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Sydney pilgrims farewell Fatima

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP celebrates a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Fatima at the Chapel of Apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, on 7 August. Photo: Mathew De Sousa
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP celebrates a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Fatima at the Chapel of Apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, on 7 August. Photo: Mathew De Sousa

After all the colour and movement of World Youth Day, Sydney’s pilgrims ended their journey with the gentle presence of Our Lady of Fatima, especially felt at stunning candlelit processions at her shrine north of Lisbon.

The pilgrims made a three-day retreat from 7-10 August at the shrine where in 1917 the Blessed Virgin appeared to three simple shepherd children and asked them to pray the rosary for peace.

They joined thousands of others praying the rosary and walking in the processions which take place every evening year-round.

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP presided at Mass in the Chapel of the Apparitions on the first day, telling the pilgrims that the retreat was an opportunity to spend some time alone with God and give thanks for all the experiences and graces received during the previous week.

In his homily the archbishop recalled the “romantic but also somewhat confronting” story of Our Lady’s first appearance to the shepherd children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta on 13 May 1917.

“She promised them revelations, miracles, visitations and, above all perhaps, the triumph of innocent faith in a world of hostilities and bloodshed,” he said.

“No wonder, then, that much of the Virgin’s talk was apocalyptic, end-of-the-world stuff, the kind of thing we tend to bracket out of our thinking, unless we are watching sci-fi movies.

“But the truth is that there are many who experience hell on earth, including those afflicted by the horrors of war or other violence, by totalitarianism and its disregard for human life, or by spiritual emptiness and moral chaos: that was so in the Europe of 1917, that is so in the Ukraine and Russia of 2023, and it is objectively fearsome.

“And there are those who experience the even greater horror of permanent separation from God. Such scary revelations might seem worthy of an R-rating, not G for children as young as the seers of Fatima.

“But the Beautiful Lady’s first words were words of realism and of reassurance, words of Christ himself, the same first words of John Paul II as Pope, words Pope Francis repeated in his homily for us yesterday: ‘Be not afraid.’”

Day two included a visit to the white stone Basilica of the Holy Trinity for Mass for almost 9000 pilgrims.

Pilgrim Jordan Vella said he sensed the “overwhelming peace” at the Fatima shrine. Photo: Mathew De Sousa
Pilgrim Jordan Vella said he sensed the “overwhelming peace” at the Fatima shrine. Photo: Mathew De Sousa

The retreat concluded with Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, which stands in the centre of the famous shrine, again celebrated by Archbishop Fisher with Bishop Richard Umbers and other clergy.

Fr Daniel McCaughan, parish priest of St Patrick’s in Sutherland, said he was deeply moved while praying the rosary and during the group’s first experience of the candlelit processions, featuring an illuminated cross and statue of Our Lady.

“It has been probably the perfect way to end our World Youth Day journey to come to visit our Mother,” he said.

“Fatima is an extremely special and important part and place in the lives of many Catholics and indeed it is one of the greatest sites of Marian devotion in the world.

“When Our Lady’s statue went past, I honestly felt that was my mum going past. That was really Our Lady.

“Fatima is a real place of grace. It’s also a very important reminder that Our Lady has the cares of the world very much in her heart and she asks that we take them into our hearts too.

“Most importantly through prayer, through repentance, penance and atonement and interceding very much for others.

“It’s a wonderful message, having been filled with many graces through being with the Pope and millions of other young people in the world, to then come and realise that we now have a responsibility to take that back to where we’ve come from and to spread the light, the peace, the hope, the joy and most importantly, the merciful love of Christ.

“And who is that best mediated through Our Lady, Our Blessed Mother.”

Pilgrim Jordan Vella said he sensed the “overwhelming peace” at the Fatima shrine, where St Pope John Paul II visited to thank Our Lady after surviving an assassination attempt on her 13 May feast day in 1981.

“The message of Fatima is a strong one and it convinced me earlier this year when reading about it to say the rosary daily, which is something I think all Catholics should try to commit to.”

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