The Arc of Repentance
The Death of the Book
Line of Duty By Albert Haley
Friday Night in Kizmack By Carrie Sherman
On Another Road: Pilgrimage to Fátima
The Woodlands Have a Rank and Moldy Smell
ON ANOTHER ROAD
Pilgrimage to Fátima 1999
By Charles Edward Brooks
E estou nesta estrada;
Perdoa se às vezes
Não creio em mais nada.
(I too am (thy) people, Lord,
Day One: Vila Real--Lamego
Menacing clouds hang over us as we ten caminheiros, members of the Vila Real Hiking Club, stuff our luggage into the van. Together with friends and family seeing us off, we gather for snapshots on the steps of the town hall. After the last farewell hug, the Major's wife Berta climbs behind the steering wheel of the van and precedes us down the street.
As we march past the city limit sign, a fine drizzle begins to fall, but our spirits are too high to be dampened. Houses and workshops give way to fields bright with the purple heather, the yellow gorse and broom that hallmark spring in northern Portugal.
Several hours into the countryside, the road skirts a steep valley on the left. Vineyards in new leaf line its slopes; some are terraced, others not. The Major explains that the high price of port wine makes the cost of planting and tending these vineyards worthwhile. As we approach the town of Régua, perched on the banks of the River Douro, all the sprawling houses on the wine-growing estates are painted a characteristic orange.
With increasing distance from Vila Real, passing truck drivers greet us ever more frequently with waves and horn blasts. Villagers, too, recognize us as pilgrims from our walking staffs and shout greetings from vegetable plots, windows, and doorways: "Vá com Deus!" and "Que Nossa Senhora vos accompanhe!"
In truth, we are taking part in a grand inscenation that embraces all of Portugal, whatever our personal ideas on the institution called Fátima may be. And although we are the merest extras, serving to fill out the panoramic scene, we are aware that our roles impose certain standards of conduct upon us.
As we descend toward Régua, Miguel explains the historical background: The leaders of the Portuguese Republic created by the revolution of 1910 were rabidly anticlerical. The Minister of Justice boasted that Catholicism would be rooted out of the nation in two generations; the political left and the freemasons agreed with him. One and all, the forces behind the republic ignored--and offended--the religious sensibilities of the common folk, the "people of God" referred to in so many of the (pilgrims') songs. Expectation of some event that would vindicate the feelings of simple believers hung heavy in the air.
And the event transpired. On 13 May 1917 and its sequels into October of that year, three shepherd children--Francisco, Jacinta and Lúcia--testified to visitations by the Virgin Mary. The Catholic church, battered by the 1911 law of separation, took a reticent stand on the visitations at the outset, but the commonality was determined to believe then, and still believes today. The combined thunder of scientism, socialism, republicanism, and freemasonry was unable to quell the groundswell of faith that spread through the country after the very first apparition. The liberal press gnashed its teeth in vain, for it is quite impossible to crush a movement that holds itself to be supernaturally inspired.
After a riverside lunch at Régua, we begin the unbroken ascent toward our first day's destination. In the late afternoon, stiff and sweat-drenched, we climb the steps of St. Joseph's Retreat House in Lamego. Sisters in civilian clothing greet us warmly and show us to Spartan rooms. A notice on the door urges visitors to accept the meager comfort in a spirit of Christian humility, to observe a degree of silence consistent with spiritual exercises and to let generosity reign when settling the bill.
After hot showers the world is new again and all stiffness banished. Helena and Maria Fernanda make off for the far side of town, mount the long flight of stone stairs to the church of Our Lady of Good Help and hear mass.
As the day ends, massive van Ruisdael clouds, with dark foregrounds, obscure the setting sun. Lighted from behind, their edges shine like fluffy cotton. The stately formations float by without ever quite letting the sun appear. Some of us have associations to the so-called solar prodigy at Fátima, on October 13, 1917.
Day Two: Lamego--Termas do Carvalhal
The heavy rain and wind that set in during the night cease at daybreak. With the help of Helena, with her years of experience in retail business, we settle our bill rapidly--with a dash of generosity--and exit from Lamego through the arch of a rainbow. The route leads upward. Here we are joined by Nelson, a sturdy winegrower who was unable to start with us yesterday. His name reflects the gratitude of a previous generation for English assistance in driving Napoleon's troops from Portuguese soil.
