Fátima, Altar of the World

The expression “Shrine of the World,” related to Fatima, has been generalised over the years. A documentary from 1956, directed by Carlos Marques, was already titled Fátima, Shrine of the World.

On the 13th of May, 1967, during the first Pope visit to Fatima, among the outstanding crowd gathered in Cova da Iria, there were two famous figures from world cinema: actress Sofia Loren and her husband, producer Carlo Ponti.

Two people between hundreds of thousands who were not there only to see the Pope. They went there also to pray. Sofia and Carlos made a special request to Fatima’s Virgin: they came “looking for the grace of a child,” as reported by Diário de Notícias.

In January 2005, another pivotal figure from the Seventh Art, actor and director Mel Gibson, deliberately travelled to Carmelo de Coimbra to give Sister Lúcia a DVD copy of his film The Passion of the Christ. Two years earlier the Australian filmmaker had visited Cova da Iria, accompanied by his wife and the priest Luís Kondor, the Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Fátima’s Seers, who gathered there in prayer.

In 2010, a Spanish actress and model born in Galiza, Olalla Oliveros, felt an inner call when visiting Fatima, which made her change her life drastically. She was 32 years old. She abandoned the television studios and the fashion runways and became a nun, professing the Order of Saint Michael the Archangel.

Corazón Aquino (1933-2009), who enjoyed an unprecedented popularity as the President of the Philippines, was devoted to Our Lady of Fatima and used to pray the rosary with the one given to her by Sister Lúcia, with whom she was seen in 1922, during a pilgrimage to Cova da Iria which also led her to Carmelo de Coimbra, where she talked with the seer.

These are examples – between so many others which could have been mentioned – of Fatima’s world fame and of the atmosphere and spirituality that one experiences there.

A fame that exceeded Portuguese borders long ago.


The expression “Shrine of the World,” related to Fátima, has been generalised over the years. A documentary from 1956, directed by Carlos Marques, was already titled Fátima, Shrine of the World.

A fundamental milestone in the internationalisation of Fatima was Pope Pius XII’s message, on the 31st of October, 1942: speaking in Portuguese into Rádio Vaticano’s microphones, the Supreme Pontiff consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and thus answering a request from Our Lady of Fatima made on the apparition on the 13th of July, 1917, according to a report from Sister Lúcia.

On the 8th of December, 1942 – in the peak of Second World War – Pius XII renewed theconsecration . In the pilgrimage of the 13th of May, 1946, when the conflict had already ended, the Pope was represented by the carmelengo cardinal Benedetto Masella (1879-1970) in Cova da Iria, who presided the coronation ceremony of Our Lady of Fatima.

With that crown, which had been offered to the Virgin by a vast set of Portuguese women in recognition for the fact that our country had been spared to the scourge of war, the image of Our Lady of Fátima  became what we all know today. Since then, it was kept also as a symbol of peace.


The sculpture of the Virgin Mary only left Fatima 12 times, from the day it was sculpted, in 1920. It went on pilgrimage in Estremadura and Ribatejo in 1946. Later, between October 1946 and January 1947, it passed by Alentejo and Algarve. It visited Madrid, between the 22nd of May and the 2nd of June, 1948, on the occasion of the Diocesan Marian Congress there gathered. From June to August 1951, it covered all parishes from the Diocese of Leiria. And on the 17th of May, 1959, it was exhibited in Lisbon and Almada, coinciding with the inauguration of the monument Christ the King. It returned there half a century later.

It was taken twice to the Vatican. The first time in March 1984, at the request of Pope John Paul II, who offered to the Sanctuary of Fatima the bullet which almost victimised him on the 13th of May 1981, and that would be featured in the image’s crown. The second time in October 2000, deliberately for the Bishops Jubilee, gathered there. On the occasion, John Paul II consecrated the new millennium to Our Lady of Fatima.


The Pilgrim Virgin pilgrimages contributed a lot to the globalisation of Fatima – the replicas of the original statue were conceived with the mission of disseminating the image of Our Lady of Fatima across oceans and continents.

Today, there are twelve images that run across the world: they have already contacted with millions of believers in 64 countries from all around the globe – some of which have been visited several times.

The first pilgrim image is enthroned since 2003 in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, in the Sanctuary of Fatima, and it only leaves the place in specific occasions, answering very significant requests. Between May 2014 and February 2015, it covered the 35 enclosed monasteries – female and male– existing in Portugal, already in the context of the apparitions’ centenary, that will occur in 2017, in a total of 3582 kilometres. In May 2015 it began another pilgrimage, this time through the set of the Portuguese dioceses.

In its absence, image no. 10 is usually featured in the basilica.

Since 2013, image no. 12 has been in Rio de Janeiro and there it will stay until 2017. Image no. 8 was in the Portuguese Oncology Institute, in 2014, for a couple of days. Another ones embark on a continuous journey: after Portugal, Italy is the second most visited country by the pilgrim images of Our Lady of Fatima.

The requests arrive from all over the world: Catholics from several origins want to see the image of the Virgin, in order to fulfil promises or Marian prayers. In such varied locations as Lebanon or Mexico.

Only last year, the images covered about 85 thousand kilometres.The equivalent of more than two laps around the terrestrial globe.



“In the world, Fatima is the best expression from Heaven:” a very suggestive summary made by monsignor Luciano Guerra, who was dean of the Sanctuary of Fatima between 1973 and 2008.

In 2014, 3.209 million pilgrims arrived there, officially registered by the Sanctuary. From 83 countries. Beside the Portuguese people, the visitors from Spain, Brazil, Italy, Poland and the United States stand out.

Not even the Popes, used to great crowds, were unimpressed with the atmosphere they found in Cova da Iria.

Benedict XVI even confessed to D. António Marto, his host as the bishop of Leiria-Fátima in the papal visit of 2010, that “there is not any celebration in Church or a spiritual atmosphere identical to the crowds of Fatima.” The mass celebrated by Benedict XVI was followed by about half a million pilgrims.

With different words, but equally impressive, António José Saraiva, one of the greater Portuguese thinkers of the 20th century, had already spoken in 1985: “Fatima is the last of the great pilgrimages of the western Christianity, still very much alive.”