Our job is to accept God's peace, to live it, and to spread it, not with words, but with our lives.
I had just woken up in a simple rustic cabin that was beautifully decorated in soft pastel colors. Lovely pink quilts covered the twin beds. Next to each bed was a pine nightstand covered in feminine white lace. On the nightstand next to my bed was a clear crystal vase filled with white and yellow daisies, a photograph of Yogananda, and a small basket with a white lace ribbon tied on one handle, and a purple and green ribbon tied on the opposite handle. It was filled with jellybeans and chocolate kisses that were left over from Easter.
This was my second day of a personal retreat at Ananda Village. It was exquisitely quiet except for the morning chorus given by the larks and sparrows. Because I was in seclusion, my breakfast was delivered to me. I picked up my tray of pancakes and orange juice that was sitting on a chair on the front porch. Lying next to it was a flier with a picture depicting the Virgin Mary. Drinking my fresh squeezed orange juice, I began reading the flyer. It spoke about a spiritual pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes where apparitions of the Virgin Mary once appeared and Medjugorje where apparitions of the Virgin Mary were presently appearing. I put down the flyer, took a couple of bites of pancakes, and prepared myself for meditation. I had a hard time quieting my mind. My mind was full of thoughts about Mary, who was a stranger to me.
I put on my white tennis shoes and went for a long walk in the woods trying to clear my thoughts and my heart, which seemed to be pulled by some invisible force--Mary. Being Jewish, and practicing yoga as my spiritual discipline, I knew nothing about Mary except for the fact that she was Jesus' mother. The feeling that I must see her was confusing, mysterious, and quite overwhelming.
I did not know how I could possibly join this pilgrimage. I just started a new job and had very little money put aside, but as the legend goes: “When Mary calls you, miracles happen.” I had been with the company for only six months, when I was able to take three and one-half weeks off with pay, and an anonymous person loaned me $3500 for the trip. It would take me five years to realize why Mary came into my life.
This pilgrimage almost didn't happen because there was a lack of interest. But thank goodness, there were ten of us that somehow made it go right. Because I was still suffering with the phobia of crowds, traveling with a small group would make it somewhat easier on me. Even though I gained so much from my trip to India, I swore I would never travel overseas again until the phobia was handled, but once again, the pull of Spirit overrode my pain and anguish.
Danny, a minister at Ananda Village (who was a former Rabbi) and Karen, his new Italian wife who was also a minister, were in charge of the tour. Danny was a wonderful guide with his great sense of humor and high energy. Karen was a good balance with her quiet, calming demeanor.
Fatima June 7, 1988.We began our journey in Fatima, Portugal where the apparitions of Mary began in the year of 1917. We landed in Lisbon and took a forty-five minute bus ride to Fatima. As we approached Fatima, I could feel a calmness envelop me. It was more beautiful than I ever imagined: lush rolling green hills flourishing with yellow, purple, and blue wildflowers. It looked what I imagined a fairyland would look like.
After unpacking and resting a bit at the Hotel Regina, we took a walk through the breathtaking countryside to the slopes of the Loca do Cabeco. This is where the first and third apparition of an Angel appeared to three children: Lucia dos Santos, age ten, Francisco Marto going on age nine, and his sister Jacinta Marto, age seven. One day as the children were playing a strong wind came forth and then a bright light came towards them. In Lucia's memoirs she said, "…a light, whiter than snow, in the form of a young man, transparent, and brighter than crystal pierced by the rays of the sun.”1
The angel said, "Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me."2 Lucia said he knelt down and touched his head to the ground and had them repeat the following words three times: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!"3 As he rose, he told the children, "Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications."4
We stepped off the dirt path and on to a cobblestone road lined with olive trees. Surrounded by large stones stood white marble statues of the three children kneeling down in front of the angel in prayer. The angel was standing on a pedestal holding a chalice in his left hand and the Host in his right hand. The energy field was incredible, and it instantaneously took us into a deep meditation.