Quim mentions that Sister Lúcia, one of the three shepherd children, is still living. "She's been a prisoner in her convent for years," he says. "They may be afraid that she'll say something to discredit the institution that Fátima has become. Just think of the commercial interests involved!"
The institution's commercial side could not be more obvious. But it comprehends more than that. It bestows meaning on those who believe in it. The regular inscenations confirm the faith of those who have it and generate it in at least some of those who do not.
Under showers, in an increasingly desolate region, we enter the village of Matancinha (Little Killing), promptly followed by Matança (Killing). As we hasten through these ill-omened spots, Miguel recapitulates the so-called three secrets of Fátima, only mentioned by Sister Lúcia some years after the apparitions. The first was a vision of hell, the second a set of statements about a coming world war and the conversion of Russia. A condition for this conversion was to be the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: an act carried out by Pope Pius XII in 1942 and again by Pope John Paul II in 1984. "Conversion to what?" Luc wonders. "The most rapidly growing religion in the former Soviet Union and the Russia of today is Islam."
The third secret is still wrapped in mystery. According to Sister Lúcia, it was not to be made public until 1960 or her prior death. In point of fact, it has never been disclosed. Some of us speculate that it is something that would simply strike us as irrelevant today. Paulo, a retired banker with sober views: "It's probably a prophecy which has manifestly not been fulfilled." The faithful seem to accept its being kept under wraps. But Joaninha stumbled upon a site in the Internet where an American priest protests vociferously against this policy.
As we climb higher and higher into the serra, the landscape becomes ever more barren. To our left we look down into a valley where a river rushes over brown rocks. Greenish-white moss covers the trunks of the trees on the banks of the stream and seems to have sucked the very life out of most of them. Berta has gone on before us in the van and laid out a snack under the shelter of an isolated bus stop. Rain pours down and the wind howls as we enjoy it.
In the barest stretch of landscape yet, we pass the grim chapel of Nossa Senhora da Ouvida (Our Lady Who Hears). It looks for all the world like chapels some of us have seen in Scotland, closed down because their harsh doctrines no longer attracted believers. But a schedule on the door shows that this little church still functions. Shortly beyond it, at the turnoff to the village of Moura Morta (Dead Mooress), we sight another group of Fátima pilgrims for the first time.
In a blooming hedgerow a cuckoo calls. Among the five women in our group--now twelve persons ranging in age from thirty to seventy-six--Helena and Joaninha are unmarried. In unison, the two of them recite these lines from the folklore of Portugal: "Cuquinho da Ribeira / Quantos anos me dás solteira?" (Little cuckoo of Ribeira / How many years will I stay single?). All of us laugh at the bird's response: a sequence of calls too long to count.
After lunch in the outskirts of Castro Daire, Berta fetches Dr. Nuno's medical kit from the van, and we set up a surgery right at the table. For one of Rosa's feet requires urgent attention. The doctor, the doyen of our group, quickly has the blister punctured and sterilized and the foot bandaged. The two young waitresses interrupt their work and gape at the operation with evident horror and fascination.
On the far side of Castro Daire, we meet a group of the same size as our own. The capacious truck accompanying it serves not only to carry baggage and supplies, but also as kitchen and dormitory. In emulation of St. Francis, these pilgrims have vowed not to bathe along the way. We do not care to imagine the atmosphere in the truck by the fourth or fifth night.
More generally, some of us have difficulty in imagining a deity that would be gratified by such shenanigans. Many of us conceive of God as joy, plenitude, health . . . and a long list of similarly positive attributes . . . in perfection. As beings created in the image of God, it is our destiny to share in these qualities, not in suffering and privation. The acerbic Paulo puts it this way: "God should actually punish us for inflicting suffering on ourselves instead of giving us merit points for doing so!"
The thermal baths at Termas do Carvalhal are reputed to benefit the skin. The little spa is making an effort to attract guests, but the avenida leading to the new hotel is still a trifle forlorn. Yellow-and-purple irises brighten the flagged courtyard in front of the Pensão Astúrias, where cosy rooms await us. Except for ourselves, the building is practically empty.
