Pilgrims were on the move this week in Portugal. Huge crowds of walkers, clad in high-visibility vests lined the country roads heading to the town of Fatima. May 13 marks the day in 1917 when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in a field outside of the town. The children; Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco said they saw her several more times. The last time was on October 13, reportedly witnessed by 70,000 people.
Nowadays, the ornate Basilica of the Rosary of Our Lady of Fatima dominates a vast plaza around the site of the original apparitions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year.
This week I was on a cycling trip through an area of central Portugal near Fatima. My fellow cyclists and I saw several pilgrim groups. They were happily chatting and laughing, waving at us as they strolled along the country roads in their brightly colored vests.
My Portuguese teacher, Helena, recalls making the pilgrimage in her youth. She said she and her parents walked “dozens of kilometers”. They had to reach Fatima by the night of May 12 so they could take part in the traditional candlelight procession. She mostly remembers how cold and exhausted she was during the night spent there.
There are several “official” routes waymarked with blue signs. The 141-km Tagus Way starts at the Parque das Naçoes in Lisbon and continues along much of the same route as that which leads toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The Northern Way is a 260-km route beginning in the town of Valença on the Spanish border. The 111-km Coimbra route begins in the university city of Coimbra. The Nazaré Way starts in the coastal town of Nazaré which has a shrine of its own to Our Lady.
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