Faithful descend on Portugal’s Fatima to pray for peace as wars rage

May 14, 2024 - 1:49 PM
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Pilgrims attend the event marking the anniversary of the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children, at the Catholic shrine of Fatima, Portugal, May 12, 2024. (Reuters/Maria Abranches)

As wars rage in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere, tens of thousands of faithful prayed for peace on Sunday at Portugal’s Fatima shrine, one of Catholicism’s most famous sanctuaries.

The annual event, which brings together pilgrims from countries such as India, Canada, Brazil and Ivory Coast, marks the first of three reported visions of the Virgin Mary, also known as Our Lady, more than 100 years ago.

“War leads nowhere,” said 67-year-old Maria do Carmo as she waited patiently for the candlelight procession to start, the highlight of the evening. “We are also here to ask Our Lady to put an end to wars.”

The Roman Catholic Church teaches the Virgin Mary appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917 in Fatima, which was then an impoverished farming village. It believes she gave the children three messages, the so-called secrets of Fatima.

Pope Francis made two of the shepherd children saints in 2017.

For Jim Grimes, a 68-year-old from the United States, the event was his first time at the Fatima shrine and he also took the opportunity to reflect on the world’s conflicts.

“We have to start talking to each other, we have to start being tolerant of each other,” he said. “It’s the way to change the world.”

The Israel-Gaza war has killed over 35,000 people in Hamas-run Gaza, according to health authorities there. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 253 taken hostage on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched the attack that started the war, according Israeli tallies. The Israeli bombardment has laid waste to the coastal enclave and caused a deep humanitarian crisis.

Some pilgrims also brought Ukrainian flags in a show of support following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, which has killed tens of thousands and driven millions from their homes.

“Nobody likes wars…but the fact is that they happen,” said pilgrim David Garcia, 42, as he sat next to his wife and two children. “We must be united because the world needs our prayer.”

— Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira in Fatima;Editing by Lisa Shumaker