, JUNE 6, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo gave thanks yesterday to the Blessed Virgin of Fatima for the miraculous recovery of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo from his triple-bypass heart surgery and aneurysmectomy last April in Manila.

Mrs. Arroyo directly motored here on Monday from Lisbon after arriving from Rome, where she had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI and witnessed the canonization of four new Catholic saints.

Fatima, Portugal’s holiest site, is the place of the famous Catholic apparition, where the Blessed Virgin appeared several times to three young Portuguese children in 1917. Some four million Catholic pilgrims from all over the world flock here annually.

She arrived at the Lisbon Military Airbase at around 3:10 p.m. (10:10 p.m. Manila time) aboard a chartered Philippine Airlines flight accompanied by a lean delegation that included Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ambassador Marciano Paynor, chief of presidential protocol, and daughter-in-law Angela Montenegro Arroyo.

Members of the presidential party were billeted at Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisboa in Lisbon. She was scheduled to meet yesterday with Jaime Gama, president of the Assembly at 10:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. Manila time) to be followed by talks with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva at 1:30 p.m.

“It’s a pilgrimage,” Mrs. Arroyo told reporters yesterday over breakfast. “I thanked the Blessed Virgin of Fatima for the miraculous healing of my husband because I prayed to her at that time (during open heart surgery).”

She said one of her “prayer partners” during Mr. Arroyo’s three-week confinement at the St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) in Quezon City last April suggested that she thank the Blessed Virgin of Fatima for husband’s recovery.

Mr. Arroyo was rushed to a hospital in Baguio, where the First Family was spending the Holy Week break, on Black Saturday after complaining of chest pains. He was brought to Manila the following Monday and was diagnosed as having a ruptured aorta. Doctors immediately performed the surgery that day.

Upon arriving here at the Santuario de Fatima on Monday at 4:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. Manila time), Mrs. Arroyo toured an exhibit hall where thousands of gifts – including football jerseys, jewelry, a wedding gown, and the crown of Fatima – are displayed.

After the tour, she met with Jose Manuel de Carvalho, mayor of the nearby Sabrosa town, the birthplace of Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan discovered the Philippines in March 1521 that led to the establishment of Catholicism in the country.

She then walked to the Candle Offering Site where she offered and lit candles and prayed.

Mrs. Arroyo and the rest of her delegation then attended a special Mass for her at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Cova da Aria, which marks the exact spot where the apparitions took place.

Rev. Fr. Luciano Gomes Paulo Guerra, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, celebrated the Mass with Filipino nuns as members of the choir. During the Mass, Guerra prayed for the Philippines and Mrs. Arroyo.

After the Mass, she visited the site’s Basilica and prayed at the tombs of the three children Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.

She was then given a tour of the birthplaces of the children in Aljustrel and Valinhos villages.

She also drank from the healing well in Fatima assisted by Sister Ma. Leopoldo Ledesma of the Oblate of the Virgin Mary here. Ledesma is a relative of Mr. Arroyo, officials said.

At 7 p.m. Guerra hosted a dinner for members of the presidential party at the Shrine where the priest again led a prayer for the country after which, they proceeded back to Lisbon.

Yesterday, she toured the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon and attended the Mass at 9:30 a.m. (4:30 p.m. Manila time).

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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