepared to do all that is in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. In the footsteps of his Predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate every initiative that might seem appropriate to promote contacts and understanding with representatives of the diverse churches and ecclesial communities. To them, indeed, he also sends on this occasion the most cordial greeting in Christ, the only Lord of all.
6. I recall and go back at this moment to the unforgettable experience lived by all of us on the occasion of the death and funeral rites of the late John Paul II. Around his mortal remains, carefully placed on the naked earth, were gathered the heads of nations, persons of all social classes, and especially young people, in an unforgettable embrace of affection and admiration. The whole world looked to him with trust. To many, it seemed that that intense participation, amplified to the ends of the earth by the means of social communications, was like a unanimous request for help addressed to the Pope by today's humanity which, troubled by uncertainties and fear, wonders about its future.
The Church of today must revive in herself consciousness of the task to propose again to the world the voice of him who said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). In undertaking his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today, not his own light but that of Christ.
Conscious of this, I turn to all, also to those who follow other religions or who simply seek an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it. I turn to all with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wishes to continue to engage with them in an open and sincere dialogue, in search of the true good of man and of society.
I invoke from God the peace and unity for the human family and declare the readiness of all Catholics to cooperate for a genuine social development, respectful of the dignity of every human being.
I will spare no efforts and devotion to continue the promising dialogue undertaken by my venerable Predecessors with the various civilizations, so that from reciprocal understanding conditions will flow a better future for all.
I think in particular of young people. To them, privileged interlocutors of Pope John Paul II, I direct my affectionate embrace while waiting, God willing, to meet them in Cologne on the occasion of the next World Youth Day. With you, dear young people, future and hope of the Church and of humanity, I will continue to dialogue, listening to you expectations in an attempt to help you to encounter ever more profoundly the living Christ, the eternally young.
7. "Mane nobiscum, Domine!" Stay with us Lord! This invocation, which is the prevailing theme of John Paul II's apostolic letter for the Year of the Eucharist, is the prayer that flows spontaneously from my heart, while I prepare to begin the ministry to which Christ has called me. Like Peter, I also renew to him my unconditional promise of fidelity. Him alone I intend to serve, dedicating myself totally to the service of his Church.
To support me in this promise, I invoke the maternal intercession of Most Holy Mary, in whose hands I place the present and future of my person and of the Church.
May the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and all the saints also intervene with their intercession.
With these sentiments I impart to you, venerable Brother Cardinals, and to those participating in this rite and all those who are listening through television and radio a special, an affectionate blessing.
[Original text in Latin; translation by ZENIT]
The director and editors of Mary Page under the auspices of the International Marian Research Institute do not necessarily endorse or agree with the events and ideas expressed in this feature. Our sole purpose is to report on items about Mary gleaned from a myriad of papers representing the secular press.
Images Burned in our Memory
There's a snapshot on top of Jack Parsons's piano that has a place of pride among his most cherished belongings. The 19-year-old photograph of his infant daughter, Jennifer, being kissed by Pope John Paul is no mere memento; faith and wonder have transformed it into a kind of religious icon, an object imbued with real spiritual power for a Newfoundland family with deep Catholic roots.
On Sept. 12, 1984, the pope came to the village of Flat Rock, near St. John's, to see a windswept grotto--a tribute to the Virgin Mary built by devout islanders in the 19th century--and bless the fishing boats that ply the waters off Canada's East Coast. It was a brief stop in the town of 950 souls, but the visit by the 264th successor to St. Peter, Christianity's most famous fisherman, left a deep and lasting impression. "It was the first time he'd been to North America, and he came here," Parsons said, still sounding surprised and moved nearly two decades later after the papal pilgrimage to his home town. "It was pretty exciting that whole day," he recalled. "We went out to greet the pope. You could see him coming down the road. Our daughter ... was only a year old or so. And I was holding her in my arms as he was walking up through the crowd to say a few prayers at the grotto. He reached his hands out and pulled her into him. He kissed her. And my brother snapped a little picture."
That image, he said, and the experience of meeting the pope face to face, created a cherished memory for the entire Parsons clan, strengthening his family's connection to the Church. During his twenty six years as pope, John Paul came to see Canada and its thirteen million Roman Catholics three times--in 1984, 1987 and 2002--for a total of twenty one days. The stays were brief, but like the fleeting encounter that helped nourish the Parsons family's faith, the papal visits are woven into the fabric of the communities he toured, and into the history of the country, leaving an indelible imprint on countless lives.
The moment captured in the Parsons's coveted photo was like hundreds of other moments during the pope's Canadian visits, a steady accumulation of handshakes and blessings, kisses and smiles. But there were also stern warnings against abortion, materialism, euthanasia and premarital sex from a determinedly conservative pontiff. And there were provocative, sometimes controversial, pronouncements about aboriginal alienation, unemployment, the eighteenth-century mistreatment of Acadians and other festering wounds in Canadian society.