Day Three: Termas do Carvalhal--Vila Chã de Sá
Following a night of pelting rain, we leave the spa early beneath a leaden sky. An hour later, on the wet curvy road to Viseu, a car coming from behind us veers suddenly into our Indian file column on the left, grazing Paulo and hurling the Major violently onto the macadam. No one else is touched.
A pool of blood forms under the Major's head; his body remains motionless. Despite some difficulties with our cellular telephones, Miguel succeeds in getting through to the emergency service and the GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana) in Viseu. Some passing drivers stop, to help or to stare, including a straight-talking woman court official who takes temporary charge.
To our immense relief, Dr. Nuno confirms signs of life in the Major. A baby's pillow is visible through the rear window of the car which caused the accident; we ask the driver and his wife if we may put it under the victim's head to keep him from suffocating. They refuse. What lies behind such boorishness: a bad conscience? Without a word, Joaninha peels off her sweater, folds it into a kind of pillow and slips it carefully under the Major's head. All of us are praying.
At length--after thirty minutes which seem like sixty--the ambulance arrives, at the same time as the GNR and Berta in the van. The paramedics inflate a rubber mattress and ease the victim onto it. He is now moving his arms and legs and even utters a few words.
We comfort the Major's wife as best we can. She follows the ambulance in the van, which Nelson takes over from this point on. The two GNR patrolmen take measurements and statements, check identities. The rest of us, shaken and close to tears, continue in drizzling rain. As we look back for the last time, we can still make out the pool of blood on the road and the unhelpful driver leaning against his car with his arms crossed.
Dr. Nuno points out that the Major's prognosis is hopeful. His body movements show that no serious spinal damage is present, and his speech is rational. We pray for his recovery as we march along, some of us chanting the rosary aloud.
In the late morning, a caminheiro couple from Vila Real drive up beside us and thence to a nearby clearing, where they unpack refreshments. As we gather around their car, Nelson informs us by telephone that the Major has no fractures and no blood clots.
Close to the city of Viseu, we encounter another pilgrim group, patently not seasoned walkers. Though they tell us that they are just getting underway, many of them are already limping. The sun comes out as we chat with them, and an invigorating breeze begins to blow.
Another call from Nelson: The Major will be transferred to Porto for more detailed neurological tests. The transfer route will cross ours. We keep our eyes peeled for ambulances moving toward us. The third one that comes along carries the Major, and Berta seated beside the driver. We press her hand and offer whatever reassuring words we can find. As the ambulance drives off, Helena says: "Thank you, Our Lady of Fátima, for the Major's survival." Rosa quickly adds: "And for the sparing of Paulo."
We march through the town of Viseu, which goes back to a Roman-Lusitanian foundation, without stopping. On the far periphery, three caminheiros from Vila Real overtake us in their car. They have made the trip to bring Nelson's driver's license, which he had left at home. As we sit together in a nearby café over coffee, beer, and cheese, we are able to smile again, even laugh. Afterwards we continue on our way to Vila Chã. The way lies on a busy highway; at every crack, thud, or skidding sound, we flinch.
Close to our destination we pass by a mammoth construction site, where a new superhighway is being inserted beneath the existing one. "Why doesn't the Highway Department build a north-south path for pilgrims?" wonders Miguel. "With lateral branches," appends Quim, "so that walkers can reach Fátima from anywhere in the country without being exposed to traffic accidents." The position of the institution Fátima in Portuguese culture would warrant such a project. Whether the European Union would subsidize it is another question.
At Vila Chã de Sá we stop at the Sevilha Restaurant, a truck stop with rooms upstairs, where the proprietors welcome us cordially. In the bar before dinner, a Superman film with original soundtrack is flashing on the inevitable television screen. Is the globalization of the economy anywhere as obvious as in the entertainment industry? For dinner that most Portuguese of all meals: boiled codfish, potatoes, and greens.
Day Four: Vila Chã de Sá--Lagoa Azul
We start off under thick cloud cover which dissipates in the course of the morning. Early news from Porto: The Major will be held for observation for some days yet, but no permanent damage has been detected. For an accident victim of seventy, a remarkable state of affairs!
