Tags: Pope | pilgrims | Fatima | visit

Faithful Pilgrims Join Pope at Fatima

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 09:28 PM EDT

FATIMA- Tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to one of Christianity's most popular shrines Wednesday to hail Pope Benedict XVI as he arrived in Fatima for the highlight of his visit to Portugal.

The crowd cheered, applauded and waved white handkerchiefs as well as the red and green of Portugal's flag as Benedict, the third pope to visit Fatima, arrived at the shrine's vast esplanade on his white bullet-proof popemobile.

Chants of "Viva o Papa" rang round the crowd as the popemobile reached the Chapel of Apparitions, built on the site where three shepherd children reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917.

Antonio, a retired teacher who came with his wife from the central city of Viseu, wept discreetly after catching a glimpse of the 83-year-old German pontiff as he arrived at the chapel.

"This is moving for me because I had never seen the pope before with my own eyes. And today I did," he said as he wiped away tears.

Benedict sank to his knees before a statue of the Virgin topped with a gold and silver crown in which John Paul II placed a bullet taken from his body following the failed assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.

He then recited a special prayer in remembrance of his Polish predecessor, who credits Our Lady of Fatima with his survival from the attack which came on the same day as the first of the reported Fatima visions in 1917.

Later Wednesday pilgrims packed the esplanade of the shrine holding candles that lit up the night as Benedict led them in the rosary prayer to the Virgin.

He appeared tired as he entered the popemobile to leave the sanctuary to applause from the faithful before Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, celebrated mass.

Marek Burzynski, a 36-year-old builder from Poland who moved to Portugal seven years ago, said he was especially pleased to see the pope honour his compatriot John Paul.

"For Poles, John Paul is very special," he said as he held up a candle at the prayer service, a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck to guard against the unusually cool spring night.

"It is an incredible sensation to see so many people gethered in prayer in one spot like this."

While Benedict traveled to Fatima from Lisbon by helicopter, Church authorities say some 40,000 pilgrims are expected to arrive at the shrine by foot from across Portugal in time for an outdoor mass which he will celebrate on Thursday before for as many as 500,000 people.

Many traditionally cover the last few hundred metres (yards) of their journey on their knees in gratitude for favours they believe were granted them by the Virgin.

"I have done this pilgrimage for 22 years because my daughter was at the doors of death and Our Lady granted me the miracle of saving her," said Maria de Fatima, a 47-year-old florist who trudged here from Castelo de Paiva, about 220 kilometres (135 miles) away.

The crowd included nuns in the black habits, large groups of schoolchildren in marching white t-shirts, retired couples and soldiers in green military fatigues.

Benedict's visit follows in the footsteps of John Paul II and Paul VI.

John Paul beatified two of the visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta, 10 years ago on Thursday.

Their bodies have lain in the site's main basilica since 1957. Their cousin Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97, and is also buried there.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

FATIMA- Tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to one of Christianity's most popular shrines Wednesday to hail Pope Benedict XVI as he arrived in Fatima for the highlight of his visit to Portugal.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 09:28 PM
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