During his general audience on May 19, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his pastoral visit to Portugal from May 11-14. Upon his arrival in Lisbon, the Holy Father urged Christians to carry on the work of evangelization — a hallmark of Portugal’s Christian history — in our own day.
The heart of his trip, however, was his pilgrimage to the shrine at Fatima. Our Lady’s exhortation at Fatima to prayer, penance and conversion, Pope Benedict XVI said, is essentially a summons to hope in God’s merciful love and trust in his saving plan, which triumphs over the threats and calamities of history.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, I would like to recall the various events during my recent apostolic trip to Portugal, motivated especially by a feeling of gratitude to the Virgin Mary, who, in Fatima, conveyed to the visionaries and the pilgrims there an intense love for the successor of Peter.
I thank God for giving me the opportunity to pay homage to the Portuguese people and to their long and glorious history of faith and to their witness as Christians. Therefore, just as I asked you to accompany me in prayer during my pastoral visit, I now ask you to join me in giving thanks to the Lord for all that took place during the trip and for its happy conclusion. I entrust to him the fruit that it brought and will continue to bring to the Church in Portugal and to the entire nation.
Expressions of Gratitude
I would like to express once again my most sincere gratitude to President Anibal Cavaco Silva and to the other government authorities, who welcomed me with great courtesy and who planned everything carefully so that it would take place in the best way.
With deep affection, my thoughts turn once again to my brother bishops of the dioceses of Portugal, whom I had the joy of embracing in their own land. I thank them fraternally for their work on the spiritual and logistical preparation for my visit and for their remarkable commitment in bringing it about.
I extend special thanks to the patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, to Bishop Antonio Augusto dos Santos Marto of Leiria-Fatima, and Bishop Manuel Macario do Nascimento Clemente of Porto, and all their co-workers, as well as the various organizations of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference under the coordination of Archbishop Jorge Ortiga.
During the whole trip, which took place to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the beatification of the shepherd children Jacinta and Francisco, I felt the spiritual support of my beloved predecessor, Venerable John Paul II, who went to Fatima three times to thank the “invisible hand” that delivered him from death during the assassination attempt on a May 13 here in St. Peter’s Square.
On the evening of my arrival in Lisbon, I celebrated holy Mass in the enchanting setting of Terreiro do Paço, facing the Tagus River. It was a liturgical gathering of celebration and hope, in which a great multitude of the faithful joyfully participated.
There, in the capital of Portugal, from which so many missionaries departed over the centuries to take the Gospel to other continents, I encouraged the various groups within the local Church to work energetically to evangelize the different sectors of society as sowers of hope in a world often marked by mistrust. In particular, I exhorted believers to be heralds of Christ’s death and resurrection, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and support of our faith and the reason for our joy.
I was also able to express these same sentiments during a meeting with the representatives of the world of culture, which took place at the Cultural Center of Belém.
On this occasion, I highlighted the heritage of values with which Christianity has enriched the culture, art and traditions of the Portuguese people. In that noble land, as in every other country deeply marked by Christianity, it is possible to build a future of fraternal understanding and collaboration with other cultures, with mutual openness to sincere and respectful dialogue.
The Shrine at Fatima
I then went on to Fatima, a little town characterized by an atmosphere of authentic mysticism, in which the presence of Our Lady is almost palpable. I became a pilgrim among the pilgrims at that marvelous shrine, the spiritual heart of Portugal and the destination for multitudes coming from the most diverse parts of the world.
After spending time in prayerful and emotional recollection at the Chapel of the Apparitions at Cova da Iria, during which I presented to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary the joys and hopes of the whole world as well as its problems and sufferings, I had the joy of presiding over the celebration of vespers of the Blessed Virgin at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity.
Within that large modern church, I expressed my deep appreciation for the priests, men and women religious, deacons and seminarians who had come from all over Portugal, thanking them for their often silent and not always easy witness, as well as for their faithfulness to the Gospel and the Church.