During the third apparition the chalice the angel was holding was collecting drops of blood that was dripping from the Host. He gave the Sacred Host to Lucia and offered the blood to Jacinta and Francisco saying, "Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God."5
June 8. We started our day with a morning meditation at the Chapel built on the very spot where the Virgin Mary first appeared to the children on May 13, 1917. The children said they saw “a Lady all of light”6 above a small holmoak tree in the Cova da Iria. The lady asked them to return there on the 13th of each month to pray the Rosary in honor of Our Lady and for world peace. This was during World War I, which was a very dark time in the lives of the European people. Millions of Europeans suffered and lost their lives.
We meditated in front of a white statue of Mary that was high upon a pedestal. Looking up at her gold crown, I whispered internally, “Who is this woman I know so little about that causes my heart to sting with the yearning for Spirit?”
The ten of us then walked over to the Basilica where we found the burial sites of Francisco and Jacinta. They are buried in the side-chapels on either side of the High Altar. Red, white, pink carnations, red roses, tiger lilies, and purple bougainvillea’s covered their marble coffins like a quilted bedcover. One couldn't help being touched by this show of reverence.
On July 13, 1917, at the third apparition of Mary, Lucia asked the Lady if she would take her and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta back to heaven with her. The Lady replied that she would be taking her cousins soon but that Lucia had to stay in the world, because there was a purpose for her to fulfill. The prophecies came to be. Francisco died on April 4, 1919 of influenza, and Jacinta's death came shortly, thereafter, on February 20, 1920. She also died from influenza. In the year of 1935, the bodies of both children were examined and Jacinta's body was perfectly preserved, although Francisco's remains were not. Jacinta's body was reexamined in 1951, and it still remained in a state of perfect preservation.
Throughout the Basilica are stained glass windows showing the various scenes of the apparitions. Above the High Altar in between four pillars hung an extraordinary painting of Mary coming down to greet the three young children. To the left of the altar was a statue of Mary made of white marble with gold edgings on her cape and one gold star on her dress. There was a rosary around her hands that were in a prayer pose. This sculpture was created under the direction of Lucia, who is now a Catholic nun. This was how Lucia remembered her when she appeared to her and the other two children urging their devotion to her Immaculate Heart.
After a breakfast of eggs and croissants, we walked to Aljustrel to visit the homes of the seers. We entered Francisco and Jacinta's very small and simple house that had plywood floors and ceilings. Francisco's room had cracks in the white plastered walls that hung pictures of Mary, a photograph of Francisco in a prayer pose, and a group photograph of Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia with their hands held together as in prayer. These photographs hung above his twin bed that was covered in a pink and white bedspread with two white pillows. There were coins and paper money lying on top of the bed, presumably left by spiritual seekers. On the adjoining wall was an alcove where artificial flowers were kept in a vase. There were two wooden chairs and a wooden chest, where we sat down to meditate for a few moments.
In silence we walked to Jacinta's room. It was also quite small with places where the plaster was cracking. Above her bed was a rosary, and next to it in a glass cabinet framed in wood was a wooden crucifix. A clear light bulb protruded out of the wall above it. On the other wall was a painting of Jacinta with a blue flower in her hair that touched her very serious face. Her twin bed was covered in a white bedspread with one long white pillow and a small square pillow embroidered with the words, Ave Maria. We stood in the room and closed our eyes and meditated for a few moments, before we left to go to Lucia's home.
I was a bit dizzy or rather in an altered state from the energy in their home. It was obvious to me that there was a lot of passionate praying going on in that home.
I was very disappointed when we came to Lucia's house, because it was recently remodeled. The vibrations just weren't there. It was just an empty house.
We walked into Lucia's garden where the second apparition of the angel appeared to the children. They were playing by the well when the angel said: "What are you doing? Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High."7
There was a woman clothed in the traditional black dress and black headdress giving water from the well to the pilgrims. I couldn't help notice her face, a familiar face that I would see over and over again in Fatima. A face with skin that looked like weather-beaten leather, one that has known poverty, hard work, sacrifice, and the intensities of life. What saddened me was the lack of joy on their faces.
