For the first time in over a century, the annual May 13 celebrations at the Fatima shrine will take place without the physical presence of pilgrims, the bishop of Fatima confirmed this week.
Cardinal Antonio Marto said in a May 3 statement that the celebrations for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima “will take place as was announced on April 6, without the physical presence of pilgrims, in the name of prudence to avoid the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.”
“As planned in conjunction with the civil authorities, the May 12 and 13 celebrations for this year cannot have the physical presence of the pilgrims and will be transmitted by broadcast and digital media,” he continued.
The cardinal explained that hosting “an unpredictable multitude of people” gathering at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still a serious threat would go against the efforts of health authorities to gradually lift restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the virus.
“We therefore respect, in an attitude of collaboration with the competent civil authorities, the guidelines for these celebrations to be held with a symbolic presence of participants,” Marto said.
The clarification over the Fatima feast day came as the Portuguese government gradually begins to ease restrictions that had been put in place in response to the pandemic, prompting speculation over whether the May 13 celebrations would be able to take place as normal. The annual event typically draws hundreds of thousands from around the world to the shrine.
The Portuguese Bishops’ Conference had announced earlier this month that public Masses could tentatively resume the weekend of Pentecost, May 30-31, in accordance with guidelines to be established by the country’s health department and the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Marto stressed that the decision to suspend public religious celebrations was based in a sense of responsibility toward the public health, as a way of loving one’s neighbour.
“[A]s much as our hearts would like to be in Fatima celebrating together in the same place, as has been the case since 1917, prudence counsels us not to do so this time,” he said, adding that Catholics can look forward to an end to the pandemic and an opportunity to gather together joyfully in the future.
Fr Carlos Cabecinhas, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, encouraged pilgrims who are unable to physically attend the events to make an interior pilgrimage, participating in the events of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Fatima through the internet or social media.
“This is a painful time: the shrine exists to welcome the pilgrims and we cannot do so, this is a cause for great sadness; but this decision is also an act of responsibility toward the pilgrims, protecting their health and welfare,” the priest said.
The shrine’s website offers four steps to guide people on this interior pilgrimage.
According to the website, “the celebrations of May 12 and 13 will maintain the usual schedule with recitation of the Rosary at 9:30 p.m. followed by the Candlelight Procession. On the 13th, the Rosary will be prayed at 9:00 a.m. followed by the International Mass and the Farewell Procession.”
In March, 24 countries were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
At that ceremony, Cardinal Marto recalled that Saints Francisco and Jacinto Marto, shepherd children to whom an angel, and then the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1916 and 1917 at Fatima, both died amid the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic.
To date, Johns Hopkins University has reported 26,182 cases of novel coronavirus in Portugal, with 1089 deaths.