My sister said that the closer we got, the larger my smile became. I couldn’t help it. I was returning to a place that I had visited twice before and it had a certain feeling of coming home. The bus pulled up and let us out, excitedly spilling onto the platform before setting out on our mission.
I had returned again to my beloved Fatima, Portugal. This was the second “Marian bookend” of my Camino in the summer of 2014. Prior to walking the Camino, we had visited Lourdes. Now, we were on a celebratory trip to Fatima.
Many love Our Lady, but I feel a particular fondness for Our Lady of Fatima for a few reasons. She appeared to a little shepherd and two shepherdesses and I grew up on a sheep farm in the rural Mid-west. The first apparition of Mary at Fatima was on May 13th, which was the Feast of Our Lady of the Eucharist. Ever since I found this out, I have loved her even more because Jesus in the Eucharist is one of my greatest devotions. Finally, I was born on May 13th. So her feast is kind of a memorable day for me.
There is a peace that surrounds holy places that is tangible. I avoided the booths that were trying to lure us in to purchase cheap plastic rosaries and flimsy statues. We headed straight for the Apparition Chapel. The introvert in me was a bit peeved by the crowds of people (disrupting what I wanted to be a solemn and dramatic moment) but I was glad people came to honor Our Lady. Kneeling on the concrete, laden with backpacks as people walked around us, I told Mary that I was home.
Home. I think it is only able to be considered such because of the feeling I have when I am there. Walking the sanctuary grounds, there was an abiding peace within me. After the evening candlelight procession, I would sit in the Apparition Chapel and offer up to Mary everything I could think of. I implored her to tell me why I kept being drawn to Fatima. I asked her the meaning of being born on a day dedicated to her. My heart was opened to my Heavenly Mother and the minutes would slip by as I beseeched her, “Mama…”
That is what I mean when I speak of Fatima being a sort of home for me. We walked to Aljustrel to see the houses of Bls. Francisco and Jacinta and Sr. Lucia. As we looked through the house of the young blesseds, we were guided by an older man. I wondered if he was somehow important. As we looked through one room of the museum, he told us that his father was the older brother of Bl. Francisco and Jacinta. Here we were, speaking to the nephew of two beatified children.
Fatima is not an easy place to which to travel. If you take the train, you will be left off at the Fatima train station, located about 15-20 kilometers from the actual town. You will then need to take a bus or a taxi or attempt to hitchhike (a fruitless attempt, in my case). Or you can take a bus from one of the larger towns (Lisbon, Porto, etc.) which will let you off near the sanctuary grounds. There is little apart from the visionary sites to attract one to Fatima. It is a smaller town with many, many hotels and hundreds of shops selling nearly identical products. The nightly processions are not as elaborate as at Lourdes nor are there the famous baths, drawing pilgrims to bathe in the healing waters. The Cova da Iria that I imagined in my childhood of a quiet and sprawling area of grass does not exist. It used to, but the thousands of pilgrims necessitated sprawling concrete at the apparition site.
But I love it. While I am there, I feel as though I am wrapped in Our Lady’s mantle. Sitting quietly at the Apparition Chapel, I can feel transported back ninety-plus years to the little grassy place where Our Lady decided to appear to the little children. Traipsing around Fatima seems as though I am strolling around at Our Lady’s side, much was experienced as though she had her guiding hand in it.
Every heart needs a few homes, scattered around the globe, where it can feel rest from the weariness of the world. Fatima is one of those places for me. It is there that I truly bask in what it means to be a daughter of Our Lady and strive to fall deeper in love with her Son.