The 1984 tour--a grueling, 12-day, coast-to-coast odyssey that came at perhaps the height of the pope's global ministry--stands apart for its scope and significance. It was the first time a pope had set foot on Canadian soil. The pope had come, he humbly declared, "as pastor and brother" of the Canadian Catholic community. But he moved about the country with the pull of a rock star, drawing crowds of 350,000 for a service of the Eucharist at Montreal's Jarry Park, 100,000 at Moncton's Magnetic Hill, 200,000 in Winnipeg, 150,000 in rural Alberta, 200,000 in Abbotsford, B.C., at least 400,000 in Ottawa and more than 500,000 at Downsview Airport in Toronto--the largest throng of Canadians ever gathered in one place.
Throughout his travels, unforgettable images of the pope were emblazoned into the nation's memory. He was transported everywhere in a cleverly refitted pickup truck dubbed "the popemobile," a Canadian-made contraption that had a glass bubble to protect the pontiff from a possible repeat of the 1981 assassination attempt that had nearly killed him. He joined a circle of buckskin-clad aboriginal children at Ste-Marie-Among-the-Hurons, the historic reconstruction of an Ontario camp where Christian missionaries were martyred in the 17th century. He said mass under a soaring, dove-like canopy in a sun-drenched farmer's field near Edmonton. He rode a specially constructed papal barge along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa before leading his final service of the tour in an open field in the shadow of Parliament Hill.
Remarkably, the one thing that didn't go right in 1984 turned out to be a wondrous blessing. Despite two attempts, thick fog prevented the pope's plane from landing for a scheduled visit in Fort Simpson, a remote aboriginal community in the Northwest Territories. The missed meeting, a heartbreaker for thousands of Catholic Dene and other northerners who'd traveled to see John Paul, set the stage for a risky papal promise: one day, the pope said, he would find a way to visit the community. Three years later, at the end of a hugely successful 10-day tour of the United States, the pope fulfilled his pledge to the little town on the banks of the Mackenzie River.
After an overnight stop in Edmonton, he flew in for a whirlwind visit that attracted 3,000 people--one of the smallest crowds he would ever address but which made for a uniquely intimate gathering of the faithful. Nearly 15 years would pass before the pope's next, and last, visit to Canada. By the time he arrived in Toronto in July 2002 to play host to some 200,000 pilgrims attending World Youth Day festivities, he was an alert but increasingly frail octogenarian.
John Paul's advancing arthritis and Parkinson's disease had fueled speculation that his traveling days would soon be over, and that all of his Toronto appearances would be made in a wheelchair. On the morning the pope's plane was to touch down in Canada, sixteen-year-old Anthony Ramuscak rose at 5:30 a.m. and hauled himself into his own wheelchair. Paralyzed since a 1995 stroke, the devoutly Catholic teen from Hamilton, Ont., had written letters for months hoping to win a chance to meet John Paul. His prayers, quite literally, were answered just days before World Youth Day was to begin.
Anthony's mother, Rose, a Croatian-born cleaning woman, said her son had always dreamed of becoming a priest, even after the stroke had slurred his speech and left him severely disabled. Meeting the pope would only deepen the desire, she believed, and she had made "many, many" phone calls pleading for Anthony to be given a chance during the Toronto visit. "It was his wish, even since he was a little child, he always wanted to go to Rome," she said. "I said to him, 'Anthony, I would have to win the 6/49.' I'm a single mother. Who has that kind of money to go? "The pontiff is old and weak," Anthony recalled in a written account of his experience that day. "Yet he walked down those stairs. That, my dear friends, is a sign: 'If I can do it, so can you.' " Then came the meeting Anthony had sought for years. He was wheeled to center stage. And when the pope raised his hand to perform a blessing, the young man began to sob. "When I met the pontiff face to face, and I spoke those words to him--'Blessed be Jesus and Mary' in my Croatian language--it was amazing. I could not help but to burst into tears." Anthony's life, once sharply divided into the years preceding and following his stroke, his mother said, is now discussed in terms of "before and after the blessing."
A site for sore eyes
If you plan nothing else about a trip to Fatima, factor in the thirteenth day of the months from May to October. Doing so will go a long way toward dictating the kind of experience you'll have.
About four million people tour Fatima, in Portugal, each year, drawn by an appearance of the Virgin Mary reported here 88 years ago by three shepherd children. Many hope the pilgrimage will cure them of their afflictions. Visits by Pope John Paul II and the death on February 13 this year of Sister Lucia dos Santos, the last surviving Fatima witness, have only added to Fatima's allure as one of the world's holiest sites.