The façades of many homes that we pass are decorated with tiles depicting St. Anthony of Lisbon--the patron saint of Portugal--holding the Christ Child. Outside his native land, this thirteenth-century Franciscan is called St. Anthony of Padua, and it is often not even known that he was Portuguese.
In one village lying on our way the sounds blaring from an open window drown out the usual yapping of dogs: syncopated percussion accompanying the voice of . . . Madonna. Our present associations to this word are very far indeed from the world of pop music. Was the choice of name for the singer another example of our age's mania for deconstruction?
In the roadside restaurant where we take lunch, the rest rooms have no locks on the door. We are discovering that it is a luxury to be able to empty one's bowels in privacy. In this case, it is necessary to sit with one foot propped firmly against the door if embarrassing interruptions are to be avoided.
Approaching the wine center of Santa Comba Dão, the birthplace of António Salazar, we come upon three vintage women in black trudging in our own direction, each with a small knapsack on her back, a rosary around her neck, and a knitted bag in each hand. "Look at that!" fumes Paulo. "It's pure obscurantism and should be prohibited!"
But who has a brief to decide what is obscurantist? Portugal's first republican rulers considered Catholicism itself to be such and did their best to destroy it with anticlerical legislation and an educational program designed to inculcate a wholly secular Weltanschauung in the citizenry. These attempts provoked the phenomenon of Fátima, a countervailing force under the banner of transcendence. Today, other destructive powers are in action with other means: distraction, trivialization. . . . Is the hour coming round for a new countervailing force to appear?
For part of the afternoon, together with group after group of other pilgrims, we march in a long column--quite illegally--on the IP3 Expressway. From time to time, GNR patrolmen stop Nelson in the van or pull up beside us and urge us to be careful. But they exact no fines at this season of the year.
In midafternoon we stop for Dr. Nuno to treat and bandage Rosa's and now also Joaninha's feet. As he works, he tells us that an old friend of his, of skeptical temperament, was present in Fátima on October 13, 1917 and witnessed the so-called solar prodigy.
Nearing our destination, we pass a Red Cross station where helpers minister to pilgrims' problems, mostly chiropodial ones, and then cross a long bridge over the artificial lake known as Lagoa Azul. Our pension, on the far side of the lake and bearing its name, boasts two on-the-hall baths for all the rooms--with no locks on the doors.
The television set above our table in the dining room brings us up to date on the tragic happenings in Yugoslavia and East Timor. During dinner we discuss (possible solutions to) these conflicts and afterwards the invitation extended to the Pope to preside over the May ceremonies in Fátima this year, an invitation declined because of a previous commitment. Many Portuguese had hoped that Francisco and Jacinta, deceased in 1919 and 1920 respectively, would be beatified in 1999. "The institution Fátima needs it," opines Quim, "as a sign that it's still growing organically and anything but ossified."
Over coffee we collect Portuguese proverbs for Luc's notebook. Maria Fernanda, a social insurance official, and Miguel, a retired soldier formerly under the Major's command, are particularly rich sources of pithy sayings. The anthropologist Luc, who hails from Switzerland, has met up with equivalents for most of the adages in other languages. But not for this one:
O homem quando namora é cão;
We set off in thick mist on the IP3. Two hours down the road, with the sun beginning to break through, a giant in a white coat at a support stand shakes us by the hand. The doctor, a retired colleague of our Dr. Nuno, tells us that two pilgrims have already been killed in traffic accidents this year. A very short man appears and hands out devotional tracts on Our Lady of Fátima.
We exit from the expressway onto a narrow road leading to the village of Raiva (the word means rage and also rabies), where we drink coffee. The proprietress of the café shows symptoms of incipient Parkinson's disease. "I wonder whether she's thought of going on a pilgrimage to Fátima to seek a cure," whispers Nelson, "or maybe even already been."
Back on the expressway, we pass a troupe of friendly folk from Viseu. A jolly woman of mature years locks her arm in Luc's and announces her intention of going the rest of the way with him. "On this road we're all brothers and sisters, aren't we?" she smiles. And the road she means is not the IP3.
