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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 97 (Suppl.), April 2005 


the experience and pastoral projects 

of the Shrine of Fatima 

in an ecumenical environment 


Rev. Msgr. Luciano Gomes Guerra

Rector of the Shrine of Fatima 



I begin by asking you a favour: Please let me use the word "ecumenical", not only in the sense of Christian unity, but also in the sense closer to its etymon, that is, so universal that it may include all the relationships between all living beings. Further on I'll explain the reason for this request of mine.

1. The past

Let's begin with the pilgrims or visitors that are Christian but not Catholic. Located in Portugal, a country with a large Catholic majority and without significant representation of other Christian communities, the Shrine of Fatima, which welcomes today between four and five million pilgrims a year, is little, or even not at all, visited by Portuguese who are not Catholic.

The Orthodox Churches in Portugal have little, almost invisible, representation, although they are growing in numbers, due to the fact that Portugal is a destination very much sought after by immigrants from Eastern Europe. Some of these – who we believe are Orthodox – visit regularly the Shrine of Fatima, taking part in its celebrations, without needing to be identified.

Our Protestant brothers still find it today very difficult to settle in Portugal, not only because they find here an historic climate of hostility, but also because they themselves feel the need to use arguments that are hostile to Catholics in order to define their own identity and find favourable ground. Their aversion to the Catholic Church and to the Marian cult reaches the Shrine of Fatima, and sometimes they do not resist manifesting it publicly.

Very rare are the Protestants who come from other countries or who in other countries have manifested sympathy towards Our Lady of Fatima, if we look at the data of «Voz da Fátima» (Voice of Fatima), official newspaper of the Shrine.

The new religious movements, some inspired by Christianity, some by Eastern religions, coming chiefly from America, both North and South, with very active methods and personnel, recruit their members from among Catholics of two kinds: people with a deficient religious education and with rare or no participation at all in the life of the community. A lot of these people are looking for miraculous solutions to serious problems of all kinds. These groups are also opposed to the Marian cult and to Fatima.

We often see people from India in the Shrine, on Sundays and during the week. We assume them to be either Catholics or people belonging to the Portuguese Hindu Community, who, according to their adviser and spokesman, consider themselves "pilgrims and believers in Our Lady of Fatima". To this gentleman, Mr. Ashok Hansraj, "the phenomenon represented by the belief in Fatima goes beyond all borders... including the interconfessional ones".

Amongst the many tourists who visit us and come from over a hundred countries, we find people from all religions and non Christian traditions, both African and Asian. Regarding this category of people, we do not have data manifesting their participation or impressions.

We haven't taken either, until now, any specific pastoral initiative towards them, for we assume that their interest is not related to the specificity of the Shrine. They visit us the same way we visit mosques, synagogues and pagodas.

At the official level, meaning organized groups and anonymous groups, we'd like to begin with our Orthodox brothers. It is well known that Our Lady, in the famous Secret of July 1917, mentioned Russia, then rapidly approaching the great Bolshevik revolution. On the other hand, there are signs of sympathy towards Eastern religiosity in the so‑called Apparitions of the Angel in 1916. Perhaps because of that and also because of the interest of the present Pope, official contacts were made during the last decades. In January of 1970 the Metropolitan Emilianos of Calabre, representing Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in the World Council of Churches, was in Fatima;[1] in June of the same year, there prayed in the little Chapel of Apparitions the Patriarch of the Armenians, Vasken I. These visits of a religious character were interrupted then by an embassy of a political character, which brought to the Shrine, in 1978, four years after the revolution of April 25, 1974, several clergymen from the Soviet Union, led by Bishop Makarios, of Umansk, of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1986, the Metropolitan Archbishop Damaskinos Papandreou, Exarch for Europe, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, took part in the pilgrimage of August 13;[2] ten years later, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a group of Russian pilgrims, among which several Orthodox also came to Fatima.[3] The Bishop of Leiria‑Fatima himself was received, in October of 1990, in Greece, by the Metropolitan of Corinth, at the time of the enthronement of an image of Our Lady of Fatima in a German chapel, in Athens.

