Part II: Fatima: ‘A window onto a new inner world with the light of Heaven within’

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“In the presence of a miracle, faith is never washed away,” 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley reported from Lalibela, Ethiopia. 

Two hundred thousand pilgrims visit Lalibela for an 11 church-pilgrimage in the northern highlands of Ethiopia around Christmas, celebrated during the first week of January.

These churches were built from a single rock, and many believe that angels built them, carved in precision and in darkness while inside a big stone. They tunneled in the darkness that enables pilgrim/believers to worship today in the light, prayers, and music.

Angels also preceded the onset of a century-old pilgrimage to Fatima, a city in the municipality of Ourém in Portugal, named for a 12th-century Moorish princess. Portugal, for me, has been in the back of my mind, not the top of my mind.

Why? Ferdinand Magellan was killed by Lapu Lapu for colonizing the Philippines. Being born into the colonized country left me with a subdued feeling of bias towards Lapu Lapu and a feeling of somewhat angst of being in Portugal.

Yet, as a natural American citizen who has resided in the U.S. for close to half a century, my visit to Portugal made me begin to examine these lingering thoughts. Should they be replaced? Can we truly understand the people of Portugal and why Magellan carved a new route to explore the world?

Can we be guided by the stories of the Angels and the Apparitions of the Queen of Peace, which seem to have so much relevance today as we read about the launched missiles on U.S. bases recently by Iran and how U.S. guided drones led to the death of Iran’s second high ranking military official? Are we on the cusp of another world war or should we factor in our beliefs about Our Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Queen of Portugal and the Queen of Peace?

Upon visiting this holy site, we learned that the Angel of Peace and the Angel of Portugal preceded the century-strong pilgrimages to Fatima, Portugal, following the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1917.

Our Lady of Fatima and to believe beyond what we see

These three shepherds were Lucia dos Santos (born 1907), Francisco Marto (born 1908) and Jacinta Marto (born 1910) and lived in this town of Portugal whose communities were into agriculture and sheep herding.

They sought refuge from the rains, as they tended to their family’s flock of sheep. They were cousins who reveled in each other’s company, “illiterate and sent to work at a young age, saw almost no one else between morning and evening. The terrain consisted of a high valley interspersed with olive groves, oaks, holm oaks, and pines, leading up some hills. The sheep would graze on parcels of land the families owned, while the little shepherds played games, prayed the rosary, and girls danced while Francisco played his flute, or they sang popular songs,” Andrew Housely wrote in “A Pilgrim’s Guide to Fatima” (2017).

They were ages 7, 9 and 12, yet the mother of Francisco and Jacinta could not protect them from the community’s detractors to the point that she encouraged them to retract and reject what they saw to stop the shunning. But, these young shepherds persisted. Their pure hearts could be relied on.

Our Lady of Fatima reportedly visited them six times. The seventh would be at noon on October 13, 1917, gathered around the chief priest and witnessed by 70,000 folks. All had their umbrellas, seeking cover from the rain. The three shepherds arrived at 11:30 a.m., with Lucia and Jacinta donning a crown of flowers. Lucia ordered those gathered to close their umbrellas and all promptly obeyed.

From once gray clouds, the sun came out, without the cover of the clouds, and 70,000 witnessed the sun to have spun around, like a ring of fireworks. Today, it is described by the living descendants of pioneers who witnessed this miracle of the dancing sun and personally share what their great grandparents saw at orientation meetings attended by travel guides in Fatima.

From 1916 to 1918, children of Portugal were dying from flu or pneumonia and even after a stay in the hospital, Jacinta came home with an open wound, and later, her early death. Science then had not found adequate cures for these common respiratory illnesses that 75% of the population perished, as shown by a chart documenting the population’s health conditions during that time, as well as headlines of newspapers of that period, when the shepherds stayed with the Ourem Administrator in his house, between August 13 to 15, 1917. Folks then resorted to their faith more. Unlike today that most of these serious ailments are cured by hospital stays, respirator assist and antibiotics.

Now, we find faith and science converging. Although they are on parallel paths, as one philosopher notes, they seem to converge to the Source, the “theory of everything.” Even the world’s genius physicist Stephen Hawking considered the Big Bang Theory as accounting for the gravitational forces in this one big Universe. Could this Big Bang be also the Higher One up above?

Monument to the navigators and Portugal’s globalization identity as pioneers

Neither did I expect to appreciate the Portuguese navigators, e.g. Ferdinand Magellan, who circumnavigated the world in search of new lands, spices and new routes. Magellan was a fallen Portuguese as far as the Filipinos were concerned, having read from history books that Lapu Lapu killed him in 1521 in Cebu.

I failed to appreciate the bravery and courage shown by Magellan to reach this island, as much as the bravery of Filipinos who fought against these colonizers.

In contrast, the cold dreary winds and the gray skies heightened my appreciation for the sun-dappled Monument to the Discoveries, also known as the Monument to the Navigators of the golden 15th and 16th centuries, when Portugal commanded the world’s colonies that controlled half, while Spain controlled another half.

