Pope Francis prayed in silence for peace this morning at Fátima in the chapel built on the site where Mary appeared to three peasant children several times in 1917 during World War I. He prayed with head bowed and eyes closed, seated in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fátima.
After several minutes of silent prayer, he stood and placed a gold rosary at the foot of the statue, in an act of veneration of the Madonna, as 200,000 pilgrims from many nations—including Portugal, Brazil, Ireland and China—applauded, and shouts of “Viva il Papa!” rose from the crowd. He then presided at the recital of the joyful mysteries of the rosary in various languages, including by a person with speech impediment.
“I prayed in silence for peace, with pain [in my heart], before the Madonna,” Pope Francis said.
Francis is the fourth pope to visit Fátima, after Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He first visited in 2017 on the centenary of the first Marian apparitions to canonize two of the three children to whom Mary had appeared, Jacinta and Francisco. Earlier this year, he declared the third witness, their cousin Lucia, who was a cloistered nun and died in 2005, “venerable,” putting her also onto the path to sainthood.
The pope apparently opted not to read his prepared speech or the prayer to Our Lady that had been given in advance to journalists. Instead, “I prayed in silence for peace, with pain [in my heart], before the Madonna,” Pope Francis told Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni on the helicopter as he returned to Lisbon. Francis also gave a brief and off-the-cuff catechesis on Mary, who, he said, “always hastens to us whenever there is trouble” and who told the disciples “to do whatever Jesus asks” and invites us to do the same. “She points us to Jesus,” he said.
The Vatican had made clear that Francis wanted to come here to pray for peace in the world and an end to the war in Ukraine and in other countries. Surprisingly, however, Francis never mentioned the words “war,” “peace” or “Ukraine” in his impromptu talk. Vatican journalists are expected to ask him about this on the flight back to Rome on Sunday evening.
A major forest fire that started near Fátima yesterday made for a quasi-apocalyptic scene before the pope arrived, as the sun took on a reddish tint and a dark cloud hovered over the Chapel of the Apparitions this morning; ashes from the fire were falling on people in the esplanade.
When Francis entered the esplanade of the shrine in an open popemobile, a crowd estimated at 200,000 erupted with joy, clapping, cheering and singing, while the choir sang and bells pealed in the basilica, where the three shepherd children are now buried. As he drove through the crowd, he stopped to greet children and bless people, just as he did yesterday when he drove from the nunciature to Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon to preside at the Way of the Cross in which some 800,000 young people participated and many thousands lined the route in scenes reminiscent of his visit to Manila in 2015.
When Francis arrived at the Fátima shrine, the Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, José Ornelas Carvalho, president of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, greeted him warmly and said they welcomed “your desire to come here as a pilgrim to pray to the Mother of Jesus for the mission you are accomplishing.”
The bishop told him, “we pray for you and your Petrine ministry in the church,” and “we join the prayer of Your Holiness for peace, with which this shrine is so profoundly identified, thinking especially of the war in Ukraine, and of the many other situations of conflict in the world, that weigh dramatically on the life and on the future especially of children and young people.”
Surprisingly, Francis never mentioned the words “war,” “peace” or “Ukraine” in his impromptu talk.
The bishop recalled that “Our Lady appeared to the three shepherd children during a bloody war and a pandemic that caused the death of two of them [Francisco and Jacinta] and encouraged them in the midst of suffering,” asking them to “unite their hearts with Jesus in the hope of a life without limits with God.”
Bishop Ornelas Carvalho added that they also prayed with Francis for “the children and young people who are victims of illness, poverty, hunger, every type of conflict, abuse, injustice and the exclusion of the weakest.”
Before departing from the Fátima shrine this morning, Pope Francis, seated in a wheelchair, greeted six young prisoners and many young sick people, including children in wheelchairs, whom he asked to join him in prayer at this moment.
Before the trip to Lisbon, the patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, revealed in a Zoom interview with Vatican-accredited journalists that Pope Francis specifically asked to come to Fátima during his visit to Lisbon for World Youth Day, and that he expected the pope’s prayer at the shrine to be “a moment of great intensity.” He recalled that already on March 25, at the request of the Catholic bishops of Ukraine, Pope Francis had consecrated Russia and the Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, while Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, did likewise on that same day at the Fátima shrine.
Pope Francis has worked through several channels to open negotiations for peace to bring an end to the war caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Now in its 528th day, the war has caused the death or injury of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians, including at least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians and some 1,000 Ukrainian children. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, his special envoy, has visited Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, and Francis has indicated he wants him to go next to Beijing. He is also seeking prisoner exchanges and the return of 2,000 or more Ukrainian children who have been forcibly taken to Russia since the invasion.