Being a Catholic priest, it was my heartfelt desire to visit Vatican at least once in my life time and see the pope. I was expressing my desire to different people so that I might find a way to go there. Finally while I was discussing with one of the priests from Edmonton, he told me that a friend of his from Toronto takes people on Pilgrimages. I requested him to advise his friend to take me as well. As a chaplain of the group he had already engaged couple of priests. I told my friend that it did not matter and I would join the group and pay for my trip.
This time being centenary year of Fatima apparitions, Anto from Toronto had organized a pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes. I was very thrilled and thought of stopping by during my return in Vatican and fulfilling my desire. I did not expect to go to Fatima and Lourdes as my main desire was to go to Vatican.
As I was preparing to leave, Fr. Rajkumar and Fr. Adaikala from Edmonton also said they would join the group. They were both Salesians and had plenty of friends there. They also had their houses and Fr. Adaikala was in Vatican previously which made things still easier. I enjoyed the hospitality and the treatment I received was unbelievable. I could visit and see places that would have been impossible to see without these two Salesian friend priests. After having planned the trip I started to Google and watch some YouTube videos about the places I am supposed to visit. Someone in the church dropped a set of books about Fatima and its secrets and I started reading it.
As a child, I always thought that Our Lady of Fatima was way back in History because everyone knew about it. But my perception about Fatima proved to be false as it is only a 100 years old event in history. More I read and learned about it, my excitement and eagerness to visit that place was breaking the mercury level in my heart and mind.
On the first day as we reached Fatima I could not stop myself from running to the place where exactly the apparitions took place even though it was late in the evening after travelling 10 hours by flight and a couple of hours by bus from the airport. Before getting into the hotel itself I wanted to visit the site and see the church. It was amazing, all that I read and saw on You tube came alive in that place.
In same evening, we participated in the rosary procession where there were nearly 7000 people and for that ground and space the crowd was very small. I saw people crawling on their knees and reciting the rosary. I saw people in groups kneeling and praying. Lots of sick people were being brought there for healing and prayer. I was really touched by the faith and the live images of people from different parts of the world all in silence and in perfect harmony praying and taking part in the procession. There were many languages, races and cultures but all had one voice of prayer and devotion. When the statue of Our Lady was passing, I felt an over whelming fragrance coming from the presence God. I kept getting that fragrance even in Lourdes and in the Basilica of St. Peter. Words cannot explain the experience I had being there on that journey.
After spending three days visiting the houses of those little kids Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia who had the privilege of having those apparitions we were so blessed. Being on the very spots of vision words of our Lady was becoming alive for me in my faith journey. It really renewed and boosted my spiritual energy and made me more humble in my faith. From a humble beginning where people had difficulty in believing what was happening in that place to today’s huge church that can hold 10,000 people and the old church and facilities and establishments all due to those apparitions and just in 100 years of time was mind blowing.
Mother Mary appeared six times and finally during her final apparition she said that she will give a sign to the people to see the miracle of the sun on October 13, 1917 where nearly 70,000 people were present. During those times where communication, travel and transportation was so difficult yet to have a crowd of that number within six months in a remote village of that kind is un imaginable. All that left me with was wonder taking me deeper into my faith.
Our group proceeded to Lourdes in France from Portugal via Spain by bus. We also visited the convent where one of the three kids Sr. Lousy spent her life in a cloistered convent. She passed away in February 13, 2005. We also had an opportunity to see the museum in that convent containing all the correspondence between her and the popes and the life of Sr. Lousy. In Lourdes that experience became still deeper. The crowd was three times larger than that of Fatima. I also had an opportunity to have a dip in the waters of the fountain that appeared miraculously.
Sr. Faustina was asked by our lady to wash her face and bath in those waters. Thousands line up every day to have a dip and to carry that water considering it to be holy. I felt that same fragrance and over whelming presence of the divine. We also participated in the international mass in the church and on that day there may have been around 12000 people, a thousand sick people were brought by the volunteers on wheel chairs and starches. The Only VIP in the crowds were the sick person on wheel chair and all the rest lined up. It was so amazing to see the faith of the people.
The final destination was Vatican with tourists all around and fears of pickpockets everywhere. We were privileged to see the pope from a very close distance. Though papal audience is from 10 to 12 noon he came by 9.25 am and was there till around 12.30 pm. His energy and love for people is enormous. Everyone was crying ‘papa, papa, papa…’ and he went round making as many stops as possible.
It will be unending to explain and express what I underwent and saw in this trip. Rest I leave to each one of you to experience by visiting these places and at least by Google and learn about these places. The significance and importance of these places will surely open even the eyes of the blind and bring them to faith in our loving Lord Jesus. Amen.