Fátima and Politics
Fatima was associated with the Salazar regime, especially by sectors related to the opposition to the New State (Estado Novo). However, the only mediated visit of Salazar to Fatima occurred just in the penultimate year of his long consulate on the 13th of May, 1967, to accompany the visit of Paul VI to the sanctuary.
And even in this occasion, the old dictator only went there reluctantly. As documented by his foreign minister at the time, Alberto Franco Nogueira, Salazar felt a strong dislike for the Pope, whom he considered “anti-Portuguese.” All because Paul VI had visited Bombay in 1964, less than three years after the invasion of Goa, Daman and Diu by the Indian military forces.
Paul VI also made a point to stand out from Salazar’s regime. He refused to go to Lisbon. The papal plane landed at the military airport of Monte Real, a few dozen kilometres away from Fatima, and it was also from there that the Supreme Pontiff embarked on the trip that led him back to Rome on that same day. He chose to be a guest of the Bishop of Leiria for a few hours rather than a guest of the Government.
The greeting exchanged at the time with Salazar was merely a formality. And there was nothing effusive from either party.
CHURCH AND STATE
There is, however, a distinctly political content around Fatima events.
The apparitions took place in 1917, a bloody year, with the world at war.
Earlier that same year, Czar Nicholas II had been overthrown by a reformist revolution in Russia. And months later, still in 1917, the communist revolution led by Lenin would deflagrate there, and that would lead to the Soviet Union.
Portugal was experiencing the tensest period of relations between the State and the Catholic Church. It started shortly after the proclamation of the Republic, on the 5th of October, 1910, with the Law of Separation of Church and State put into practice by the Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs, Afonso Costa.
Dated from the 20th of April, 1911, this law imposed these general principles:
- The end of Catholicism as a State religion in Portugal;
- The State would stop subsidising the churches;
- All the cathedrals, churches and chapels, except in exceptional cases, became property of the State, which could allocate them to other purposes;
- Practically all acts of worship outside the temples were forbidden (processions, for example);
- The display of religious symbols or linked to Catholic worship (vestments, crucifixes, bell rings) was severely restricted, except inside the temples and cemeteries;
- Civil registration became mandatory, replacing the Church.
Conflicts between the Church and the State increased. Six bishops are expelled from their dioceses. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, D. António Mendes Belo, and the Bishop of Porto, D. José Barroso, are forced into exile. In 1913, the diplomatic relations with the Holy See that had been established in the 12th century were cut off
It is in this context that the apparitions of Fatima occur. Still in 1917, the crowds that start flocking to Cova da Iria – namely on the 13th of October, when at least 50,000 people gathered there – clearly challenge the letter and the spirit of the Separation Law, which forced the civil authorities to take provisions. Hence the imprisonment of three shepherd children ordered for a few days, in August 1917, by the administrator of the municipality of Ourém.
The Republican regime faced the phenomenon of Fatima with utmost suspicion.A distrust that had consequences in the press more linked to the regime.
“The race of impostors, which is the cause of religion and the Catholic beliefs of some untrained people, has exercised their industry over time (...). May the people open their eyes and whip away the charlatans who bargain with their belief,” proclaimed the newspaper O Mundo in August 1917, closely linked to Afonso Costa’s Democratic Party. In an article titled “Impostors!”
On that date, when there had only been three appearances (May, June and July), the name of Fatima had already begun to spread, also thanks, to a large extent, to the Republican press, Jacobin and fiercely anticlerical. That turned out to produce an opposite effect to that intended to be achieved.
THE WAR TRENCHES
Tensions between the Church and the State subside right after the last apparition, which took place on the 13th of October, 1917, when an estimated crowd of 50,000 to 70,000 people witness the so-called “miracle of the sun,” reported in the whole country by one of the most accredited journalists of the time, Avelino de Almeida, sent by the morning newspaper O Século to Cova da Iria.