Richer are the news that, since long ago, arrive to us regarding the participation of other Christian confessions in celebrations of devotion at the time of the passage of several pilgrim images of Our Lady of Fatima. These pilgrimages were begun in 1947, and the intention, since the beginning, was to take the image of Our Lady of Fatima to Russia. That happened indeed, on several occasions since 1989, but, let’s say, more solemnly since October 13, 1996, when the three Catholic bishops of the old Soviet Union came to Fatima, bringing a pilgrimage of Russians, and thus could take, in total freedom, a pilgrim image to travel through the immense territory. Since then, for nine months, in a course of many thousands of kilometres, according to the testi­mony of the Catholic Archbishop Kondruziewicz, the image entered not only Catholic churches, but also Orthodox and even Protestant ones.[4]

Every year, for the last four years, we receive the visit of a group of Anglican priests, normally accompanied by a bishop. They stay several days in Fatima, taking part in some of the celebrations and even in the Eucharist, but without concelebrating or communicating (receiving communion). The Shrine makes available to them the interior chapels of the lodging houses, so that they may celebrate their own rites. Already this year the Anglican Archdeaconry of Gibraltar held its Synod in one of the lodging houses of the Shrine.

Talking of non‑Christian traditions, and at the level of anonymous popular devotion, at the time of the many pilgrimages of the image of Our Lady of Fatima throughout the world, our Muslim brothers could fill a special chapter, given the many testimonies we have since 1947. One could say that where there were Muslims when the image of Our Lady of Fátima passed by, some of them were seen praying before the same or taking part in the procession. In September of 2003, an enthronement of an image of Our Lady of Fatima took place in the Shrine of Harissa, Lebanon. «Voz da Fátima» wrote down the observation of a witness, according to whom "it was truly impressing to see so many pilgrims, even Muslims, praying at the feet of Our Lady".[5]

The same can be said of the Hindus, whenever the Pilgrim Image passes by, especially in the then Portuguese colonies in Africa and India, where even today they visit a Marian shrine that is very well known.[6]

Again at a more or less official level, the Shrine was visited by three high representatives of Buddhism: Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, in August of 1998; later by a noted disciple of the Dalai Lama, 2000.02.01,[7] and finally in 2001 by the Dalai Lama himself, Nobel Prize winner, who was received in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions by the diocesan Bishop, upon the request of some Portuguese sympathisers. On other occasions the Shrine was also visited by: the President of India, upon his request, who was the object of a guided tour, and the spouse of the then President Bill Clinton, who also prayed in the Little Chapel of Apparitions.

When compared with the very intense life of the Shrine, in welcoming millions of Catholic pilgrims to so many thousands of annual celebrations, the presence of Protestants, Orthodox and non‑Christians represents very little, to the point of passing practically unnoticed.

That's why it never caused any problems until October of 2003. And it has always been seen by us as a manifestation of appreciation towards the Shrine and even as a sign of the universality of the grace which God here promises to us, through the intercession of the Angel and of Our Lady. We do not know the true effect on the people who have visited us. But we don’t think that we have become less Catholic because of their presence among us. We are really conscious that we are a shrine of the Catholic Church!

2.  The Present

Trying to match the message of Fatima, both in the apparitions of the Angel and those of Our Lady, with the preoccupations of the Church in our days, the Shrine held a theological congress in 2001 on the Redemption, under its sacrificial aspect, and another congress in 2003 on the experience of God in shrines. The first one was restricted to the Christian aspect, following the spirit of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio. To the second, whose purpose was to have a dialogue on the common religious background of the human being, which manifests itself clearly in shrines, speakers of the various religions mentioned in the Counciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate were invited.

The scientific responsibility of these congresses, as it has happened with others in the past, fell on the School of Theology of the Portuguese Catholic University.

