[PHOT9O AT LEFT - The Father and the saint!: Sister Lucia with Pope John Paul II]

MANILA, AUGUST 14, 2009 (PHILIPPINE STAR) PURPLE SHADES By Letty Jacinto-Lopez - In the past days, Cory’s friends have been talking about her devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, how she met Sister Lucia at the shrine in Portugal where the saint gave her a rosary. Cory believed in Our Lady of Fatima’s healing power and with her trademark generosity, she would part with her rosary to lend it to friends — both those who needed healing and those who need comfort.

Our Lady of Fatima saved another life many years ago, too: Pope John Paul II.

There is a blurred photograph of Pope John Paul II circulating on the Internet, taken seconds after he was shot and was falling down from his Papamobil. The Pope is shown as being gently cradled by our grief-stricken Blessed Mother. The caption says that, for the first time, the Vatican published this picture and that this photo was taken by one of his security guards.

A news report says: “On May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the Lady of Fatima apparition, the Pope was in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. A little girl was holding a picture of the Lady of Fatima, and the Pope leaned over to kiss the picture. Just as he did so, he was shot by a Turkish gunman. If he didn’t lean over, he would have been shot in the heart.”

Pope John Paul was shot twice in the abdomen and survived. What caught the world’s attention was when the Pope visited the Turkish would-be assassin in his prison cell. He heard his confession and pardoned him for this grievous sin. Someone even said that when the Pope was shot on a Wednesday, by Sunday of the same week, he was already sending feelers that he wanted to forgive and absolve the gunman. The Pope believed that it was the Lady of Fatima who rescued him, fulfilling the third message of the Lady who predicted the assassination attempt on a “bishop dressed in white.” When he had recovered, he made an emotional pilgrimage to Fatima and had the bullet that wounded him welded into the crown of the Virgin’s statue.

With this in mind, 18 of us joined the “Mariang Ina Ko” (Mary Our Mother) Marian pilgrimage. Located north of Lisbon, Fatima is a bustling town complete with four-star hotels that are clean and modern with efficient and friendly staff. Of course, there are the usual gaudy souvenir shops selling anything from “glow-in-the-dark” statues, Fatima T-shirts, key rings, rosaries and many more.

Over dinner, Father Dave Concepcion, our pilgrimage chaplain, quickly conducted his version of a Gallup Poll. He approached our table first. “Before you indulge in the delicious buffet of sweets and pastries, we have been given two time slots to celebrate a private Mass at the apparition site or Cova da Iria. Which one would you prefer? The 5:30 a.m. or the 7:30 a.m?” Automatically, I cried, “7:30 a.m. please!” The rest of my table mates agreed. “Wait,” Father Dave replied. “I also need to ask the rest of the group.”

Father Dave approached the next table. The majority wanted the 5:30 a.m. slot. Outvoted and outnumbered, I set my alarm at 4:00 a.m. It was dark and cold and wet.

The massive esplanade, normally teeming with devotees and pilgrims, was deserted — except for two people who turned out to be the minders of the chapel Capela da Apariçoes at the apparition site.

“I could be sleeping, snug and warm under the blanket,” I grumbled. But hush. The usher led us to the innermost area of the chapel, a few feet away from where the original bush was — now a marble pillar — literally a breath of soft wind away from where Mama Mary stood. When Fr. Dave emerged from the private sacristy to begin Mass, a feeling of gentle presence wrapped around me. I heard myself saying, “What better way to pay Our Blessed Mary a visit than in the silence and solemnity of where she appeared?”

The Mass was finished before I knew it. When I looked up, I saw early risers converging in the chapel, mingling in the outer area but close enough to catch the last of the blessings being dispensed by Fr. Dave. Right then, I wanted to squeeze my neck, in self-chastisement. What was I thinking? When Mother Mary appeared before Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco here in Cova de Iria, this was all ragged soil and rocks. It was so foreboding and harsh that no one came here except the sheep and the goats for grazing. Today, it has all the conveniences of modern times like cemented and marbled walkways, water fountains, park benches, including a paved and smooth “knee- way” for those who’d like to pray on bended knees. There were also loud speakers, organized novenas and processions and a new modern church — Church of the Holy Trinity — that could seat 8,500 pilgrims with 13 bronze doors, modern toilets, a gift shop, a coffee shop and other amenities designed for the ease and comfort of over three million visitors a year.

“Make a sacrifice, just a little sacrifice and look what a whole lot of well-being it can yield.”

Fr. Dave was right.

When I walked back to the hotel — a stone’s throw from the apparition site — the clouds had dispersed and there was the promise of a sunny, pleasant morning ahead. Chirping and full of spirit now, I giggled, “This is so right as rain.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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