by JULIE du FRESNE

I couldn’t see the paving beneath my feet. No, I wasn’t dancing in a mosh pit — I was struggling towards the priest who stood with a ciborium, protected from the possibility of rain  by a white-uniformed usher holding a white umbrella,  all pressed tight in a scrum of would-be communicants. And the priest under the white umbrella was only one of one hundred, and the communicants numbered many more than half a million.

” ‘Im indoors ” (the writer’s husband) was outdoors, big time, with me in the Recinto De Oracao at Fatima in Portugal on May 13. The principal celebrant of the Mass was “Papa Francisco”; it took three hours for the Pope to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and canonise two children, the first ever who were not martyrs.

Jacinta and Francisco Marto were two of the three little shepherds who on May 13, 1917 were astonished to behold above a holm oak (which has been cleverly preserved and protected), in a fold in the hill called the Cova da Iria, a beautiful lady. She was “more brilliant than the sun”, said the children. She was “The Immaculate Heart of Mary”.

She taught the children to “pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls are going to hell”. The children did as she said.

They spent hours in prayer, Francisco with his forehead to the ground praying, as taught by the angel who in the previous autumn had prepared them for the apparitions of the Virgin, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you! I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” They prayed the rosary every day.

They gave their meagre lunches to poorer children and ate nuts and berries themselves, compelled to do so by a horrifying vision of hell.

On May 13, 2017, one hundred years later, there were 1700 priests present in that fold in the hillside, and 100 bishops. But the images I will retain are of half a million candles burning at the vigil rosary, recited in ten languages: with only half of one decade recited in English, the English-speaking world was put in its proper place in the Catholic Church.

I’ll remember the pilgrims painfully approaching and circling the Chapel of the Apparitions on their knees.

Pilgrims always patient, never pushing or shoving, always kind and friendly. The young ones — the Portuguese kids who’d walked eight days to get there as they had for eight years, tenderly taking care of one who was sick.

The Goanese Indians to the right of us who lent me a stool; the Spaniard to the left who lent the sick Portuguese teenager her fan. The police — some mounted on horses, all white — who had nothing to do.

If there were one thing Our Lady expressed at Fatima it was the imperative, repent. ‘Im indoors took her at her word and waited an hour in the queue of penitents, but never made it into the confessional.

The fact that the Mother of God exposed three small children to the reality of hell must give pause for thought to parents, grandparents, teachers and priests who recoil from the idea of eternal punishment, who feel children must be protected from it, must be told they’re all going to heaven, when their heavenly Mother informed the little saints-to-be that a friend of theirs would be in purgatory until the end of the world.

I failed to do what one of my sons irreverently requested, which was to get a selfie with the Pope and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He’d added that “anything could happen”.

But not an apparition in front of half a million people, because the BVM appears only in private, to the poor in spirit who pray.

One hundred years ago, when Our Lady promised an end to World War I and foretold another war much worse if people failed to repent  and to pray, our newest saints Jacinta and Francisco and their cousin Lucia had been doing what they did every day. They had just prayed the rosary.

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