Back when I was just a few months shy of turning twenty, an ad in our church bulletin caught my eye. A pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, was offered for August, 1985.
As I was reading the ad, I was a restless and bored college student. The moment I read this ad I had no doubts that I would go on this pilgrimage. For all of my childhood I’d heard about the Soviet Union and Communism. I had watched the Hollywood version of the apparitions and believed the story. Just four years before reading the ad, there was an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on the 64th anniversary of the apparitions in Fatima. Just six years before reading the ad, my family made the trip to Iowa to see Pope John Paul II. To think I would be going to the place where the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children made perfect sense to me.
After bringing the idea to my parents and sister, everything needed to prepare for the trip fell easily into place. A bit of information is needed before I go on.
Ever since I was young, I had on my right hand a lot of warts on my knuckles. They weren’t that noticeable unless my hand was red from hot water, but that’s it. While I was at the doctor to get shots for the trip, I asked him about removing the warts. He told me that I had flat warts which are the hardest to get rid of. He could burn them off, freeze them off, scrape them off; the warts would come back. So, no big deal. I thought no more of it.
My sister and I were on our way.
Three things happened that are significant to me.
I saw Socialism up close. Our tour guide was a Portuguese university student. We spent a lot of time in one of those big tour buses riding through the hilly countryside. The main trees in these hills are olive trees and cork oak trees. The poor people depended on these trees for their livelihood. We saw many of the cork oak trees on fire or smoldering. Someone asked our tour guide why this was. She said the Socialist have the trees burned and blame someone else. They tell the peasants, who are uneducated, that they will rescue the peasants’ livelihood if they vote for the Socialist party. This left an impression on me.
On the last day of our pilgrimage, we went to a town called Santarem. Here’s a video (3 1/2 minutes) of the Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem.
I’ve always believed that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. Prior to this trip I had never heard of Eucharistic miracles; so, I had no expectations of what I would see. Like Communion we went in procession to the monstrance. For those who don’t know, a monstrance holds and exposes a consecrated host for adoration. We could kiss the monstrance and/or genuflect, but we could not stand there and look at it because of time. So, really, we just got a glimpse of it. As I headed back to my pew, the thought that it looked like no big deal, popped into my head. I wasn’t impressed. As I entered the pew, my heart started pounding wildly, and by the time I knelt I was sobbing uncontrollably. I remember feeling quite embarrassed. My sister never said anything to me about it during or since the trip.
During one of our trips to the plaza at the basilica, we went to the fountain there to fill Our Lady of Fatima-shaped bottles. It was made clear to us that this water was more for spiritual healing not physical healing as at Lourdes. As we stood in line to fill our bottles, out of the blue, I debated with myself about putting my warty hand in the water. I felt ridiculous thinking about this because there was a girl in our group who had been in a car accident. She came to Fatima seeking physical healing. When it was my turn, I put my hand in the stream of water, filled the bottle, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
At Thanksgiving or Easter, can’t remember which, the family was discussing medical stuff at dinner. Mom asked if my warts had gotten any worse. I started to say they were about the same when I looked down at my hand to see they were gone! That’s when I told the family the story. In the grand scheme of things it seems like no big deal, but every time I think about this I tear up, and I feel loved by God. He sent me a hug that just keeps on giving.