The streets will be empty this year as the world gathers, virtually, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. The annual celebrations usually see thousands of pilgrims making their way to the Shrine of Our Lady in Cova da Iria in Fatima, on the 13th of every month from May through to October – the days of the six apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima in 1917.
This year, due to the coronavirus measures, 350 groups have been forced to cancel their pilgrimages. There will be no pilgrims in Fatima and there will be no faithful present to celebrate this miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary on her Feast Day.
Graduality and prudence
Cardinal António Marto, Bishop of Leiria-Fatima and Vice President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference (Cep), confirmed this on Saturday, as the whole country prepared for “phase 2” of its coronavirus lockdown. “Phase 2” means that after over a month of lockdown, the country is gradually beginning to open up again. The Portuguese Church is doing so by enacting the words “graduality” and “prudence”, to ensure that entering phase 2 does not lead to disaster.
The celebrations due to take place on 13 May can therefore only be followed on radio, television and digital media. Cardinal Marto said that “even if our hearts would like to be in Fatima, celebrating together in the same place as in 1917, “this time, prudence advises us not to”. He explained that the Church’s decision to follow these indications is dictated by a sense of responsibility “so as not to endanger public health, thus also fulfilling the evangelical mandate of love of one’s neighbour”.
A spiritual journey
To compensate for the impossibility of pilgrims going to Cova da Iria, the Shrine of Fatima proposes a “spiritual journey”, with suggestions for daily prayers, as an alternative. They can be found on the shrine’s website at www.fatima.pt and on social networks.
Fr Carlos Cabecinhas, the Rector of the shrine of Fatima, launched a message in which he invited the faithful to join in a “pilgrimage of the heart”, whose path will not be physical, “but interior”. Pilgrims are also invited to light a candle in the windows of their homes every day until 12 May.
The future reopening
The resumption of Masses with the physical participation of the faithful in Portugal is scheduled for 30 May. The Shrine of Fatima will gradually resume its activities, already reopening today for individual prayer, while the museum space will be reopened on 19 May.
A series of safety measures against contagion, both for employees and visitors — such as the use of masks in enclosed spaces, respect for physical distancing, and the sanitation of hands and environments — are planned for access.