Papal visit completes Fatima anniversary celebrations
Pope Francis is going to Portugal for the centenary celebration of the Marian apparitions of Fatima this week. For over a year local anticipation has been building for the visit of the “bishop in white.” In her apparitions, Mary also asked for people to pray for the Pope Bishop Antonio dos Santos Marto of Leiria said, adding that the fact that several Popes have visited Fatima shows the “catholicity,” or “universality” of Our Lady’s message.
“It’s not only for Portugal, it’s not only for the Church in Portugal, it’s for the entire Church and, I would say, the entire world,” he said. “So people who work here preparing for the Pope’s visit are working with a lot of commitment and a lot of enthusiasm.” Bishop Marto has overseen the diocese of Leiria-Fatima since 2006, and is in charge of preparing not only for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, but also for the May 12-13 visit of Pope Francis to Fatima for the celebrations.
“The centenary is a memorable, unforgettable date to give thanks to God for all the gifts that the message of Fatima has scattered throughout Portugal, but also in the whole world,” Bishop Marto said. He explained that the Pope “is part of the message of Fatima” so the centenary celebrations “wouldn’t be complete without the presence of the Pope.”
The bishop believes that the Pope’s visit to Fatima for the centenary of the apparitions will help “to rediscover the richness and beauty of this message for our time.” The message of Fatima, he said, refers to “the greatest, most tragic events of the 20th century,” namely, the two World Wars, “with their genocides, millions of innocent victims,” and the persecution at the hands of atheist and totalitarian regimes, which threatened to destroy the Church from view.
“So it was a message of grace, to say that God is with us, he doesn’t abandon us, the mercy of God has a higher limit than the power of evil, and a message of peace,” Marto said. “These three words are the gift Our Lady brings: grace, mercy and peace.” Our Lady’s appeals for conversion, prayer and reparation are also very timely, he said, noting that even in contemporary society, at times we forget “to make reparation for what was spoiled.”
In today’s throwaway culture, if something we own breaks, we toss it and get a new one, “but you can’t repair the heart like this, throwing it out of the chest…. The heart, relationships with others and among people, need reparation, need renewal in the sense of rebuilding, renewing; of re-making even the relationships with God and others,” Marto said, warning that “sometimes in front of evil, we feel powerless, and there’s a sense of resignation.”
The diocese has been preparing for the centenary for almost 7 years, since the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, dedicating each year to one of Our Lady’s apparitions as a lead-in to the centenary, beginning with one year dedicated the message of the angel who appeared to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta before Mary herself appeared to them. Bishop Marto said that each year after that had its own theme based on Mary’s apparitions, complete with a theological points developed through congresses, catechetical studies and a different pilgrim itinerary for each year. In addition to this, the Fatima shrine has also offered special catechetical themes for parishes focused on the visit of Pope Francis. The staff of the diocese is currently divided into different working groups that focus on practical preparations, such as protocol and logistics, for the papal delegation and the numerous journalists who will travel with the Pope.