The Chapel of Apparitions is located in Cova da Iria Portugal. It was constructed sometime in the 1920’s to mark the exact location where three shepherd children; Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta reportedly witnessed the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1917. The Chapel is part of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima which is visited by approximately six million pilgrims annually. The children talked of visits of The Angel of Peace who prepared them to meet a woman Brighter than the Sun. She wore a white mantle adorned with gold and held a rosary. She encouraged the children to pray the rosary daily to bring peace to the world and even revealed prophecies to them. Reports say that she made the Sun dance in order to make others believe in her message where skepticism was widespread.
While I do not officially follow a religion, I set out on a sort of pilgrimage a long time ago as a means of encountering God where ‘he’ had appeared. I have since been to a handful of holy places where I have seen some interesting things. This particular site has always been close to my heart. The first time I heard about it I was just a child and was taken aback by the mere idea Mother Mary would visit these little children. I thought it was a beautiful story and believed it whole heartedly.
The reenactment I saw on television was so well done that it caused me to research the topic. I have lived in wonder about this ever since. I suppose I have always been attracted to the mystical aspects of life. Many people experience miracles in their daily lives that they attribute to a higher power, such as help when it is needed most, healing and so on and so forth. So to hear about one of such grandeur sort of molded my belief at a tender age. I always liked Nice ‘stories’. It is worth mentioning that there are a record number of people and locations across the globe who have claimed to witness the ‘Marian Apparitions’ as they are referred to.
I have come to imagine that growing up without a religion can either be the detriment of a person who requires the guidance of an institute or on the other hand it could be the guiding force that causes one to seek out the mysteries of life. At least that is how I have come to measure society against my particular background after hearing about the personal journey’s of so many friends and family members.
So one ‘faithful’ day, I set out to visit this place. It took a little planning but things came together in the end and I was afforded the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream. I was also happy to return to one of my favorite cities, Lisbon or Lisboa as they say. I left Sevilla Spain by car which took about four hours. On entering Portugal, I recall my Blabla car host explaining the radical approach to the decriminalization of illicit drugs in Portugal. While drugs are demonized in most societies and cultures, being caught with any narcotic would lead a person to obtaining either a warning or psychiatric help if there is a perceived problem of addiction. This radical approach has worked wonders in a society that has practically no annual overdoses and has experienced significantly less diseases spread by contaminated needles.
I was happy to arrive in Lisbon where I would spend a couple days walking around, exploring castles, eating good food and seeing the night life in the famous Barrio Alto. I absolutely adored the atmosphere. The people are vivacious, funny, open and there is a sense of freedom that reminded me a bit of Barcelona, but with less tourists. From my limited time there, I would say the Portuguese are incredibly inviting and down to earth. Frankly, I felt very happy and at home in this foreign country. It is truly a melting pot where I can tell everyone feels welcome to be themselves.
Someone else told me that they did not really care for Lisbon, but I am happy I did not take their opinion to heart. While it is true that Portugal is not the most economically sound country in Europe, the old buildings and street trams add a unique feel to the ‘Mediterranean-like’ atmosphere even though it does not border the Mediterranean Sea. I quickly understood that it was because this person came from ‘one of the most beautiful cities’ in Europe, Lisbon was just not their cup of tea. They were simply accustomed to a very different style of life. But to each his own.
For example, I noticed the Mercedes Benz outlet did not refurbish the dealership, assuming that the marketing strategy was aligned to fit in rather than stand out from the other charming, cracked archaic buildings surrounding it. What some people have referred to as ‘dilapidated’, is quite frankly the norm in Lisbon, no judgement passed. I suppose it comes down to personal opinion, likes and dislikes. The pastries and foods are pretty much amazing. Delicacies such as sardines, bacalao and pastels de nata make Lisbon a treat. While I may be biased because I definitely had some of the best times in this city, there is a lot more to offer than just a good time. You would come to realize the culture is so rich if you stopped to speak to the locals about the history and traditions that are sewn into the fabric of society. I heard some amazing stories. I met one traveler who informed me that she was visiting Lisbon specifically to photograph the Jacaranda flowers which shaded and littered the streets creating a purple blanket to walk on. Lisbon was simply charming in my eyes.
After a couple of days roaming the city, I was happy to meet the guide at seven in the morning. She would firstly chauffer our small group to Fatima, to visit the Chapel of Apparitions and then to the popular surfing town of Nazare where the biggest wave in the world was successfully surfed, coming in at 100 feet. It took us around forty minutes by car to arrive at Fatima. I was so happy to have made this dream a reality. It was sort of unreal. It was a world far removed from the happy tourist spots Lisbon offered. In no time we were in the countryside where houses were unevenly spaced and it seemed more natural as trees and shrubs decorated the dry, yellow earth. I remember the sun beating down and the place seemed a bit arid even though it was chilly. The atmosphere was serene and very quiet. There was a huge paved area with a large cross on the far side. By our entrance, there was a place one could purchase large candles. I bought a couple and lit them as I said some prayers and asked God to Bless us all. I took some photos of the alter where Mother Mary appeared to the children. There was mass going on at this moment. A handful of people congregated in this sort of open-air alter/church.
While many kneeled down to pray there, I witnessed other pilgrims completing their arduous journey, arriving in worn clothes; they stood out from the rest of us who were driven there no doubt. I remember one in particular who possessed no legs. He used his forearms and all his strength to pull himself across the hot pitch which seemed to go on for miles. I felt ashamed to stare and was humbled by this sight. I feel unable to comprehend his measure of faith, what he was going through and his commitment to carry on in one of the most obvious, difficult situations fathomable. Somehow he mustered all the strength he had under the sun to meet Mother Mary and no doubt speak with her and show her his pain. I suppose it was simply heartbreaking for the lack of better words but also very inspirational. Perhaps this site attracts many of the broken and the miracle seekers. While his pain was put on display for all to see, I looked around at many of the stoic expressions and wondered what they were all going through. This thought does not usually cross my mind in other settings but I suppose in a place like that it was natural to wonder what others were experiencing and what led them there.
My visit to Fatima has made me realize that we all have a cross to bear, some make it look easy while others put their pain on display for all to see. I suppose in that moment I felt we were all united by our human condition.