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Portugal Faith Tourism

Mayor of Fatima: Fatima may need “divine” intervention

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Dec 11, 2008

At Fatima in 1917, "Our Lady of the Rosary" called the world to prayer, penitence and conversion of heart. She chose as her ambassadors three village children namely: Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005, and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who died during childhood from influenza. An official history posted on the web about the apparitions said that on May 13, 1917, after praying the rosary, as was the custom of the three children, they were playing when: “Suddenly they saw a brilliant light, and thinking it to be lightning, they decided to go home. But as they went down the slope another flash lit up the place, and they saw on the top of a [hill]…‘a Lady more brilliant than the sun,’ from whose hands hung a white rosary.” Later, as history would have it, a church was built on Fatima and the world's Catholic pilgrimage began. Each year, some 5 million pilgrims visit Fatima, especially around May 13 and Oct. 13, the dates corresponding to "Our Lady’s" apparitions there in 1917. Some devout pilgrims travel from as far away as the Philippines and Latin America, and many can be seen making the final part of their journey on their knees.

eTN spoke to Dr. David Catarino, mayor of Ourem (Fatima) in Portugal who said something must have gone terribly wrong. People stopped visiting in droves.

“We need money to build a proposed theme park and keep our monuments intact and operating. In the 1960s and 1970s, a New Jersey travel agent named John Gert booked tens of thousands of US visitors to Fatima. Americans, some 50,000 traveling in groups on average, visited the holy site. Fatima’s tourism was built by the Americans and the pilgrims. Unfortunately, the flow of visitors stopped in the late ‘70s. We don’t know why. Fatima’s been losing millions of dollars without the Americans coming,” said the mayor.

He added that they’re quite baffled by the turn of events. “Gert’s agency stopped sending people. We really don’t know why. I believe since the icon of the Our Lady of Fatima came to the US in 1974, trouble began. The icon in Portugal has become very political that when it came back to Fatima in 1984, it was used as a world political bargaining chip. Soon after, it was offered to be given back to Russia, but our leaders offered the icon to Pope John Paul II. When Vladimir Putin went to the Vatican, I have a feeling the Pope showed him the icon, and then later gave it to the Kazan.” Alexis II, the Russian Schismatic patriarch had it finally, according to The Tablet.

This icon has been part of Russian history from time immemorial: it was hidden during the Tartar invasion of 1209, reappeared in 1579, left Russia before the Communist revolution, and was purchased by the American Blue Army in the 1970s. In 1993, this organization gave it to John Paul II, according to Dr. Horyat.

After the Pope received the icon, he held it up as bait before the Russian Schismatic Church to finagle a visit to Moscow. Ignoring the lure, the Russian Schismatics have done all they could to snub John Paul II, denied him permission even to step foot into Russian territory, and treated his innumerable ambassadors with absolute scorn and arrogance, said Atila Sinke Guimarães. Putin scooped it in the end on behalf of Alexis II.

Due to the dwindling tourist numbers, next year Fatima plans to hold a big event. In June, it will introduce religious sanctuaries and shrines coinciding with Europe’s religious shrine events and festivities. “We’re inviting tourists to visit not only the religious sites but also the cultural and heritage centers in Portugal,” said Alexander Mario Pereira, head of the administration council, Sociedade de Reabilitacao, Urbana de Fatima (SRU Fatima).

Pereira added this event will be quite significant as Fatima celebrates its centennial year in 2017 highlighting the Our Lady of Fatima. “We are inviting everybody to visit the city, not only for religious purposes but for cultural reasons, as well. And as we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fatima, we are preparing for huge public infrastructure investments, some 1 billion euros, including a new church accommodating 9000 people and a private area for people to walk on, genuflect and meditate to help them with their spiritual journey.” Portuguese and European government assistance will be required, he said.

As far as tourism business is concerned, Spain remains a big competitor. Almost 60 percent of religious travelers visit Spain; but a number would continue their trip to Portugal. “Thus, lately Spain has been our main market. Our main traffic now comes from Spain with most tours originating in the US, ending in Lisbon. It is just practical that we package our tours with Spain’s,” said the mayor.

Around Fatima, the municipality is building a five-kilometer center dedicated to archaeology including a dinosaur theme park, following a UNESCO World Heritage Site’s registration of the ancient site on its prestigious list. A company digging for minerals in the area found the ancient footprints of dinosaurs. “It was just recently discovered. Since we don’t have theme park experience in Portugal, we want to get inspired abroad by works by other experts – both technical and financial,” said Pereira.

Mayor Catarino’s municipality of Ourem has two cities, namely Ourem (about 12,000 residents) and Fatima (about 11,00 inhabitants). The main historical attraction of the municipality is the mighty Castle of Ourém. Nevertheless, millions of faithful Catholics come to the Fatima parish every year to visit the site where three child shepherds had visions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917. The present mayor has been elected by the Social Democratic Party.

Catarino thinks that after the death of the travel agent in New Jersey, some five or six years ago, the pilgrimage by Americans ended. “We appeal to the Americans to come visit again. The absence of tourists has impacted the church and the activities around the shrine. We also need to find tour operators and investors to support our new projects around Fatima such as the dinosaur park,” said the mayor of Fatima.

Other issues may have hit home. According to Pereira, the issue of the fear of terrorism after 9/11 reduced significantly the trips to Fatima. “The other problem perhaps is Portugal’s currency turning into the Euro. This may have discouraged people from traveling. But rates are dropping in Portugal vis-à-vis a Euro growing stronger against the US dollar in the last months. But since the crisis began in the US, tourism dropped again,” he said hoping Portugal’s arrivals will top the 6 million annual tourists compared to its 10 million population.

“We see a steady stream of pilgrims from Christians in Asia. However, surprisingly, there had been a handful of curious Muslims showing up on our doorsteps lately, touring the sites of Fatima,” said the mayor.

Mayor of Fatima:  Fatima may need “divine” intervention
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