In this Year for Priests, which is drawing to a close, I encouraged the priests to make listening faithfully to the word of God, knowing Christ intimately, and celebrating the Eucharist passionately their priority, following the shining example of the saintly Curé of Ars. I didn’t forget to entrust and consecrate all the world’s priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the true model of a disciple of the Lord.
In the evening, along with thousands upon thousands of pilgrims who had gathered on the esplanade in front of the shrine, I took part in the moving candlelight procession. It was a glorious manifestation of faith in God and devotion to his Mother and our Mother, which was expressed by reciting the Rosary.
Fatima has been a catalyst for this prayer, so dear to the Christian people, in the entire Church and the world. The “Lady in White,” when she appeared on June 13, said to the three shepherd children: “I want you to recite the Rosary every day.” We could say that Fatima and the Rosary are almost synonymous.
Fount of Our Hope
The climax of my visit to that very special place took place during the Eucharistic celebration on May 13, the anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia.
Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, I asked the immense assembly of people that had gathered with great love and devotion at the feet of the Virgin Mary to rejoice fully in the Lord (see Isaiah 61:10), because his merciful love, which accompanies us on our earthly pilgrimage, is the fount of our great hope.
The demanding yet consoling message that the Virgin Mary left us at Fatima is full of hope. It is a message that focuses on prayer, penance and conversion, a message that transcends the threats, dangers and horrors of history, inviting mankind to trust in God’s work, to cultivate great hope, and to experience the Lord’s grace in order to come to love him, the source of love and peace.
In that context, my meeting with members of organizations for pastoral care was significant. I encouraged them to follow the example of the Good Samaritan in order to aid our brothers and sisters in need and serve Christ by promoting the common good.
Many young people learn the importance of giving freely of themselves at Fatima, which is a school of faith and hope, because it is also a school of charity and service to our brothers and sisters.
In this same context of faith and prayer, an important and cordial meeting with the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference was held at the conclusion of my visit to Fatima. It was a moment of deep spiritual communion during which we thanked the Lord together for the faithfulness of the Church in Portugal and entrusted to the Virgin Mary the hopes and pastoral concerns that we share.
The City of the Virgin
I referred to these same hopes and pastoral outlook during the holy Mass that I celebrated in the historic and symbolic city of Porto, the “City of the Blessed Virgin” and last stop during my pilgrimage to Portugal.
I reminded the huge crowd of faithful who had gathered on Avenida dos Aliados of our call to bear witness to the Gospel within every sector of society, offering the risen Christ to the world so that every situation of difficulty, suffering and fear may be transformed by the Holy Spirit into an opportunity for growth and life.
Dear brothers and sisters, the pilgrimage to Portugal was for me a moving experience, rich in so many spiritual gifts.
While images of this unforgettable trip remain etched in my mind and in my heart — the warm and spontaneous welcome; the enthusiasm of the people — I give praise to the Lord that Mary, appearing to the three shepherd children, opened up to the world a special place in which to encounter God’s mercy that saves and heals.
At Fatima, the Blessed Virgin invites all of us to think of Earth as the place of our pilgrimage towards our final homeland, which is heaven. Indeed, all of us are pilgrims; all of us need a mother to guide us.
The motto of my apostolic journey to Portugal was “With You We Walk in Hope: Wisdom and Mission.”
At Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary invites us to walk with great hope, allowing ourselves to be guided by the “wisdom from on high,” which is manifested in Jesus, the wisdom of love, to bring the light and joy of Christ into the world.
I invite you, therefore, to join me in prayer, asking the Lord to bless the efforts of all who, in that beloved nation, have dedicated themselves to serve the Gospel and to seek the true good of man, of every man.
Let us also pray that, through the intercession of the Most Blessed Mary, the Holy Spirit may make this trip fruitful and give life to the mission of the Church throughout the world, a Church instituted by Christ to proclaim to all peoples the Gospel of truth, peace and love.