Soon we overtake another group and make snapshots together. A rustic matriarch puts her arm around Helena. "Is the senhora's husband with her?" she asks in polite Portuguese fashion. "I'm not married," replies Helena. "Oh!" booms the matriarch. "Then the menina is carrying more baggage than I am: a flower that I lost forty years ago!"
The Caçador (Hunter) Restaurant cannot cope with the greatness thrust upon it by the swelling stream of pilgrims. We clear, pull together, and set the tables for our lunch. While the food is being cooked, Dr. Nuno attends to Rosa's and Joaninha's feet, with the physical and moral support of the others. He scolds Rosa for her overweight; being a cook for the Vila Real regiment, she is overexposed to the temptation of gluttony.
The quiet road we take in the afternoon winds along the Mondego River, in a lovely wooded valley with substantial stretches devoid of all buildings. Yellow and white broom in flower brightens the dark green of the hills. What a relief after the noise of the expressway!
In the second decade of the twentieth century, still, motion, and even color photography already existed. On October 13, 1917, some 70,000 persons were present when the children experienced the last visitation by "the lady clothed in white, brighter than the sun": among them a bevy of reporters eager to prove that whatever was happening was, or was not, of supernatural origin. Why is there no convincing photographic evidence of the solar prodigy that is said to have occurred at the end of that visitation? Was the event--which lasted for eight to fifteen minutes, depending on the witness--not photographable? Can anything perceptible to the human eye not be captured on film?
We turn off onto an unpaved road, which rapidly narrows into a footpath, and mount a densely wooded hill. At the top we find ourselves looking down on the old university town of Coimbra. Dr. Nuno's telephone beeps and the Major is on the line from his hospital bed in Porto. He sends kisses to the women and hugs to the men, which we reciprocate.
Down in the town proper, Helena's niece Teresinha meets us and accompanies us to our pension. She is wearing the handsome traditional costume of the Coimbra students: a black suit with white blouse and black bow tie, black shoes, and stockings. The colorful emblems sewn onto the black cape slung over her shoulder symbolize the university, her faculty (law), Portugal, her hometown of Vila Real, et al. A wholesome, attractive girl.
A student festival holds the center of town wholly in its grip. Young people swarm in front of our stop for the night, the Residencial Larbelo, at the foot of the hill on which the old university buildings have stood sentinel over the town since the Middle Ages. Rock music pounds from the park on the river. Maria Fernanda presses her palms over her ears: "I don't envy our young people the influences they're exposed to today. I see teenagers in my office whose hearing has already been permanently impaired by this music." "That's the physical side," says Joaninha. "The mental climate is even more problematic. The ruling powers in all of Europe--and I mean the economic ones--pay lip service to cultural and religious institutions from the past, but they're emptying them of content. They do everything they can to draw the attention of the young away from them." Quim, too, takes up the theme: "The powers have a lot of weapons in their arsenal, too: the trashy material spread by the mass media, the deconstructionist movement in the academic world . . . I could go and on." "Where do you see Portugal in all this?" Luc wants to know. "Way behind the other countries," replies Miguel. "Way behind the times." "And God be praised for it!" cry several voices at once.
The festival lasts all through the night.
Day Six: Coimbra--Pombal
Some not-quite-sober students lounging about as we load our bags into the van notice the PEREGRINAÇÃO A FáTIMA sign in the window and enter into conversation. They manifest respect for the institution, and we take their words as sincere, in accordance with in vino veritas. In various other countries where members of our group have lived, we would expect students at a state institution of higher learning, and especially slightly intoxicated ones, to hurl taunts at avowed pilgrims of any persuasion.
The one café we find open at seven A.M. close to our pension is overflowing with students who have been celebrating all night. In this cheerful madhouse ambience we hurriedly consume our milk coffee and pastries and set off for the day's trek.
We cross the bridge over the Mondego, as smooth as a mirror this morning, behind a knot of pilgrims bearing a cross, and soon find ourselves on National Highway One heading south. Traffic is heavy, fast, and noisy: a result of the EU's excessive reliance on road transportation. We walk on the left margin in Indian file and will continue to do so for the entire 45 km. of the way to Pombal. First aid stations pop up ever more often, and the current of walkers thickens. At times the column stretches for as far as the eye can see, both behind and in front of us, encompassing hundreds of men and women. Here and there we spot familiar faces, shake hands, and exchange greetings. Many of the units in the column intone the rosary or sing traditional pilgrims' songs as they go.