Thirty-three heroes are memorialized here, led by Infante d. Henriques, also known as Henry the Navigator, on the edge of the replica of a caravel, the small maneuverable sailing ship developed in Portugal to explore the West African Coast into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the height of Portugal’s empire building, the monument included a priest, a poet Luis Vaz de Camoes, Vasco da Gama as well as other navigators, painters, mathematicians, cartographers, and kings, such that the “Portuguese were the first fearless men that crossed the Cape of Good Hope, and of course, the recognized first navigators of the world,” the website A View on Cities cited.

This is where globalization started, our tour guide Manuela Diaz astutely shared her insight. From a map of the world, we traced by our footsteps Portugal’s colonies, which included Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea, India, Macau, Malacca, Morocco, Mozambique, Timor, Uruguay, and West Africa, and acknowledged the unfortunate enslavement of Africans during this period.

It opened my eyes that Portugal’s identity as a country is so much linked to its past, including what they regarded as their golden 15th and 16th centuries, the earthquake of the 17th century and the rebuilding after.

Recall the Carnation Revolution that was started by a military coup on April 25, 1974, against the authoritarian Estado Novo regime? A shrine to that effort is the 25th of April Bridge in Lisbon, a suspension bridge that spans the Tagus River (near the Monument to the Navigators) and is a spitting image of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Would you have persisted in your beliefs as a miracle witness?

Each time I sought answers as to why I was drawn to the Fatima Square, the more details I knew about the three shepherds and how they were prepared by the Angel of Peace on how to pray, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications,” it remained a mystery.

“Because God is a mystery, two crucial principles of theological aesthetics can be articulated. First, God’s incomprehensibility belongs to God alone. Second, such incomprehensibility does not cease with the vision of God. Someone becomes known in mystery even as mystery makes us realize how little we know. Similarly, the beautiful allows Beauty to be felt even as Beauty itself slips, in the end, past the grasp of our affection,” Alejandro Garcia-Rivera wrote in his book, “The Community of the Beautiful.”

Yet, the unknowable mystery is replaced by the awe of God’s infinite wisdom in sending the angels and the Blessed Mother to convey the messages to these three shepherds.

First, the visions of hell, the sea of fire underneath the earth where demons and souls in human forms were floating in burning flames, with clouds of smoke with the appearance of the Our Lady of Fatima, “otherwise I think we would have died of fear and terror,” Lucia wrote in her memoirs.

The second secret was “The war is going to end. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is a great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and the persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.”

Recall the First Friday devotions reported by St. Mary Margaret Alacoque in the 17th century whose remains and relics we also visited in September’s Marian Pilgrimage in 2019?

For a long time, the third message of Our Lady of Fatima was kept a secret as requested by the Virgin of Fatima from Lucia, who had senses of hearing, seeing and talking with the Virgin of Fatima and whom the Virgin requested to go to school to learn how to read and write. Francisco could only see the Virgin of Fatima while Jacinta could see and hear the Virgin but could not talk directly with her, as Lucia did.

The third secret was given to Lucia on July 13, 1917, by Our Lady of Fatima and was disclosed in three phases. When Lucia got sick, she was ordered by Bishop of Leiria in 1943 to write down this third secret, which was in a sealed envelope and given to the Bishop for safekeeping. In 1957, the Vatican ordered all of Lucia’s writings be transferred there. Pope John XXIII read the contents possibly with his confessor and the contents were resealed again. It was not until the bloody assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on May 13, 1981 that the Pope on March 25, 1984, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The third secret was about “Our Lady and little above her was an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand, flashing, giving out flames, that died out when in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand. The Angel cried out: Penance, Penance, Penance. We saw the immense light that is God…a Bishop dressed in white (we had the impression it was the Holy Father). Other bishops, priests, men, and women were going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork tree with the bark before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the Big Cross, he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross, there were two Angeles each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God,” A Pilgrim’s Guide to Fatima noted.

Pope Francis’ 2017 visit confirmed that the third secret and blood came from Pope John Paul II’s assassination.

As gratitude for being saved by Our Lady of Fatima, Pope John Paul II donated the papal ring that he received as a gift at the start of his papacy in 1978, as well as the assassin’s bullet retrieved from his operation. The bullet fits exactly at the center of the crown placed on the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, crowned as Queen of Portugal and as Queen of Peace and the world.

Seeing the papal ring made me recall a bucket list wish of mine: to see Pope Francis in person inside the White House during Pres. Obama’s tenure. Here I was, September 23, 2015, in Washington D.C., along with 500 media representatives from around the world, covering the Papal visit for the Asian Journal’s readers. It was a wish that I thought was impossible, yet by God’s miracle, I was praying the rosary at 3:15 a.m., finding my way to the White House, closed off by barricades.

