This is our third day in Lisbon; the first two spent in absorbing the sounds, smells, various nuances and life of the city. Now we are ready to venture out and what better place to begin than the pilgrim site of Fatima?

To tell the truth I know very little about this place, a town situated to the north of Lisbon and considered to be one of the holiest sites to Christians. I do want to know more, though, ever since I visited Montserrat in Spain where Mary, mother of Jesus had appeared to a shepherd boy.

Our car driven by a courteous Portuguese gentleman arrives on time and we climb in, ready to be entertained and marvel at sights we are sure to encounter along the way. The roads are well maintained, traffic keeping a steady pace, and most drivers are polite. Along the way cruise ships materialize on the shimmering waters of the Tagus and to my amusement I detect a Disney cruise line ready to disgorge their load of tourists.

How could I have known that this will be one of the most transformative journeys of my life?

It’s sunny, comfortably warm with some clouds on the horizon which is giving me cause for worry. When I mention I’d forgotten to pack raincoats we are assured there is no rain on the day’s forecast. There are different routes from other Portuguese towns leading to the Sanctuary of Fatima and since it is also part of the Camino walk, pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela in Spain arrive here to finish up their Camino walk.

Ahh, I understand, Portugal and Spain are neighbours. It’s natural the sacred Camino walks should converge at some point. I feel the beginnings of a certain excitement, quite different from what I had been feeling so far, for this is powerful touched with a sense of healing which only a weary heart can recognize. Our journey to Compostela in Spain had been so filled with wonder yet I had known even then that I am supposed to journey further. So, this is it. The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary in a small town called Fatima, in Portugal.

On the 13th. of May 1917 Mother Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field called Cova de Iria in the village of Fatima. She instructed them to return on the 13th. of every month. It is said that in October Mother Mary calling herself Lady of the Rosary revealed the three secrets of Fatima, relating to peace and world events to Lucia, one of the three children.

It’s 21st. of May so we have missed the great pilgrimage.

I falter for one second, the Basilica is enormous, very different from its humble beginnings and what my mind had pictured. Standing at the bottom of the steps I am feeling insignificant.  However, my initial hesitation changes to firm resolve and I begin to ascend the steps leading into the Basilica.

This is why I came, to feel for myself the special feelings that can only be aroused when the heart is seeking. The Basilica is beautiful its walls decorated with ornate carvings, the altar housing precious objects and paintings. Fortunately for us there aren’t too many tourists so we get to actually sit in one of the pews and let our gaze rest in reverence upon the altar. At last, a sense of peace is beginning to descend upon my restless spirit when out of habit my hands start to root around in my purse for the notebook, I stop and fold them back onto my lap. There is no need to write I tell myself for this moment will be imprinted upon my heart.

They were tending sheep when the Virgin Mary appeared. I wonder what must have gone through their young minds. Were they afraid? Or simply curious? Like children anywhere, they might have been dazzled by the aura of glory shining around Mary, Mother of Jesus. Perhaps even wanted to touch that light.

At this point, I have to give in to an overwhelming desire to check out the tombs of the children and I rise from my seat to wander over to the corner where they are situated. They were so young, Jacinta and Francisco, passing away at 9 and 11 respectively. And also, poor. But then didn’t our Lord seek out the poor and the innocent? The camera in my hand clicks. Then I walk quietly out of the Basilica.

Their cousin Lucia to whom the Virgin Mary spoke entered the Dorothean convent to learn to read and write as instructed by Our Lady and became a Carmelite nun. She died at age 97 in the year 2005.

In the far distance, my eyes fall on a group of people making their way, on their knees, to chapel. The chapel is situated exactly where the children saw Mother Mary. It’s a long walk under a relentless sun. Mass is about to begin so I hurry to take my place, clutching the rosaries I had picked up earlier. From where we are standing, almost at the edge of the crowded chapel, of a sudden the tall figure of a priest comes to view so I approach him to bless my rosaries. As mass is finishing a couple in bridal dress is escorted to the front where they are joined by priests. We couldn’t witness the wedding for lack of time but I would have loved to.

There is a lovely story about this place. Back when under Moorish occupation, it is said there was a beautiful princess named Fatima after whom the place was named. When Christian forces reconquered Portugal and Spain the princess Fatima married the Spanish Count of Ourem, converted to Catholicism and changed her name to Ouerana. However, the town continued to be called Fatima.

Keep well…Keep smiling

Purabi Das

(This is the second piece in a series recounting my time in Lisbon)

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