Three hundred citizens of Paredes, near Porto, wear bilious green luminescent vests and have been walking all night. "Look at all the young people!" says Joaninha proudly, she herself the youngest of our number and an archivist in the Department of Culture. Perhaps a third of the pilgrims we see are in their twenties.
Some of the older women transport their baggage on their heads, just as they carry laundry or produce about at home. Almost all the pilgrims we see are shod with footwear inappropriate for long-distance walking: sandals and even slippers. Dr. Nuno believes that this is due to ignorance rather than a deliberate choice to suffer. But some few have obviously made such a choice and step along gingerly in stocking feet.
Rosa's feet require treatment along the way, following which she strides forward bravely and manages to keep up with the others. Joaninha becomes weak and nauseous as the afternoon wears on.
Helena scolds some of the young girls from Paredes who edge out into the highway and tells them about the Major's accident.
Given the immense flux of walkers, we do not try to lunch in a restaurant. Our faithful Nelson buys fried chicken, rolls, cheese, and fruit, which we consume happily beside the van.
In the afternoon the cool, overcast weather which had accompanied us from Coimbra changes. Fierce sun and heat make the short final stretch seem as strenuous as the much longer morning one. Some of us use affirmations to keep ourselves moving at the desired pace: The Great Creator is filling me with energy, health, and vitality / Thank you! We observe that all our libidinal energy is mobilized by our respiration, by the motion of our legs and feet. None remains, for the time being, for any other purpose.
At the spiffy Residencial do Cardal in the town of Pombal we discover that a mistake has been made with our reservation; the ten of us are crammed into four rooms. From the windows we look up to the hilltop fortress built by the Knights Templars in the twelfth century.
The town is the center of the former marquisate of Pombal. Historians adjudge the first marquis of that name as one of Portugal's great prime ministers. He rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755, declared war on the Jesuits, and vowed to stamp out--the term he used was--obscurantismo. An Enlightenment forerunner of the 1917 republicans, who accused the Jesuits of sewing the phenomena at Fátima out of whole cloth.
We ask a young employee at the pension what his generation thinks of the institution Fátima. "Fewer and fewer young people believe in it," he answers with visible reluctance.
News from Porto: The Major's condition is stabilizing, but he is not yet lucid at all times.
It emerges in the conversation at dinner that all of us have seen Sister Lúcia in televised interviews. We all agree that she is a radiant person. As to what she saw or believed that she saw on certain dates in 1917: There the opinions differ.
Paulo believes in the apparitions not at all. "And no Catholic is required to believe in them," he states with emphasis. Helena accepts the visitations as the devotional literature presents them. Most of the other opinions tend toward hers.
Over coffee, Dr. Nuno is asked the secret of his extraordinary vitality, unusual for a person of any age and all the more at seventy-six. "I have no secret," he replies simply, "but I eat little." Rosa asks wistfully how to avoid foot problems on long-distance hikes. "There's no magic to that," the doctor answers. "Train intensely and break in a pair of good shoes beforehand." He flashes a mischievous smile at the questioner before adding: "And keep your weight under control."
Day Seven: Pombal--Fátima
In the cool morning we discover an open pastry shop where the owner is just taking fresh croissants from the oven.
After tramping for several hours on the highway, we turn off onto a secondary road with few vehicles on it. The roadside is dense with pilgrims: marching, napping on grassy banks, eating and drinking, cooking. . . . Various types of encampments--trailers, cars, trucks, tents, and makeshift shelters--are tucked in among the trees or packed into clearings. In some of them we recognize acquaintances from previous days. When we disappear behind deserted clumps of bushes, we step carefully, for by now thousands of others have sought them out for the same purpose.
After lunch at a restaurant filled to capacity with pilgrims, we set off on our final lap. The way winds through villages fragrant with roses, lilacs, and wisteria. Patches of virginal calla lilies flourish beside every well. When we reach the incline known as Calvary, we soon feel the suitability of the name in our leg muscles. Near the summit we cross a bridge over a four-lane highway; trucks bearing license plates of all the EU countries whiz by beneath us. It is here that we catch our first glimpse of Fátima. From this perspective, the town displays no special features at all. By now the sun is beating down hard, but a beneficent breeze helps us resist the heat. On top of the hill another mercy awaits us: A couple at a roadside stand dispense mineral water gratis to all comers.
