By Msgr. Perfecto Vazquez
I recently led a pilgrimage of 48 people from Brooklyn and Queens to the shrines at Fatima, Portugal; Lourdes, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
We arrived in Fatima July 12, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the third apparition of Mary to the shepherd children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia.
As evening fell, we were moved by the celebration in the plaza filled with pilgrims, all carrying lighted candles. It looked like a lit ocean. The Rosary was proclaimed in the several languages, followed by the procession of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. At that celebration, there were six bishops, hundreds of priests and thousands of pilgrims. Mass was then celebrated on the steps of the basilica.
The devotion of the people was evident, and the graces of Heaven moved our hearts.
We spent the following day in Fatima, where I celebrated Mass in the Chapel of the Death of Jesus. In my homily, I spoke about the message of Mary at Fatima, stressing the need for interior conversion.
Later, we visited the houses where the children, to whom Mary appeared at Fatima, lived and the place of the apparitions of the Angel of Peace and Mary. We were impressed by the poverty in which the families lived and by their faith and courage as they confronted so many difficulties and persecution. They were children in age, but adults in faith.
On July 15, we were in Santiago de Compostela, a center of pilgrimage for Europe and the whole Christian world since the 10th century. The routes are called “Camino de Santiago.” Among the saints (and sinners) who have walked the way are St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Isabel of Portugal.
Tradition of St. James
Tradition tells us that St. James preached in Spain and that he and his disciples evangelized Zaragoza near the Ebro River. According to history, things did not go well and the Blessed Mother, before she died, appeared in a column to comfort St. James. This is the source of the title Our Lady of Pilar.
The relics of St. James, who eventually was martyred in Jerusalem, are said to have been brought to Galicia in Spain to protect them from the Moors and they are buried in Compostela. They were discovered there in 847.
To St. James is credited the victory by Christians at the Battle of Clavijo against the Moors. For this, St. James is revered as the Patron of the Reconquista, the liberation of Spain from the Moorish occupation.
In Compostela, we were part of the Pilgrims’ Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Luigi Marrucci of Civitavecchio, Italy, and 45 priests. The magnificent cathedral was filled to capacity. I had the honor of proclaiming the Gospel in Spanish.
Among the pilgrims there that day was a group of people with disabilities who were particularly proud of having reached their destination.
The Swinging Thurible
After Communion, we witnessed the unique ceremony of this cathedral. Eight men dressed in red approached the altar carrying a large thurible (botafumeiro in Gallego). The bishop put incense on the fire and the men started pulling some rope that lifted the thurible into the air and was then swung over the heads of the congregation. At the same time, the hymn of St. James was intoned on the organ. A lovely title of St. James, “Amigo del Senior,” “Friend of the Lord,” comes from the hymn.
On to Lourdes, where we participated in praying the Rosary and the procession of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was a wonderful celebration in spite of the fact that, because of a storm, most of it took place in the underground chapel of Pius X.
On our first full day there, we started with Mass at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. Afterwards, we visited the two houses where the visionary St. Bernadette lived. Later we visited the grotto of the apparitions, where some took the cold “bath.”
Mary told Bernadette to drink and wash and she found some water nearby, which today flows at a rate of 32,000 gallons a day.
When we returned to New York on July 21, we felt renewed spiritually and we rejoiced in the experience of the maternal protection of Mary. We also were determined to be good friends of the Lord, as was St. James.