Here is an excerpt of that report, which became one of the most celebrated of the history of the Portuguese Press:
"We are witnessing a unique and unbelievable spectacle for those who did not witness it. From above the road, where the cars gather and where there are hundreds of people, who lacked the courage to venture into the muddy ground, we see the immense crowd turn towards the sun, which is shown clear of clouds, in the zenith. It resembles a matte silver plate and you can stare at it effortlessly. It does not burn, nor does it blind. It is said to be an eclipse. But then a tremendous cry rang out, and the crowd which is closer can be heard shouting: ‘Miracle, miracle! Wonderful, wonderful!’ At the dazzled eyes of that people, whose attitude transports us to the biblical times and, dumbfounded, bareheaded, face the blue, the sun trembled, the sun had sudden movements never seen before, breaking all cosmic laws – the sun ‘danced,’ according to the typical expression of the peasants...”
Seven weeks later, by remarkable coincidence, the most anticlerical period of the First Republic came to an end. With the Sidónio Pais’ State coup on the 5th of December, 1917, the relations between the political power and the Catholic Church normalise. The Law of Separation was modified and softened. Diplomatic relations with the Holy See were re-established in July 1918, with the arrival in Lisbon of Monsignor Benedetto Masella – later Carmelengo Cardinal – to take Vatican representative functions in Portugal.
On the 29th of July, 1919, in an apostolic letter, Pope Benedict XV finally recognised the Portuguese Republic.
The Portuguese soldiers who fought in the trenches of Flanders in the First World War greatly contributed to this defrosting. These military forces often required the presence of priests as chaplains, in spite of the Separation Law.
It was a clear example of the unsuccessful legal requirements of a State that intended to secularise by force a society that was still heavily Catholic.
SALAZAR AND THE POPE
Unlike what happened in the visit to Bombay, when the Pope graced the Indian President with the highest honor of the Holy See to non-Christians, the Pope did not award any Portuguese politicians. He merely put on the image of the Virgin, in the Chapel of the Apparitions, a silver rosary that he had brought from Rome.
It was clear from the first minute that this was not a State visit. It was the President of the Council who went from Lisbon to Fatima to see the Pope and not the other way around.
Salazar was also very angry when he learned that Paul VI had requested the presence of Sister Lúcia in the grandstand erected in front of the basilica. Along with the official entities.
And he certainly would not have liked the papal homily.
“Everything seems to push the world to brotherhood, to unity; however, among mankind, we still find tremendous and ongoing conflicts. Two main reasons, therefore, make this historical situation of mankind so serious: it has a large arsenal of deadly weapons, but the moral progress does not equal the scientific and technical progress. Moreover, the majority of mankind still finds itself in a state of extreme indigence and hunger, at the same time that it founds itself in it with an awakened and restless conscience of its needs and well-being of others. This is why we say the world is in danger. For this reason, we came to the Queen of Peace’s feet to ask for peace, a gift that only God can give.”
Words uttered by the Supreme Pontiff at a time when Portugal was waging a war on three fronts against nationalist movements in Africa.
GOD AND CAESER
“Firstly, we can only understand well the relationship between Salazar and Paul VI from Salazar’s view of the world and life, who did not accept the Church’s intervention in State affairs. There was a kind of provincial anti-clericalism.” Words of a man who knew the dictator all too well: Adriano Moreira, Secretary of State for Overseas Administration and Minister of Overseas between 1958 and 1962.
In an interview with Rádio Renascença in October 2014, conducted by journalist Aura Miguel, Adriano Moreira stressed: “It is good to understand the separation – unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s – in the judgment of Salazar and to understand that these attitudes reflected Salazar’s conception of the State, as much of it lagged behind the evolution of the world, which led to this shock.”
In the brief hearing of ten minutes that was given to the dictator, according to what he would confide to Franco Nogueira, Paul VI called him “Your Eternity.”
An allusion that cannot be understood without some irony. In that year Salazar completed 39 uninterrupted years in the Government...