Pilgrims flock to sacred Virgin Mary ghost site

From: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21725867-401,00.html

May 14, 2007

UP to a half million Christian pilgrims flooded the town of Fatima in central Portugal on the weekend to attend the 90th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's supposed apparition to three shepherd children.

Among the faithful from 26 countries were some 30,000 who had covered hundreds of kilometres on foot, and many were in a state of exhaustion, authorities said.

“People aren't eating, not drinking, and in the end they feel bad,” civilian guard Joaquim Chambel said.

One 80-year-old Spanish man died last night while participating in the pilgrimage, and more than 500 had to be treated for fatigue.

The Portuguese press said it was the biggest turn-out in Fatima, located 130km north of Lisbon, since 2000, when the late pope John Paul II addressed pilgrims.

John Paul had claimed that the Virgin of Fatima saved his life after he was shot and wounded by a Turkish gunman in Saint Peter's Square in 1981.

His successor, Benedict XVI, was on a trip to Brazil and could not attend the event this year.

Angelo Sodano, dean of the college of cardinals, presided over the mass yesterday at the town's basilica and vast esplanade, in which he called for Europe to recover its faith.

“Europe has fallen into the temptation of forgetting this faith which was its force for centuries,” he said.

“A hidden apostasy is underway in our countries of which we cannot but be aware,” he said, complaining that “many are those stepping away from the house of our Father”.

Sodano called on those gathered to pray to the mother of Jesus Christ to stop Christianity's decline.

According to Roman Catholic belief, the Virgin Mary appeared to three young cousins in apparitions in 1917 in a grotto near Fatima.

The shrine now attracts millions of people every year.

Many believers visiting the site traditionally ask the Virgin Mary for favours or assistance.

Some were seen exhorting the mother of Jesus Christ while crossing the basilica's esplanade on their knees.

Some prayed for success in exams, others for victory for their football teams.

Several held pictures of a three-year-old British girl, Madeleine McCann, who went missing earlier this month in the south of the country.