On Saturday May 13th the Holy Father Pope Francis visited a village in Portugal called Fatima to canonise Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco Marto. Jacinta and Francisco brother and sister, along with their cousin, Lucia are the three little shepherds to whom Our Lady appeared one hundred years ago on 13th May in an obscure region of central Portugal.

Shannon parishioners with Bishop Monahan and Fr Tom Ryan on their pilgrimage to Fatima

Shannon parishioners with Bishop Monahan and Fr Tom Ryan on their pilgrimage to Fatima

Both Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta died young, victims of the Spanish ‘Flu. Lucia went on to become a nun, first with the Order of St. Dorothy in Spain and then (1948) as Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart, with the Carmelites, latterly in Coimbra where she died in February 2005.

During Easter week I was privileged to visit Fatima. Our pilgrimage was led by Bishop Fintan Monahan assisted by Fr. Brendan Quinlivan and Br. Isidore Guardian of Ennis Friary. One hundred pilgrims departed Shannon Airport on Monday April 17th on a flight to Lisbon.

On this pilgrimage, each day began with celebration of Mass and then we went to visit the places associated with the lives of the three Shepherd children of Fatima. We learned about life in Portugal one hundred years ago. It was not easy for many people and it was into the midst of the ordinary lives of three humble prayerful children that Our Lady came in 1917. The children were young, Lucia was ten years old and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco were aged just nine and seven.

We visited the places associated with these Shepherd children of Fatima. In Aljustrel the little houses in which they lived are preserved as they were in the time of the apparitions. The families of the children lived simple lives.

In a rough hilly area an angel appeared to the three children in 1916. The angel encouraged the children to pray. It was on the 13th May 1917 that Our Lady suddenly appeared to the children as they relaxed, watching their sheep. As Lucia reports, she appeared after some flashes like lightning, all in white and ‘more brilliant than the sun’ on the limb of a small holm oak tree. Our Lady spoke reassuringly to the children and asked them to pray the rosary each day.

Our Lady appeared to the children on a monthly basis. The children endured much hostility at the time of the apparitions and were often treated unkindly even by their own families. On October 13th the date of the sixth apparition, seventy thousand people gathered. Astonishingly, the heavy rain stopped suddenly, the skies cleared and the sun moved or ‘danced’ as witnesses reported. This was the well documented ‘Miracle of the Sun’.

Francisco died on 4th April 1919 in his parent’s house and Jacinta died in 1920 after a long and painful illness. In 1952, the remains of both children were transferred to new tombs prepared in the Basilica. Francisco and Jacinta were proclaimed Blessed by Pope John Paul in Fatima on the 13th of May 2000. Lucia was then still alive and attended the event. Indeed, Lucia came back to Fatima several times before her death in 2005. Her remains lie in a tomb next to Jacinta.

It was very special for us to hear during our pilgrimage the announcement of the canonisation of Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco. It is a moment we will always remember. St John Paul had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. It was on May 13th 1981 that an assassin tried to kill him and St John Paul strongly believed that the assassin failed only because Our Lady caused the bullet to be diverted from his heart.

On this Feast Day a year later, Pope John Paul visited the Shrine of Fatima to give thanks and to have the bullet inserted into the crown that is part of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. While in Fatima, we saw a portion of the Berlin Wall which is a reminder of Europe’s troubled past. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the collapse of the wall began after the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1984, following the requests of Our Lady of Fatima and Sr. Lucia, the surviving one of the shepherd children.

Since 1917 pilgrims have come to Fatima from all parts of the world. On May 13th Pope Francis will celebrate an international Mass before half a million or more pilgrims. We will then pray to St Jacinta and St Francisco! May the message of Our Lady of Fatima remain in all our hearts, may we try our best to pray the Rosary and continue let our hearts rest in the Lord.

Blessing of Expectant Mothers

On Wednesday next 17th May, expectant Mothers and their partners are invited to a special Blessing for the gift of new life in the Jubilee chapel of Mary immaculate Church at 9.00pm. Please share with any expectant Mother you know.