My arrival in Lisbon, Portugal started the European part of my tour. On of my first visits was to Fatima, the small town in Portugal where peasant children were visited, on numerous occasions, by the Virgin Mary. In any year there are vast quantities of pilgrims en route to the shrine and basilica...but in this, the millenial year, the number is expected to surge. Pilgrimage sites such as Santiago (Spain), Lourdes (France), Jerusalem and Canterbury expect similar hordes of faithful. While I am not that pious, I still felt motivated, a a Catholic, to make a visit since I was so close by. (I went to Lourdes, also) But somewhat irreverently, I prayed for my bicycle, rather than my soul. Perhaps it is because my bike is the soul of this tour...perhaps it was I felt my other soul was beyond salvation(?). In any case, I certainly thanked God for the few problems that I have had on this tour, in fact even thanked Him for my life, as I could have easily been one of the thousands who disappeared in Central America during hurricane Mitch last November.
Exactly what the problem is between Catholics and protestants, the latter whom do not pray to our Lady, really escapes me. I had a bunch of roomates a few years ago who were protestant and w always had good faith (no pun intended) jabs for one another. They chided for me for parying to May, whom they said had no real biblical or religious significace, and were skeptical about her apparitions..which always seemed to be conveniently located in Catholic countries. (I can just imagine our Lady of Londonderry...can't you???) They also poked fun at some other Catholic traditions. For my part, I laughed at them since there are a zillion different protestant sects, each of which has some nitpicking difference with all the others and with Catholics. I used to say, 'hey. Maybe we pray to Mary. What do protestants pray to? The Coffee pot?' There is a Catholic joke that in our mass the Priest adds water and wine to the chalice....at protestant masses, he adds Cream and Sugar! I got a good chuckle about this as I continued on down the road. part of the 'psych' that is a cycling tour. By the way some of my best friends are protestants!
Still...What a pleasant rectangle of country Portugal is. I knew little about the country before I first ventures there by bicycle on this world tour. I had read one small book authored by a British soldier during the peninsular war. He wrote about rocks, recesses and rivelets where he could hide, shelter and nourish himself while he attempted to return to his regiment, having been cut off behind enemy lines. What a powerful alliterative phrase to describe a country, and yet it was true. Most of the world is hilly, but in Portugal the hills have barren exposed rock faces, boulders, even outcrops. It was a damp, temperate country; in many places the moisture cannot settle in very far before it hits rock. Thus the small streams and waters that make the country so attractive. If you read Tolkien's Silmarillion, the high misty mossy tarns of Dorthonien come to mind. For all its attracrions i was somewhat stingy with my photos, for the rains were frequent and often heavy with metallic grey skies.
Not however, on the days I spend in Fatima. I arrived at midmorning and found lodging at a large monastery near a rotary on the west side of town. Enjoying the town on foot was a pleasure. Last summer and this the crowds were expected to be heavy with millenial pilgrims. I had come in mid-May before the crush. There was no bustle to distract you from the religious significance of the place. The main square was quiet, with some devout Christians crawling toward the altars on their knees.