THE Seventieth anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima was marked this month by an enormous concourse of pilgrims who entirely filled the huge space below the basilica. It was estimated that half a million men, women and children were present, many of whom had walked with their parish priests from distant villages. As is usual on May 12 and 13 every year, the Red Cross and other voluntary organisations set up tents along the main roads leading to the shrine, in which footsore pilgrims can have their feet attended to or other ills.
Cardinal Antonio Ribeiro, Patriarch of Lisbon, presided at the Mass for the sick this year, and at the end he went to bless each ill person with the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. He was accompanied by the Lutheran Bishop Selvaag, Chaplain General to the Norwegian armed forces, who held the ceremonial umbrella.
Also present was a Jewish Rabbi, A Guigui who is in charge of care for his coreligionists in the Belgian forces. Both Chaplains, who were here in connection with NATO, expressed their astonishment and admiration at the faith which had brought such vast numbers of people together. The Rabbi said that this celebration recalled men's attention to love, justice, truth and the values which form part of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
The Lutheran bishop stressed that he was greatly impressed by the atmosphere of living faith like a new Pentecost. In the course of the pilgrimage it was announced that an auxiliary to the Patriarchate of Lisbon, Bishop Serafim Ferreira, who is 57, has been appointed coadjutor to the diocese of Leiria/Fatima with right of succession to Mgr Cosme do Amaral, who was born in 1916 and was nominated to this diocese in 1972.
It is believed that Pope John Paul will return to Fatima next year for the beatification of the two younger seers, who died shortly after the apparitions. The cause of Jacinta and Francisco Marto is expected to be concluded next December. Lucia, the only survivor of the three seers, is a Carmelite nun in the old university town of Coimbra. She celebrated her eightieth birthday the other day and is believed to be in perfect health. Her eldest sister, Maria dos Anjos only died last year when she was well in to her nineties, so they are a long-lived family.
In 1922 there was only one family living by the Cova da Iria where the Sanctuary is now surrounded by hospices and buildings connected with the pilgrimages. By 1940, the parish had 1,649 residents of whom 271 were stonemasons and carpenters engaged in the building of the basilica. Town planning for the area only came about in 1948 when temporary buildings were no longer allowed. Now out of a total of 4,982 persons on the parish, 2,191 live around the Cova da Iria.
A Misericordia is being built in Fatima—the Santa Casa Joao Paulo II, for these hospitals have always had the prefix of Holy House. This one near the shrine, will have three sections, one for the sick with room for 240 beds, a health centre and offices comprising the administrative and technical services, a hall, chapel and communal kitchens, larders and laundry. There will also be accomodation for the staff.
Apart from permanent residents who will either be the elderly in need of care and those suffering from incurable diseases, there will be rooms for sick pilgrims and out-patients service with sections for physiotherapy. It is hoped that a religious community will be in charge of the whole, large complex.
The Misericordias in Portugal are a remarkable survival. Founded by Queen Leonor in the early 15th century, these Hospitals of Mercy still exist in every town of any size in the country. They have always been managed by a Mesa or Board of local lay people, but the nursing has usually been done by nuns.
The Government Health Authorities have now built modern hospitals on the outskirts of the towns, so many of the original buildings have been turned into old people's homes.
Susan Lowndes Marques