Desmond 0 Grady explains what the Pope can expect to find in Portugal
FATIMA will be the centrepiece of Pope John Paul's three-day visit to Portugal beginning on Wednesday. He attributes his survival of the assassination attempt on May 13 last year to the protection of Our Lady of Fatima whose Feastday it was. What interpretation, what emphasis will he give to Our Lady's message in Fatima itself?
Pope John Paul has given several hints that he considers mankind is in a critical phase of salvation history as the year 2000 approaches. The Fatima message is likewise dramatic, particularly in its reference to Russia.
Will Pope John Paul, as the United States bishops are said to have requested last autumn, announce that all bishops will collegially consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
The perils for the Pope are undeniable. The fact that he is Polish encourages political interpretation of any reference to Russia.
And curiosity about the 'Third Secret", the more catastrophic aspects of the Fatima message, might be sharpened by the Pope's words.
They will be given keen attention in Portugal for under the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar, whose 36 year reign ended in 1969, Fatima was regularly linked with anti-Communism.
Communism is not such a bogey in Portugal nowadays for the hardline Portuguese Communist Party receives only 10 per cent of the vote.
Portuguese society is threatened not by Corn munism but by the lack of ideals and values. The Church seems to recognise that its role is not directly political but rather to transmit values which will have social consequences.
I first went to Portugal in 1967. Salazar, a discreet and professedly Catholic dictator, ensured order at the cost of liberty.
He was a personal friend of Cardinal Cerejeira, Patriarch of Lisbon. The only bishop who spoke out against Salazar, Antonio Fereira Gomes of Oporto, was exiled for ten years.
I had to interview left wing Catholics, inspired by the Vatican Council, in parks or other places where they felt safer from secret police.
I returned to Portugal in 1974 shortly after the Salazar regime's downfall (for five years after the dictator's death there were attempts to modify his regime but it came to an end only with the "revolution" of 1974).
There was fear of a slide from a right wing dictatorship to a military-supported Communist dictatorship.
In Lisbon at that time I attended a moving Mass at which the congregation was composed of committed conciliar Catholics.
They were worried that the "revolution's" ideals would be smothered by a military dictatorship and also that the Church, attacked by revolutionary extremists, would, as had happened previously in Portuguese history, ally with reactionary groups.
In 1982 neither the worst fears nor the highest hopes have been realised.
Portugal is neither the utopia imagined by revolutionaries nor the feared military dictatorship. It is a parliamentary democracy (there is a military watch-dog council, scheduled for abolition). There are myriad parties and a coalition government with a small majority. Moreover inflation gallops along at over 20 per cent.
On the whole the Church has managed to both maintain unity and avoid political entanglements.
But if the Church has emerged from the political turmoil without being forced into a corner, it has had to handle profound postconciliar changes and respond to an increasingly secular, pluralistic and industrialised society.
Divorce is legal and the Communists have proposed to legalise abortion.
Statistics provide a swift identikit of Portugues. Catholics: 96 per cent are baptised Catholics; 95• per cent describe themselves as Catholics; 80 per cent marry in church; 30 per cent go to Mass regularly.
An ageing, diminishing clergy is trying to apply the Council in Portugal's 4,040 parishes. Timidly laity are being given greater responsibilities.
The Church, particularly through Caritas, is very active in the social sphere (hospitals, old people's homes, rehabilitation centres, help for the unemployed, parish classes for the educationally underprivileged) supplementing State resources.
In other words, the Church has a situation which some describe as marginal but others see as potentially very fruitful for it is above politics whereas previously it was rather closely identified with Salazar's regime.
Pope John Paul, talking to workers in Oporto, students in Coimbra, _peasants elsewhere, encouraging devotion to Our Lady in Fatima, laying the foundation stone for St Anthony of Lisbon (the real title of the saint usually described as "of Padua") basilica in the beautiful capital city, will give the Portuguese church new confidence for this task.
He will be talking W a small nation but it is part of a much-broader Portuguese-language world, including the argest Catholic country, Brazil.