The centre of the visit was the Mass celebrated on the Recinto, the site of the vision which the shepherd children received of the Mother of God. That occurred first on May 13th 1917, so it was on Thursday May 17th that the Holy Father took his place at the altar built in front of the 1930's basilica, where the bodies of the three visionaries are at rest.
It is difficult in words or pictures to convey the sheer size of the crowd gathered to honour Our Lady of Fatima. Generally there will be around 400,000 of the faithful; this year, the estimate was half a million. They are enthusiastic, greeting the arrival of the Holy Father with repeated shouts of "Long live the Pope!"; yet throughout the Mass this great throng is quiet and focused as they concentrate on the action taking place before them - for many, in the far distance! The National TV network covered every part of the Papal visit, from his arrival in Lisbon, throughout his time in Fatima, and his last day in Porto. As pictures appeared on the screens in the church the night of his arrival, great cheers greeted his arrival by helicopter.
Our party included a dozen clergy - on the left, Fr Malcolm Gray, who organises us. In the centre, me and bishop Keith. We were assigned seats in the colonnade, very near the Altar. On an unusually chilly Fatima day the wind blew through the columns and kept most of us awake.
Fatima is not all fun and games, though. When the Ecumenical Friends of Fatima were established some ten years ago, we asked the Bishop what work he would suggest we might share in; his answer was the Community of Life and Peace, where former drug addicts are rehabilitated. Here is some of our group visiting Vida & Paz, in order to present them with our most recent donation towards their work.
It would be good to think that some part of the enthusiasm of the Portuguese for the Holy Father might be repeated in England this autumn. As Anglicans, we have a special responsibility to try to explain why we find his such a sympathetic figure, one who has proved to be a Father in God to many of us who have been treated with less than fatherly care by some of our own bishops. More still, we have a duty to pray for the Pope, and for his visit when he will be honouring one of our own, John Henry Newman.