I am now realizing as devotees of the Virgin Mary in a Catholic elementary school, that I was actually there in Fatima, where before it was just a pipe dream, as my limited faith could not visualize it. Pinching myself several times, as I sat amongst thousands of pilgrims in Fatima, who spoke in many languages: Portuguese, Tagalog, English, Korean, Taiwanese, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, French, Japanese, Ethiopian. I realize that my elementary school dream came true not just once, but twice.

For the Nov. 2019 pilgrimage, Manuela Diaz was our travel guide, courtesy of a well-curated trip by the Association of Commerce, Industry, and Services of Ourem (ACISO)’s Isabel Machado. This trip was exceptional in blending what Smithsonian Journeys often describe their trips as: “unique blend of enriching insights, exceptional quality, intellectual camaraderie and personal attention,” a four-pillar feature of well-curated pilgrimage with not a failed moment to speak of.

The first time I got to Fatima was in Sept. 2019 when a holy priest, Fr. Joel O. Bugas, led it. I regard him as holy as he kept the focus on our spirituality, paying attention to the Holy Spirit, and led us to a renewal of committing our lives to God and by his actions, promoted group’s reverence to God, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the angels, the Saints, the Holy Father, his fellow priests, including a pleasant surprise of a mass concelebrating with Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix. It was during a 14-day pilgrimage that allowed us to go to medieval churches, see the French countryside, visit fourteen saints, go from the south to north, from Portugal to Spain to France, ending in Paris.

The allure of the Eiffel Tower in Paris was the clinching factor for me to join this multi-city pilgrimage only to realize later it was actually the spiritual magnetism of having a personal relationship with Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes in France and a visit to St. Therese of Lisieux on her feast day, which gave me these unforgettable experiences.

With no nap, I had limited energy, yet the sight of at least 5,000 pilgrims, and lighted candles carried by folks of various ethnicities, inside the Chapel of Apparitions in Fatima, we became part of the twenty million pilgrims who come here from around the world to form a million-strong pilgrimage church each year. They come here from May to October, except August, each year.

On May 13, 2017, Pope Francis was welcomed by millions who witnessed his announcement that Jacinta and Francisco are now canonized saints, as the Vatican has verified the miracles, and healing has been stable for over a decade, traceable to the shepherds’ prayers.

Could the persistent strong rains be a convergence of grace from Above, sprinkling us all wet as we prayed, just as Our Lady of Fatima had asked of the three shepherds, over a hundred years ago, in 1917? It was raining then, yet, each time, it would clear up, much like how we were submerged in the healing waters of Lourdes, and as soon as we got outside of the tub of these waters, we were dry without using a towel and a resurgence of lightness, an uplifted sense of well being, without weariness, aches or pains.

How can that simple request of Our Lady of Fatima gain a following of a pilgrimage church, visited by 20 million tourists each year?

When I held the hand of Sister Lucia’s niece, Maria dos Ajos, now 98 years old, during both Sept and Nov. 2019 pilgrimages, I was seeking clarity about what my senses were picking up. My senses were in hyper mode alertness: looking, observing, watching, listening, and of course, praying.

But I could not gain clarity singularly from my mind, a human mind capable of recognizing symbols, metaphors, and even make abstractions. I had to resort to my heart, opening it more to recognize that what I was feeling was true, quite humbled in witnessing grace from God.

The question to you, my dear readers, would your heart and mind’s interior world, as it is now, be ready to accept a miracle or series of miracles that befall on you?

What did I see: the rosary in Maria’s hands, her wrinkled face, yet with broad smiles, the picture of the three shepherds taken after the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, near a large holm-oak tree. This is where, Sister Lucia described in her own words, “we beheld a Lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sunshine through it. I too sensed a fragrance coming from a bouquet of flowers, the warmth of her heart and the lightness of her energy.

In Lucia’s words, she described her own witnessed miracle:

“Our Lady spoke to us: “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.”

“Where are you from?”

“I am from Heaven.”

“What do you want of me?”

“I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterward, I will return here yet a seventh time.”

It reminded me of “what the artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems said about the power of images and the art of looking: It’s in that looking that you discover the multiplicity of a simple thing and the depth of a certain thing. And not only of a certain thing, but your relationship to that thing, and your relationship therefore with yourself is deepened,” I once learned from hearing Jason Parham relate about a fellow artist in 2018.

When you replace that thing with God, and your relationship with God deepens, your relationship with yourself also deepens. That is perhaps beyond the metaphor of sight, delving into the metaphor of mystery, and perhaps even believing beyond what you see with your naked eyes. It is also with renewed beliefs that prior miracles and new miracles unfold before our very eyes.

After all, shedding bias is also a miracle of the mind, when I shed my bias towards Lapu Lapu and made an effort to understand Magellan who came from Portugal and even appreciate that his courage led to us being connected as nations in this world.

It is like listening to Fado music, a genre of melancholic music developed by Portuguese in the 1980s, that contains the sentiment of nostalgia, longing, and aspiration. Might that be a spiritual hunger, to be closer to God, a feeling of ‘saudade’ by millions who aspire to be united with Our Lady of Fatima, her son, Jesus Christ, the most powerful Holy Spirit and God Himself? 

Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz, J.D.

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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