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As I write, the Ferns Diocesan pilgrimage to Fatima is taking place. The highlight of the pilgrimage will come on Saturday 13th October that celebrates the 101st anniversary of the 'Miracle of the Sun' that took place on 13th October 1917.

Below is an article on the Fatima experience written by Fr Jim Doyle who was in Fatima for the centenary celebrations last year.

“On a wing and a prayer”

My pilgrimage to Fatima on its 100th anniversary

By Fr. Jim Doyle

On the 16th of October last year, as everyone else was preparing themselves for hurricane Ophilia, I was flying out on an early flight from Dublin to Lisbon, Portugal, on route to a few days pilgrimage in Fatima. It was not a planned pilgrimage on my part, but when my brother, Fr. Rory Doyle, told me that they needed another priest to accompany their parish pilgrimage as one of their Franciscan priests had to cancel at short notice, I took the opportunity to go. I was very happy to go to Fatima at that time because only a few days before the Shrine celebrated 100 years since the last apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three shepherd children on 13th of October 1917. As we flew above the hurricane and out of Ireland I was also happy to be escaping all the chaos the hurricane was about to cause.

Of course going on a pilgrimage always brings its own form of chaos. I was traveling as a guest of Fairview Parish in Dublin with a mix of people of different ages, but with some being quite elderly. Getting everyone’s bag was the first hurdle, and with all the Dublin accents I could have been in Moor Street. After a few missing people were finally discovered to have gotten on a different bus we set off and arrived in Fatima in the early afternoon.

Fatima is a small town in the centre of Portugal. 100 years ago it was just the name of a rural parish. Then on May 13th 1917, three poor children from a nearby village, Lucia, aged 10, her cousin Francesco, aged 9, and his sister Jacinta, aged 7, while pasturing sheep saw a bright white light. Thinking it was lightening they were starting to go home when “a Lady more brilliant than the sun” appeared to them holding a white rosary. The Lady told the three little shepherds that it was necessary to pray much, and she invited them to return to that place (the Cova da Iria) every month for five months. The children duly obeyed except for the 13th of August when the local Government Administrator arrested and questioned them and prevented them from attending. The children would not change their testimony even when they were cruelly told that they were going to be boiled in oil if they didn’t deny the visions. Each month on the 13th Our Lady appeared to them at the Cova, but in August she appeared to them near to their own village on the 19th when they had been released.

The general Message of Fatima that Our Lady conveyed is not complicated. Its requests are for prayer, reparation, repentance, and sacrifice, and the abandonment of sin. Sin is a gross offence against God but prayer and sacrifice implore God’s mercy.

Our Lady stressed the importance of praying the Rosary in each of her apparitions, asking the children to pray the Rosary every day for peace. Another principal part of the Message of Fatima is devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, which is terribly outraged and offended by the sins of humanity, and we are lovingly urged to console her by making reparation. She showed her heart, surrounded by piercing thorns (which represented the sins against her Immaculate Heart), to the children, who understood that their sacrifices could help to console her. She asked for the devotion of the first five Saturdays to her Immaculate Heart.

Our Lady also asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart or it would spread its errors around the world, and she said that if her pleas for prayer were not answered there would be another world war worse than the first. When Russia was finally consecrated by Pope St. John Paul II the fall of communism took place soon after.

During her apparitions to the children Our Lady promised them a miracle as a sign. Then on the 13th of October 1917 with 70,000 people present, the sun resembling a silver disc could be gazed at without difficulty, and then whirling on itself like a wheel of fire, it seemed about to fall upon the earth. Since then the Church has accepted the apparitions as authentic and millions of pilgrims have come to Fatima to ask the Blessed Virgin’s intercession. Francesco and Jacinta died only a few years after the apparition and were recently canonised by Pope Francis. Lucia became a Carmelite nun and only died on 13th of February 2005.

It was a great blessing for me to be in Fatima at this time, and when we went with our group to attend the English language Mass at the apparition chapel to my surprise and joy I was asked to be the main presider with English speaking pilgrims from all over the world. The homily was very much off the cuff but I felt that Our Lady gave me a helping hand!

Other memories are the beautiful candlelight processions that take place in the square every evening and the serene Stations of the Cross through the olive fields where the children tended their sheep and prayed the rosary. I also enjoyed the craic with the Dublin pilgrims, and made a few new friends. When we go on a pilgrimage we think that we are doing something for the Lord, but in fact, as usual He is doing something for us.

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