Right at the start of the congress of 2003, we were surprised to see several French‑speaking youths, connected with the Confraternity of St. Pius X, who, by means of leaflets handed out in the streets, contested vehemently the "ecumenical" character of the congress, as being contrary to the will of Our Lady. These youths even rudely confronted the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, who was one of the speakers.

Some time later was the turn of another group, headquartered in Canada, which publishes the magazine "The Fatima Crusader",[8] which comes out every four months. For years this group has insisted with the Holy Father that he take some measures which they think necessary for the implementation of the message of Fatima regarding peace in the world. In the book titled "Devil's Final Battle",[9] after “formally accusing” Cardinals Angelo Sodano, Joseph Ratzinger, Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, now also a Cardinal, it ends asking "insistently" the Holy Father for "the destitution of the accused from the posts they occupy and their substitution by Prelates who would be willing to work with the Holy Father – honouring the appeals of the Virgin of Fatima – instead of trying to conform the message of Fatima, received from Heaven, with fallible human decisions, thence giving birth to a damaging new orientation of the Church"(p. 273).

With these precedents it is no wonder that the congress of October 2003 presented them with an opportunity to open a second battle front, this time against those in charge of the Shrine of Fatima, due to its topic, and with the pretext of some declarations which were calumniously attributed to me by a Portuguese newspaper published in English. 

After the Rectorate, in a published communiqué, informed the public about the true facts, another event inflamed the spirits of the new "crusaders" of Fatima. A group representing the Hindu community of Portugal asked the Shrine to be able to "accompany a team of journalists, who had the idea of reconstituting the visit made by Mr. Morari Bapu", a high personality of Hinduism, in 1982. According to the request "these (journalists) pretend to record that testimony of the phenomenon represented by the belief in Fatima, which goes beyond all borders... including the inter‑confessional ones". The delegation would be made up of "30 to 40 adults and children, pilgrims and believers in Our Lady of Fatima". Certainly because of the benevolent and devout words used in the request, perhaps also because the visit was requested already for only a week later, perhaps because the intention was to reconstitute an earlier visit which had not raised any problems, and despite the fact that a "priest" was announced to accompany the group, the Rectorate didn't deem necessary to have a direct intervention in the matter. In the meantime the Rectorate was informed by the Lodging Department that the group hoped to be received by the Rector in the Rectory.

On April 19, the delegation went to the Little Chapel of Apparitions, being accompanied by a Shrine's worker. The Hindu minister was given the use of the microphone, which was on top of the altar, as usual. There he sang a prayer for about five minutes, in which, according to a chaplain of the Shrine, in the meantime sent as an observer, who heard the English translation, the Hindu minister asked "the Most Holy Mother to grant to the leaders of nations wisdom and discernment, so that the world could have peace, peace, peace". No other gesture was made; neither he nor the faithful who stayed below. From there they all went to a room in the Rectory, where they were received by the diocesan Bishop and the Rector. 

After the news of the event was broadcast on television, life in the Shrine went on as usual, and the Portuguese press never again mentioned the subject. However, from abroad, through the influence of the Canadian group, letters and e‑mails poured in from several countries, almost all of them English - speaking countries. The number of correspondence pieces numbered around two hundred. So the Rectorate again published a communiqué in several languages.[10]

3. The Future

Summing things up. Is there any project of the Shrine on ecumenism and inter‑religious relations? In fact there is none. It is not written, one doesn't talk about it, it is not thought out. What there is is an intention, a will and a desire, which has been made clearer and clearer, of continuing on the path of Vatican II and that of the message of Fatima, the way we have tried to do up to now. With the same right intention of those who believe in the apparitions and disagree so much with us, and whose certainty in their dogmas is such that they accuse us of heresy and sacrilege, and vehemently desire that we be banned to a place far away from the place we unworthily occupy, for the apocalyptic disgrace of all mankind.

