The final days of May saw MSCs Fr Michael O’Connell and Fr Des Farren join 30 pilgrims from Ireland and the UK on our annual MSC pilgrimage to Fatima. With blue skies and sunshine as a backdrop to prayer, reflection, and conversation, this year’s five-day trip was a resounding success for all involved.
Our pilgrimage group paused to pray at a number of hallowed stops along the way, including the Basilica of the Rosary, the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, the Way of the Cross, and Valinhos, where Our Lady appeared to the Children of Fatima.
The Basilica of the Holy Trinity was a place of special interest for our pilgrims, as they visited the spectacular sculpture of Christ on the Cross by Irish artist Catherine Greene. The figure is cast in bronze and is five metres tall, suspended in the air on a seven-metre cross behind the altar. Catherine Greene is originally from Galway, but now works from her studio in Co. Kildare. In the creation of this statue, she has embraced all of mankind, incorporating different features from different races in the Christ figure. It is a magnificent sight to behold in the Basilica, which can seat 9,000 people, with space for another 2,000 standing.
Our group also spent some time in Valinhos, where Our Lady appeared to the Children of Fatima on August 19th, 1917. Here, they also paused to pray at the beautiful shrine which represents the apparition of the Angel of Peace.
The Way of the Cross in Fatima is a special journey indeed, with the path taken along the Stations of the Cross following the pathway that the Children of Fatima would have followed from their homes, down to the grazing grounds where they would have cared for their family’s sheep. The stations were donated to Fatima by the people of Hungary, and the final station, the Crucifixion scene, is positioned on top of the Church of St Stephen of Hungary.
“The devotion of the people is perhaps what touched me most about our pilgrimage.”
Fr Michael and Fr Des celebrated Sunday Mass during the pilgrimage, along with approximately 60 other priests from around the world. Sunday Mass is a wonderful celebration overlooking the Capelinha, or the Chapel of the Apparitions, which marks the spot where Our Lady appeared. Every Sunday, a statue of Our Lady is carried from the Capelinha to the open-air altar, often by representatives from the fire brigade or the army, dressed in their best with shining uniforms and helmets.
Our Lady’s path is lined with pilgrims, singing and waving white handkerchiefs. It is an extremely emotional moment, with many people shedding tears because they won’t return to see Our Lady of Fatima again for at least another year. “The devotion of these people is perhaps what touched me most about our pilgrimage,” says Fr Michael. “Their tears are just amazing – there are literally tears running down their faces, they are crying their hearts out. They won’t be back again for at least another year, if at all, and they are crying. Our Lady is going away, and they’re going away. It was so emotional that it made me cry, too.”
Our pilgrims also stopped to light a candle for their intentions – so many candles are lit here, however, that the heat is overwhelming and the candles all melt into one big flame. The group pilgrimage candle was carried along the journey and returned home to the Sacred Heart Parish in Cork with Fr Michael, who will continue to light it daily for the prayers and intentions of the pilgrimage group until it has burned down completely.
The group also ventured to some of the outlying prayer spots in the area. Fr Michael speaks of a special fondness for the statue of the Children of Fatima looking out towards the Chapel of the Apparitions. “That’s my favourite spot in Fatima,” he says. “That’s where I like to be the most, because you’re away from the crowd, looking from a distance. I like to step out of the crowds, to stand back and see the bigger picture.”
Our great family of faith offers warmth and encouragement from all over the world, and this became especially clear when Fr Michael bumped into MSCs from Indonesia over breakfast in the group’s hotel! Fr Nicholaus Adi Seputra MSC, Archbishop of Merauke, Indonesia, and Fr Cayetanus Tarong MSC were travelling with two other MSCs from the Philippines to celebrate 30 years of ordination. It was a fortuitous meeting indeed, as they were leaving Fatima for Rome later that day, continuing their pilgrimage to the Holy Places.
Fr Michael also bumped into an Irish couple, Pat and Mary Leahy from Macroom, Co. Cork, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary while on pilgrimage. Pat and Mary renewed their love for each other before the Our Lady of Fatima statue at the Capelinha, in a wonderful celebration of true and enduring love.
Our group returned home on June 3rd, replenished in body and soul after a truly wonderful trip where new friendships were made, and old and enduring bonds were strengthened. Sincere thanks to all involved for a joyous pilgrimage journey!