The Pope has been in Portugal. No visit to Portugal would be complete without a stop at the shrine of Fatima. Named for one of the most fascinating characters in Muslim history, Mohammed’s strong daughter Fatima, this small, centrally located town had no claims to fame until 1917. Suddenly three children declared that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them while tending their sheep. The story is about as eerie as the canonical photograph of the unsmiling youngsters. Their sincere proclamations were met with acceptance by many war-weary Europeans and predictions began to emerge from these visions. On October 13 that year some 70,000 pilgrims alleged that the sun itself danced, twirled, and took on new colors. Astronomers reported no solar anomalies at the time.
The events at Fatima have fascinated both religious and secular explorers of the supernatural. The religiously devout claim nothing shy of a miracle while those seeking more dramatic non-theistic explanations claim that aliens were behind the show. Whether or not a physical event transpired, something out of the ordinary occurred in Fatima that day. Now a permanent shrine graces the location. If the apparition appears again, she will be comfortably housed in doors, out of the elements. She might even see one of the bullets fired at Pope John Paul II during the famous assassination attempt. Many believe the Pope’s survival was itself a miracle.
Now Pope Benedict XVI has visited the shrine where heaven once touched earth. Afterwards he climbed into the Popemobile, the motorized bullet-proof reliquary that allows papal viewing by the faithful while protecting Rome’s most valued asset. The message is clear: it is wonderful to believe in miracles, but it is prudent never to trust in them. Two of the three children (Jacinta and Francisco) died before they reached twelve, felled by the famed Spanish Influenza. The miracle that could have preserved their young lives never occurred. Lucia alone survived to 97. Expect a miracle? The odds are hard to predict on that one.