We must recognize as very sad – and for the outsiders truly ridi­culous – our fights over what we believe and profess to be the only word of God, both in the theology sources and in the revelations of Fatima. Our pain is even greater when we think that we and they pray with the recollection and fervour that we are able to, in order that the same God may enlighten us and grant us the strength needed for the combat which we believe and tell Him that is His. The same goes on with the present fight against terrorism and with the war in Iraq. It also happens with all fights of all persons sincerely religious. We come to a point in which we make of God that kingdom divided against itself, in a war to the death, in which on one side the only and true God fights against the Devil and on the other side the same thing happens.

Thus we have been praying for two thousand years, in an unwinnable need of reaching unity and in the "scandal"[11] also unwinnable of who is not able to reach it. It wouldn't be so bad if this happened only within the Catholic forces! But that's not the case. The spectacle is the same between us and the other Christians, ever more divided into more groups; between us and the other religions; between believers and non‑believers; between any one of us and any other of our equals in humanity. This even reaches the point of the ecumenical movement, one of the basic hopes which brought about Vatican II, being turned into an occasion of contention amongst Catholics, increasing, not diminishing, the long list of schisms in the Church.

Are there any ecumenical projects for the future? It may look out of place and naive, but we think that if we find enough unity among those people in charge of the Shrine, one of the next congresses could precisely be on the ultimate roots of all wars. Those roots seem to be found at the level of the formation of ideas, convictions, certainties, doubts, dogmas, absolutes, relatives, the necessary, the contingent, truth, error, the one and the multiple, time and eternity, man and God. With an exhaustive study of the idea, which is the great base of all relationships, we would reach the ultimate roots of ecumenism, in its truly universal meaning. This is the reason why I begged you to let me widen the field beyond the Catholic use of the word "ecumenism".

As nihil volitum quin praecognitum (nothing can be desired unless it is first known), if we could improve a little the formation (education) of the ideas and the states of conscience which follow, understanding better what is unshakable and what is destined to die, perhaps we could succeed in making some progress in living together and in that so precious peace for which we often go to war, from individuals to the great human community, and from staunch unbelievers to staunch believers. And, on the other hand, we would either avoid invoking the name of God for our fights or would progress to a conception of God that would allow us to include in Him our contradictions. This way, with the help of the Most High, we would come closer to the peace of Fatima, the peace of God.

Shrine of Fatima, September 8, 2004, Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Saint Mary, invoked by the Church, in the collect prayer, as fount of unity and peace.

[1] VF 1970.03
[2] Cf. VF 1986.09
[3] VF 1996.09
[4] VF 1996.11.13; 1997.02.13. Let us remind you that the most revered icon of Our Lady of Kazan was acquired by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, which kept it for several years, in two separate periods, since 1970, in the Byzantine chapel of Domus Pacis, behind the Basilica of the Shrine ( VF1970.09). Recently the Holy Father had it delivered back to Russia.
[5] VF 2003.09.13. Cf. VF 1970.04, on the visit of Muslims from Portuguese Guinea.
[6] VF 2002.03.13.
[7] VF 2000.03.13
[8] The Fatima Crusader, The Fatima Center, Canada ‑ 452 Kraft Road, Fort Erie, ON L2A 4M7.Spring 2004 Issue. 76 (pag. 95).
[9] Portuguese Translation "O Derradeiro Combate do Demónio". Good Counsel Publications. First Edition (2003). Missionary Association, c/ R. Feliciano Castilho, n°. 111, 2°‑ Esq., 3030‑325 Coimbra, Portugal. Compiled and edited by Fr. Paul Kramer, B. Ph., M. Div., S.T.L. (Cand.) and by the editorial staff of The Missionary Association. Contributors (pag. XIX on): Andrew Cesanek, Mark Fellows, Dr. Christopher Ferrara, Fr. Nicholas Gruner, S.T.L., S.T.D.(Cand.), Fr. Gregor Hesse, S.T.D., J.C.D., Fr. Paul Kramer, B. Ph., M. Div., S.T.L. (Cand.); John Vennari... Coimbra, Portugal, September 11, 2003.
[10] VF 2004.07.
[11] Unitatis Redintegratio, 1.