World Youth Day pilgrims walk in footsteps of Fatima saints
World Youth Day pilgrims have returned home full of joy after having Mass with Pope Francis and walking to grounds where the Fatima visionaries once roamed.
World Youth Day is an international event that gathers Catholics for Mass, catechesis, and reconciliation. From Aug. 1-6 an estimated 1.5 million Catholics gathered in Lisbon, Portugal to hear from Pope Francis and explore the religious treasures of the area, which is just south of Fatima, where apparitions of Mary reportedly came to three shepherd children in 1917.
A group of 29 pilgrims from the Diocese of Buffalo along with three El Salvadorian friends, led by Sarah Leahy, youth minister for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Orchard Park, found themselves a lot closer to the pope than most.
“We saw Pope Francis much more this time, like up close than we did before,” said Leahy, who traveled to Krakow, Poland for WYD in 2016. “He drove right by where we were on Friday evening. He was staying in the Vatican Embassy, which was within the block of our hotel, so he actually drove right in front of our hotel and a lot of people saw him from the sidewalk in front of the hotel very close too. So that was really fun.”
Organized events included a welcoming Mass for Pope Francis, Stations of the Cross, a Saturday vigil Mass, followed by a Sunday Mass with Pope Francis at the 220 -acre Tejo Park. Pilgrims are free to take in the sites of the host country during the weeklong event.
“With World Youth Day, there’s so many things that seem like they wouldn’t work out, and then somehow you get to the right place at the right time and it works out,” said Leahy.
The Buffalo crew saw the St. Jeronimos Monastery and the Belém Tower in Lisbon.
They had a perfect tour guide, Jo. Her grandparents were at the October 1917 Miracle of the Sun that has been foretold by the three young Fatima visionaries.
“That to me made it so real,” Leahy said. “She told us that her grandfather actually was the one who wanted to go on Oct. 13, because he was not a believer. He believed in Jesus, but he was not a believer in these apparitions. Her grandmother was all about it. Her grandparents were young adults and married at the time. Her grandmother was just like, isn’t this incredible? She wouldn’t stop talking about it. And he’s like, everybody in this area is just all swept up in this. He’s like, ‘I’m gonna take you and you’re gonna see that there’s nothing.’ And he saw it and she saw it and she said for the rest of his life until the day he died, his faith was even stronger than hers after that. He just felt so passionate to share Jesus with other people after being there that day.”
As a reminder of the event, Jo’s grandfather kept a leaf from the tree he stood under while watching the sun dance in the sky.
“It was like her family’s precious thing that would come out and they’d be like, ‘This was the leaf when grandma and grandpa were there with the miracle of the sun.’ That really affected a lot of us in our group just to hear such an intimate story of a witness that this isn’t something you just read about.”
A shrine to the three children – Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco – lies between two churches, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the newer Basilica of the Holy Trinity. The rest of the area has been developed and built up over the last 100 years.
“It was very beautiful and I liked being there, but it was hard to picture as it was when the children saw Mary because it was just a grassy field with sheep. It was not bricks and basilicas and buildings,” Leahy said.
She did recall one powerful experience.
“One of the churches you walk through is where St. Jacinta and St. Francisco are buried with Blessed Lucia. So, to pray at their tombs, I really felt more of a connection with them and like them encouraging me, like for their intercession for my own kids, because they were just like my kids’ ages when this happened to them. Oh wow. I feel like this is, I’m walking in the place of saints and holy ground, even though that was true in the main part of Fatima too, but it just looked so different.”
They visited the village where the children grew up and toured their homes, which have been preserved.
“You’re on a hill. I felt like, oh, I can see it,” Leahy recalled. “I can see and feel like what it would be like to be these three little children who lived in this village, who ran down this hill and then suddenly encountered Mary. That felt much more kind of original and brought the feeling of Fatima. A lot of people in our group said the same thing too. Praying at their tombs. That absolutely was powerful.”