Letter from Lisbon
THE big October pilgrimage to Fatima was marked this year by the presence of Archbishop Tadeus Kondruscevic, the apostolic administrator in Moscow for Latin-rite Catholics. And for the first time the ceremonies at the Marian shrine were seen on satellite TV in Russia.
In spite of heavy showers, the large space in front of the basilica was almost full of pilgrims, hundreds of whom had walked from their distant villages in northern Portugal in fulfilment of "prome-ssas".
This is an old custom in this country, a "promise" to go on foot to a particular shrine or place of pilgrimage in thanksgiving for answered prayers, the cure of a sick person or a good harvest.
Mgr Manuel de Almeida Trindade, the retired bishop of Aveiro, preached especially about the astonishing changes that have taken place in Russia and the open practice of religion, foretold by Our Lady at Fatima.
But Bishop Trindade warned against the perils of consumerism coming from the West, the mania for money and the cult of sex, and he hoped that a collective economy would not simply be replaced by the market.
Next year will be the 75th anniverssay of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, which should strengthen further the bonds of faith between east and west.
Archbishop Kondruscevie intoned the gospel in Russian but much of the ceremony was sung in Latin and Greek as a symbol of unity. He gave communion to the sick and presided at their blessing at the end of the mass.
Finally he followed the statue of Our Lady of Fatima back to the Chapel of the Apparitions from where it stood at the side of the open-air altar on which mass had been celebrated.
PRISONS in Portugal have always been more relaxed than in many other countries. This was so even in the era of political prisoners when many considered it to be an honour to bear witness to their opposition to the Salazar regime, and after the revolution of 1974, to their loyalty to the old order. However, the incarceration of men and women for their political opinions came to an end very shortly afterwards.
Now the country has fewer crimes reported each year than eight of the eleven other members of the European Community, an average of 712 for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Germany and the United Kingdom all have higher crime rates, The United Kingdom comes out top of the league. But Italy has the most murders, with 3,676 100,000, and Ireland the fewest at just 49.
Portugal, with 466, is also one of the lowest. There has been no capital punishment in the country for over 100 years.
Germany has the highest number of rapes, with 37,592 cases against Portugal's 165. But the vast difference in the number of residents has to be taken into account.
Prisons in Portugal are of different types. The 150 people between the ages of 16 and 21 who are in prison for the first time are not confined with other malefactors.
A special prison for the young is now being planned near Viseu in central Portugal with a swimming pool, theatre, tennis courts, dining rooms and cafes run by the inmates themselves.
In the old days every county town had a small prison for the local wrong-doers, but now larger, modem and no doubt more sanitary establishments have been opened near the main cities.
But this has the great disadvantage that many of the prisoners are far from their families and so cannot be visited with any regularity.
In the old days they could and did lean out of their barred windows to chat, receive presents of food and cigarettes and still feel part of the community.
Susan Lowndes Marques