A year of national pilgrimages to mark the 100th Fatima anniversary
In the Czech Republic, the most atheistic country in Europe, the Catholic Church felt it important to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions with its own special all-year-round nationwide pilgrimages.
The pilgrims in Fatima who arrived early on 13 September at the Chapel of the Apparitions were greeted with a somewhat unusual sight – a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague being carried in the arms of a religious sister in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. This image of the Christ Child, dressed as King in festive white robes, was later that day to enjoy a great triumph when, at the end of the Solemn Holy Mass on the square of the Fatima shrine, it was solemnly presented by Cardinal Dominik Duka, the Archbishop of Prague, to Bishop António Augusto dos Santos Marto of Leiria-Fatima, in whose diocese the famous Fatima shrine is of course situated.
This pilgrimage to Fatima by Czech Catholics to mark the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions there was in fact the second national pilgrimage to Fatima organised by the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, and on this occasion 1,300 pilgrims, including the entire Czech bishops‘ conference, dozens of priests and religious and hundreds of ordinary Catholic faithful, had made their way to the renowned Marian shrine in Portugal, whose story is so closely linked to the recent history of the former Eastern Bloc. Cardinal Duka recalled the fact that the people of the Czech Republic had previously come on pilgrimage to Fatima in 1989 to give thanks for their regained freedom. This time they were here to give thanks „for a new generation that has never known the prison of National Socialism, the prison of Communism or persecution for their faith.“
As an expression of gratitude, the Cardinal solemnly presented to the bishop a replica statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, solemnly blessed at the shrine in Prague, as a special gift from the Catholics of the Czech Republic to the shrine in Fatima. “The Infant Jesus is the patron of all his friends“, said the Cardinal, recalling that Pope Benedict XVI had also visited the world-famous shrine of the Infant Jesus during his visit to Prague.
In fact the fate of the Jezulatko, as the little statue of the Infant Jesus is known to the Czech people, has been closely bound up with the message of Fatima during the past century. For it was in 1917 – exactly 100 years ago – that Our Blessed Lady predicted the October Revolution in Russia and the Second World War. The consequence was an unprecedented persecution of the Church. After the Second World War, what was then still Czechoslovakia also fell under the Communist yoke and witnessed one of the worst persecutions in Eastern Europe. Thousands of priests and religious were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms and forced labour, churches and religious houses were closed down and desecrated, and the practice of the Faith severely restricted. For years, the image of the Infant Jesus of Prague was left abandoned and alone on its altar in a desolate and ransacked church.
“It is thanks to the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that we are able to live in freedom today“, Cardinal Duka declared in front of thousands of pilgrims in Fatima. Afterwards, the Czech pilgrims were allowed to take home with them a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Immediately on their return this statue was welcomed with a solemn Holy Mass in Prague‘s St Vitus Cathedral and then carried in solemn procession through the streets of Prague.