Portugal has a majority Catholic population (80%) and, although the Portuguese Constitution of 1976 guarantees religious freedom, the truth is that the Catholic Church is embedded in the portuguese tradition and culture – 53% of young portuguese identify themselves as Catholics, a number higher than the European average.
With 4.380 parishes, over 21 dioceses, there are many basilicas, chapels, cathedrals, convents, hermitages, churches and monasteries that can be found throughout our country and that tell the story of the place and the history of those who live there. But, much more than churches, monasteries, priests, sisters and rites, religion, as a synonym for faith, is a feeling of total belief, and a call to follow Jesus.
Faith is closely linked to to the certainty of God and trusting God. To have faith implies the experience of the Love of God’s Kingdom and of Jesus’ Church, which we all make up for. And that is exactly what we will be able to experience next year with the World Youth Day in Lisbon, which has Mary as the central figure.
In Portugal, the cult of Our Lady has existed since the foundation of our nationality, and has given rise to several monasteries, churches and shrines – the Shrine of Fátima being one of the best known. The figure of Mary, Mother of God, is a constant presence in the Catholic manifestations in Portugal and, a fortunate co-occurrence, the biblical quotation chosen by Pope Francis as the motto for the World Youth Day in Lisbon refers to the Visitation: “Mary got up and left in haste” (Lk 1, 39).
In these times of Grace that we are living, and that precede the realization of the World Youth Day Lisbon 2023, let us allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, opening our hearts to the Love of God. Let us do as Mary did, who “arose and went with haste” and let us welcome, with open arms, this important opportunity to be Church!
It is one of the greatest places of Marian devotion in the world. About 130 km from Lisbon, Fatima receives annually, according to estimates in recent years, between 5 and 6 million pilgrims from around the world. In response to a request made by Our Lady – who, in the year 1917 (May 13), appeared in the Cova da Iria to three humble children: Lucia Santos, 10 years old; Francisco Marto, eight years old; and Jacinta Marto, seven years old – a small chapel was built in the same location called “Capelinha das Aparições” (Little Chapel of the Apparitions). But Our Lady also asked the little shepherds for prayers and sacrifices for sinners, and in the third and last apparition, an angel appears bringing the chalice and the sacred host, making the little shepherds receive Communion.
The little chapel thus became the heart of the Shrine, but the Shrine continued to grow in response to the increasing number of pilgrims who come there throughout the year.
The worldwide fame of the Shrine of Fatima is closely linked to the pontificate of John Paul II. A devotee of Our Lady of Fatima, John Paul II, in 1982, went to Fatima in gratitude for having survived an attempt on his life one year earlier, on May 13, 1981. In 2000, on his third visit to the Shrine, John Paul II announced the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco.
In 2017, on the Centennial of the Apparitions, Francisco and his sister Jacinta were canonized in Fatima by Pope Francisco. That year the number of pilgrims exceeded all expectations, reaching 9.4 million people.
Every month, if not every day, thousands of pilgrims head to Fatima guided by their faith. Leaving from different parts of the country, many of them make this journey on foot, following roads and rural paths.
Upon arrival, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the tranquility, peace and spirituality that are experienced inside the Shrine. Once in the Prayer Area, one discovers the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima with its imposing 65 meter tower. In the center, there is the Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, on one side, the “Capelinha das Aparições”.
The Church of the Holy Trinity – Minor Basilica, inaugurated in 2007, is a modern work of architecture with a diameter of 125 meters. Outside, there is a bronze High Cross.
Mary, Mother and Teacher, extends her tender and gentle gaze over each one of us, calming us and giving us the certainty that she is always at our side to support and guide us in any circumstance.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and bring the world peace!