By Cynthia de Benito
Fatima, Portugal, May 13 (efe-epa).- Shrouded in fog and attended by less than 50 people, Portugal’s Fatima shrine held this year’s annual celebrations without its usual crowd of worshippers.
The vast esplanade is normally filled with hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims on 13 May, the day on which three children reportedly saw a vision of the Virgin Mary 103 years ago.
Pedro Luz told Efe that he had not seen the site empty of crowds during his 12 years as one of the workers at the Sanctuary of Fatima.
“It is sad to see all this like this,” he added.
“You couldn’t be here during May last year, this was as big as Benfica’s stadium.”
Every year about 200,000 people take part in a pilgrimage to the site on 12 and 13 May from all over the world.
This year the ceremonies were live broadcast and streamed over the internet and faithful were asked to “make a pilgrimage of the heart” due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sanctuary authorities asked people not to travel to Fatima and police cordoned off roads leading to the shrine.
Bishop of Leiria-Fatima António Marto said on Tuesday, the first day of the celebrations: “I did not want to go down in history as the person responsible for aggravating the pandemic.”
A mass was celebrated without a congregation, with only those who played a role in the ceremonies able to attend.
There were also chairs for about 20 representatives from the dioceses and places were reserved for essential workers who have risked their health during the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and carers.
The rest of the esplanade was empty apart from a group of press reporters and around a dozen sanctuary workers, who sheltered under blankets to protect themselves from the 10C temperatures.
“Many may think that this pilgrimage is sad, because it lacks colour and the multitude of previous years,” Bishop Marto said during his homily.
He added that this year gave people the opportunity to “learn what a pilgrimage is like in a pure state”.
The bishop urged the faithful to “go on a pilgrimage with the heart, the interior pilgrimage”.
This idea was also expressed by Pope Francis, who sent a message to the Portuguese shrine.
“Today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Fatima,” he said during his weekly general audience.
“We turn our thoughts to the apparitions and its message transmitted throughout the world.”
The pontiff prayed for world peace, the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the spirit of penance and conversion. EFE-EPA