To Fatima's followers, Sister Lucia's death on the thirteenth was more than fate, more than the superstition of bad luck the number often conveys. Mary reportedly appeared six times, on the 13th of each month from May to October 1917, wearing a brilliant white gown and holding a white rosary. Since then the legend of Fatima has continued to spread.
The Pope, who visited Fatima three times, credited his survival of an assassination attempt in Rome on May 13, 1981, to Our Lady of Fatima's intercession. The Pope chose May 13, 2000, to beatify the first two shepherd children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who died within three years of the apparitions. Fatima's most devout believers hope Francisco and Jacinta will be elevated to sainthood on another May 13. Visiting Fatima on the 13th or on some other day is the difference between praying with thousands on a Sunday morning in St Peter's Square or the quiet sanctuary you might find in a downtown church at a weekday Mass.
I visited Fatima on the sunny morning of January 7, as temperatures rose to a mild 21C. No more than 150 people were there for the noon rosary at the Chapel of Apparitions, an open-air church built on the site of the appearances. There were still seats in the chapel, and the gathering was so small you could barely hear the hushed Portuguese prayers. After the rosary, a dozen people lined up for a blessing of religious objects behind the chapel. The same number gathered holy water from the towering Sacred Heart statue at the plaza center. The only visible commerce came from a bookstore and religious goods store on the grounds, both operated by a couple of the almost eighty religious orders that have seminaries and convents in the village. Both stores were empty when I entered. Except for wax body parts, for purchase by people diagnosed with various injuries and conditions, many of the items in the store were simple and inexpensive, such as a $1 embroidered relic of the three shepherd children.
The quiet afforded me a chance to feel the roots and depths of the place. I could faintly envision, amid the marble and concrete, an earlier time when the shrine was more simple and pure, the experience more meditative. Without distractions, I could smell the candles nearby, pause to listen and pray to the noontime bells and communicate, one mother to another, to Mary. The drawback (or advantage, if you don't like crowds) of an off-season visit is that you miss the big picture: the massive candlelight services attended by thousands; throngs of people waving white handkerchiefs in a procession behind a large Our Lady of Fatima statute headed to the shrine's magnificent basilica; many ceremonies to bless the sick; and, throughout the day, in as many as six languages, the recitation of the rosary, Our Lady of Fatima's request to the shepherd children.
We found the basilica closed. If you are traveling in the off-season, check ahead on basilica hours if you want to see the structure with its fifteen altars dedicated to the rosary, the tombs of Francisco and Jacinta, and an organ with 12,000 pipes. A free brochure from the shrine's small tourism office lists off-season Mass at the basilica at 7.30am. But from May to October, you should be prepared for an enormous crowd. The devout come night and day and fill the plaza for as far as your eyes can see. Many come by the busloads, others on foot, from Lisbon 113km away. Thousands more camp out in the countryside. The most devout line up to take their turns crawling on their knees more than 30m down a sloping path to the chapel.
Off-season, the power of Fatima is still very much alive. Faith is as much personal as it is public, and Fatima stirs hope and conveys promises that prayers will be heard whether they're said in a crowd or not. Some Fatima travelers also visit the cemetery, the original burial site of Francisco and Jacinta, on Fatima's outskirts.
In Aljustrel, 3km away, the homes of the children, largely unchanged over eighty eight years, give a glimpse of what the tiny village must have been like to live in. Heading back toward Lisbon, on a winding road away from Fatima, is the village of Batalha, site of the 14th-century Batalha Monastery, an enormous Gothic structure with stained-glass windows. It overlooks a small plaza with a few restaurants and shops where Portuguese souvenirs sell for half what Lisbon shops charge. And I couldn't have dreamed a better ending to the day than our tour bus stop in the village of Nazare.
It sits high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We basked in the sunlight on a ledge at the end of town and watched the elderly women, who, according to folklore, each wear seven skirts at a time. Indeed, some wore so many petticoats and skirts that they virtually waddled around the plaza. I headed to a cafe and had just what I needed: glorious winter sunshine, plenty of time to reflect on the day and a cold beer.
FATIMA DETAILS: Contact the concierge at your Lisbon hotel for one of the many pilgrimages to Fatima. We paid the equivalent of $A90 each for an air-conditioned bus for nine that took us on an all-day excursion to Fatima, Batalha and Nazare. Or try a four-day rail pass for $A190, through raileurope.com. There are more than a dozen hotels in Fatima and many restaurants next to Fatima's shrine. For example, Alexandra Doll tells us that Discount Hotels offers many travel resources both domestically and internationally that would greatly benefit your users.
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