FATIMA, Portugal. St. Jacinta’s “insatiable” thirst to sacrifice daily for souls and St. Francisco’s devotion to praying the rosary were on the hearts of pilgrims who joined more than half a million people to attend the May 13 Mass in Fatima, Portugal, during which the two children were canonized by Pope Francis. Pilgrims traveled by all modes of transportation — even walking sticks — from near and far to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the first of six once-per-month visions of Mary to three children of Fatima.
“It’s very important for us to think that in today’s time we have models — little kids who were nine and 11 years old — to see that they had a short life and that they were giving up things for other mens’ sins and making sacrfices in the world,” said Miguel Fosecka, 39, an engineer from Lisbon. “They offered them to Jesus and this makes (these sacrifices) worth it.”
The night before the canonization Mass, hundreds of thousands of people participated in a candlelight rosary procession with Pope Francis. For Antonio Martins, 49, of Porto, Portugal, the occasion for traveling to the event was like any other year, with the exception of arriving many hours sooner to secure a seat close to the Chapel of the Apparitions — 12 hours before the rosary with Pope Francis.
“I’ve come here for the last 20 years with my wife and sister-in-law,” Martins said. “What (the Blessed Mother) did for the Portuguese people and for people all around the world is she asked them for the transmission of love between humankind. That is the main word Our Lady brings to us.”
Hundreds of pilgrims from various countries walked the Way of the Cross in Fatima the morning of May 12, the day Pope Francis arrived. The Way of the Cross, which leads to the site of Mary’s reported vision to the children on August 19, 1917, is located in Valinhos, nearly halfway between the Cova where the other apparitions took place and the children’s homes. The Valinhos stop is at the ninth station and is denoted by a large statue of Our Lady. Unlike the other five apparitions, the August apparition did not take place on the 13th of the month, due to the children being detained for questioning by government officials.
Pilgrims that morning sang hymns in their various languages and one person held the flag of Lebanon — one of dozens of countries represented.
“It’s been beyond my expectations,” said Robin Bachman, of Chicago, who does missionary work. “I came here because my father and mother passed away a year apart on May the 13. I kept telling the blessed Virgin, ‘Let me know when I can come visit you in Fatima.’ It’s been amazing but it’s been hard, too, because I don’t speak Portuguese. It’s been good for me to experience that language and that sense of alienation, knowing God to be my source of movement and guide. But it was so eye opening, and I’ve received more than I expected . . . seeing what God has moved me to rebuild. I came to Fatima for healing and I’m going to Poland for direction.”
“The feeling was ecstatic at the canonization,” said Mikhail Anthony, 22, from South Africa, who was among many jubilantly filling the streets of Fatima the day following the canonization Mass.
A group of nearly 60 people traveled from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio to attend the canonization. Other pilgrims from the United States came from Florida, California, Colorado and Illinois.
Jim Henseler, 50, of Chicago, found out only about a week prior to leaving for the canonization that he was going to be able to travel to Portugal with a friend. What the two new saints teach us, he said, is “to sacrifice, sacrifice much” and what Fatima teaches us, he said, is “to pray, pray much. I try to live it as best I can.”