Once in town, we drop in at the Verbo Divino Seminary, where rooms are reserved for us. Our arrival confirmed, we proceed immediately to the sanctuary and enter it at the high cross. Several of us give way to tears as we step into the enormous paved square and lift our eyes to the basilica at the other end of it. After we exchange hugs and kisses, Miguel leads the recitation of the rosary in thanks for preservation of the Major's life and for our own safety through our 300 km. on the road. Begging gypsy children pick and whine at us during the prayers. As we stroll afterward toward the modern, open Chapel of Apparitions, covering the locus of the visitations to the shepherd children, we pass a metal structure on our left in which hundreds of tapers are burning and sending up clouds of smoke.
On a polished marble strip set into the concrete surface of the square, a number of men and women are also moving toward the Chapel of Apparitions: on their knees, on all fours, prostrate and writhing forward, in twos and threes with arms about each other's waists. Some wear kneepads; some do not.
The Rector of the Sanctuary has entreated pilgrims not to go on their knees and make sacrifices of this kind. A Portuguese bishop wrote in a newspaper dated this very day that such acts "are a very imperfect form of religion." Maria Fernanda turns to Luc: "Some of the foreign friends who've visited Fátima with me have felt that these practices are barbaric. What's your reaction?"
"In my field work I've studied religious practices far more gruesome than anything we're seeing here: the self-inflicted suffering of Saiva ascetics in India or sun dancers among the Plains Indians in North America, for example. But it wouldn't occur to me to call even those practices 'barbaric.' A better term would be 'archaic,' for they no doubt predate all the world religions. They're attempts to break through the humdrum of everyday life and catch hold of the sacred."
Quim, a telecommunications expert, nods his head: "And the archaic survives longest among the simple folk. Do you see anyone on that strip who looks like a scientist or a judge?"
"Except for the clerical ambit," Dr. Nuno observes, "the intelligentsia of our country don't participate in the institution Fátima at all. Neither on the marble strip nor anywhere else."
While Helena and Joaninha go off to carry out promises, the rest of us hear the end of a service in Spanish in the Chapel of Apparitions. Then on to the information office, where a nuns tells us that robbers congregate here at this time of year and warns us about walking on the streets at night.
Most of the other guests in the seminary dining room are speaking German or some dialect thereof. Our waitress explains that several busloads of pilgrims from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland checked in during the afternoon. Very quickly after the hearty meal, our yawns drive us to bed.
Day Eight: Fátima
After breakfast we betake ourselves to the sanctuary to view the neoclassical basilica, with its clean stone walls, fine stations of the cross, and vivid stained glass windows treating Marian themes in modern style. The stunning simplicity of the church is not marred by the votive plaques, crutches, and other testimonials of cures to be found in many other foci of pilgrimage. And the reverence invested in the very stones of this site by the four million souls who visit it each year is palpable to visitors of any religion or of none. In a slowly moving queue, we pass Francisco's grave on the eastern side of the nave, turn past the high altar, and file past Jacinta's on the western side, next to which a yet uninscribed marble slab waits for Sister Lúcia.
The tour finished, we go book shopping and look into some of the religious article shops close by the sanctuary. The taste of the articles offered ranges from very good to execrable. Beggars importune us wherever we step. On the way back to the seminary for lunch we inspect from the outside some of the other substantial houses erected by religious orders for the reception of pilgrims.
After the meal Paulo says his goodbyes and catches the bus northwards. The rest of us pay a visit to the wax museum, which houses tableaux of chapters in the little shepherds' story; we find the girls' faces rather infelicitous (but the very gaucheness of the scenes touching). Throughout the visit we muse over the conflation of fact and faith, things seen and things unseen which the institution Fátima represents.
