Friday, 22 August 2008

Our Lady of Fátima

Fátima without knowing much

When we lived in the North, in Kaduna and Jos at various times in the 1970s I always wondered why certain Catholic Church institutions had a Muslim name as part of their identification.

I had learnt that the name of one of Prophet Mohammed’s daughters by his first wife Khadija was Fatimah [1] who was considered one of the most devout examples of Muslim living.

There was an Our Lady of Fatima Girl’s Secondary School in Kaduna and later when we moved South, there was the Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Aguda, Surulere, Lagos [2].

The Fátima they speak of

Fátima [3] was a lot further afield than the confines of Nigeria, it is the name of a once nondescript village in Portugal and this is derived from Moorish influence over the Iberian Peninsula.

The greater claim to fame comes from the six apparitions of the Virgin Mary [4] to three shepherd children with instructions, revelations and miraculous events on the 13th of every month from May to October except in August when she appeared on the 19th.

The children Jacinta and Francisco were siblings and Lucia the oldest of the children was their cousin; as it all transpired, the siblings have both been beatified, Lucia only died in 2005.

Please read the links within the blog to get the details about the events that have turned the little village of Fátima into a world centre of Catholic faith pilgrimage that has received popes, with Pope John Paul II having visited the sanctuary thrice.

The visit of a protestant

Being in Lisbon gave me the opportunity to visit this fascinating place and observe firsthand the cult of Our Lady of Fatima [4].

As I got on the tour bus after being picked up from my hotel, during the 123 km ride the guide amazed me with the way she said all she had to say in one language before switching to another, it was like having the whole Bible read to you or listening to a whole sermon in one language you do not speak as you wait for your language.

By the time she finished telling the stories, I had probably become the most sceptical on the bus, I almost felt I was being taken for a rather long ride, but then it took the Catholic Church a good 13 years to come to the conclusion that the apparitions were worthy of belief.

The question as I chatted to a devout Catholic couple who had travelled from Australia, devout Catholics to the point that I skirted the issues of homosexuality and abortion was what was a Protestant [Anglican and repressed Evangelical] doing visiting a place of devout Catholic pilgrimage?

How about because it is there and I can get to it? Another thing, the veneration of Mary does really give my theology serious misgivings, I suppose that is why I would remain Protestant.

Between the religious and the kitschy

When I eventually get my pictures up online, they would tell the whole story and I saw and took my pictures – Our Lady of Fatima now hosts the 4th largest Catholic Church in the world, Igreja da Santissima Trindade [3] – no mean feat for a place that was once a village.

Then we went up to the village of Aljustrel where the shepherd children came from, visited the house of Lucia where time seems to have stood still in 1917 with sheep eating out of trough – now, that is tourism schmaltz, if I ever saw one.

A walk down a path to a well when an angel appeared to the children to prepare them for the visitation of the Virgin Mary had a woman drawing water for people to drink – I only drink bottled water, so I bottled out of that one.

It all looked like déjà vu, I was once a shepherd boy in a nativity play, but then shepherds, sheep, mangers – yes a manger in Lucia’s house, wells, angels and virgins – somebody must be pulling my leg, am I reading chapters and verses of the Gospels of Matthew and John in no particular order?

It was a pleasant day out. I should be walking to Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela next.

The slideshow, the details and comments on the pictures of my visit to Fátima.

Sources

[1] Fatimah - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Our Lady Of Fatima Catholic Church Aguda Lagos

[3] Fátima, Portugal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] Our Lady of Fátima - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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