A train that rolls on rubber tires whisks us out to nearby Aljustrel, where we take in Sister Lúcia's childhood home as well as that of her cousins Francisco and Jacinta. The very bed on which the boy died is preserved. On the way back to town, the train conductor tells us that one of the siblings' brothers is still alive. As we jump out, we come upon a clutch of fellow Vila Realenses whom we know merely by sight. We learn that they left home, thirty-seven strong, a day earlier than we did. It is only with difficulty that we make our way back to the seminary through the throngs in the streets.
In a folder handed to us in the information office, we read in the account of October 13, 1917 that "after the apparition all present witnessed the miracle promised to the three children in July and September: the sun, resembling a silver disc, could be gazed at without difficulty and, whirling on itself like a wheel of fire, it seemed about to fall upon the earth." Devotional literature tends to roll over reality with a steam iron, but there are facts that refuse to be smoothed out. There is documentary evidence that some of those present saw nothing at all. If the purpose of a miracle is to convince doubters, what kind of miracle was this? Was there anyone at the feeding of the five thousand who was not fed?
At 9:30 P.M. the candlelight service in the sanctuary begins. Some 200,000 persons, bundled up against the evening chill and holding lighted candles, take part in this beautiful spectacle. Here and there around us, clusters of young people joke among themselves as though they were at a soccer game--but their candles burn brightly all the while.
Day Nine: Fátima
After breakfast Maria Fernanda hurries off to the bus station; she must be back at her desk in Vila Real early tomorrow morning. We who remain proceed to the sanctuary for the culmination of the commemorative drama. It is recorded that the first apparition occurred eighty-two years ago today, on May 13, 1917.
Thousands of worshippers take position in the vast square, most of them on folding stools. A procession slowly describes a virtual ellipse through the assembly. White-clad clerics and a few laymen form the vanguard, holding aloft national flags and banners of religious orders and lay organizations that sparkle in the brilliant sunlight. A covey of bishops about the Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon follows. A platform covered with white flowers, on the shoulders of two rows of cadets, bears the image of Our Lady of Fátima. As the statue glides by, thousands of hands wave white scarves and handkerchiefs at it. Ranks of scouts succeed the cadets, then a phalanx of students from Coimbra, the picture of dignity in their black costumes, delegations of other kinds, and finally anyone and everyone who wishes to join in. Marian hymns in Greek and Latin pour forth from huge loudspeakers; worshippers sing along in their own languages.
On a rostrum high above the crowd, directly in front of the basilica, mass is celebrated. In galleries on either side of it, hordes of the afflicted pray for deliverance. The consecration of this mass is the climax of the inscenation in which we have been playing our tiny role now for nine days.
When the ceremony ends at 1:00 P.M., we thread our way through the exiting worshippers and head back to the seminary to take our departure before the highway becomes congested. A friend and fellow caminheiro from Vila Real picks up Luc and Rosa for the drive home. The others will travel up in the van.
What will remain from the pilgrimage? Memories and snapshots, a few books and souvenirs purchased on the spot. And an overarching sense of comradeship created in these days spent in such closeness together.
Is there some evaluation of our pilgrimage that the liberal Catholic Paulo, the conservative Catholic Helena, and the Protestant Luc could share? At least this: In our civilization, where traditional religious values are being steadily dismounted, where gross materialism is in the ascendant, where the longings for transcendence of a whole generation are not being nurtured, where in all too many chambers of the Catholic church the fire has gone out, remnants of intense spirituality still survive here and there: in the Carmelite convent at Compi¸gne in France, the Cistercian Abbey of Hauterive in Switzerland, the Bethel network in Germany. . . . That these centers exist, like embers still aglow, is more essential than the doctrinal divergence among them. If we are not to sink into a desolation unworthy of human habitation, these embers must be constantly fanned by subversives willing to act as saboteurs of the materialistic tendencies in motion about us. Those of us who made the pilgrimage feel that Fátima, too, is such a center, and that in some ultimate sense it harbors not obscurantism, but coals to warm the spiritual desert of our civilization and from which, once that desert has been traversed, a mighty blaze can someday be kindled.
As our vehicles creep along in the line of traffic entering the highway, a band of country folk passes us on foot, singing jubilantly on the journey home:
Também sou (teu povo), Senhor,
Charles Edward Brooks, a writer, lives in Portugal and Switzerland.