Before returning to the hotel, we filled our bottles with holy water from a spring near the chapel. The spring was discovered four years after the apparitions. During that time many people prayed deeply to Mary asking her to make water available for them, because thousands of pilgrims had been coming and water was so labor intensive to bring in.
June 9. At 7:00 a.m. we gathered outside the hotel and did energization exercises. We then walked over to the Basilica for a one-hour meditation. Before leaving the church, we again looked at the extraordinary stained glass windows of the apparitions and the Stations of the Cross.
The one depicting the “Miracle of the Sun” that took place in the Cova da Iria captivated us. This is how the story goes: It was pouring rain on October 13, 1917 when seventy thousand people arrived in the Cova da Iria, some believers, some nonbelievers, and many journalists trying to uncover the truth about these so called apparitions that only the children could see. Mary told the children that she wanted a chapel to be built there in her honor and to pray the Rosary. She then held out her hands and reflected the sun.
Before long the sun danced in the sky, and then it would stop, then again it would dance. For the last time, it stood perfectly still again, and then with lightening speed it fell from the sky. People panicked and many prayed for help. The drama climaxed as the sun took its normal place in the sky. The spectators that were soaking wet from the rain were now completely dry. This was to be the final apparition.
After breakfast we went to a grocery store and bought some French bread, cheese, and fruit for a picnic we planned to have that afternoon at the Loca do Cabeco.
On our way to the Loca do Cabeco we stopped in Valinhos and paid our respects to Mary at a monument that was built for her in memory of the fourth Apparition that had taken place on August 19th, 1917. The children had been very sad, because they were not able to keep their appointment with her a few days before. The authorities had taken them to the Town Hall for harsh questioning about their visions. Their sadness vanished when Mary appeared to them on this day. She told them, "Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”8
We meditated for a half-hour and then walked onto the Loca do Cabeco, back to the sight where the angel first appeared to the children. It was now raining and I loved it, feeling even closer to nature. There was something quite special about sitting on this rich soil that was surrounded by thriving olive trees, bright pink wildflowers, beautiful grand stones, and knowing and feeling that something quite phenomenal had happened here. I loved the simplicity and the purity of this setting, and how appropriate it was for Danny to suggest that we perform a purification ceremony. We all sat down and began chanting, until we were drawn into silent meditation. Covering our heads with our umbrellas, we walked over to Danny and Karen and received a blessing. I felt such joy at that moment and, indeed, felt purified.
When we walked back to the village, I remember saying to myself, “This village is so beautiful and so very blessed. You will remain in my heart forever.”
June 10. It was 1:00 a.m. and I couldn't sleep, so I walked over to the cathedral. People were sleeping in the coves below the Stations of the Cross. I walked into the chapel and noticed the statue of Mary was not there. The next day I found out that at night they always remove it. The lights were too bright and it was too noisy for me to meditate. There was also a drunk breathing down my neck, so I left and walked around a bit more before returning to the hotel.
I was extremely fortunate that there were very few people in Fatima on this day when the “Celebration of the Children” began. This was a day in which we separated from the group and went our own way. I walked back to Valinhos and meditated by Our Lady. I then went for a long walk enjoying a glorious day in the country. I walked past a grazing goat and sat myself right in the middle of a field of wildflowers. Long stems of green grass engulfed my body, as did the purple, pink, yellow, and blue flowers. I sat there in bliss eating a red apple. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, a buzzing bumblebee ended my ecstasy.
I was a bit hesitant to walk to the "tourists" places because of all the people arriving for the celebration, but since the bee chased me out of my safe haven, I decided to go the sacred well and check it out. Thousands of people were expected in, but there was no one there at that time except for a few children. After a minute I saw one of my travel companions, Terrie, an extremely pretty young woman, small framed, with naturally rosy cheeks, and a beautiful smile. We sat on the well and meditated briefly and then she went on. I drank from the well and put some water in a bottle to take with me.
I felt very drawn to return to Jacinta and Francisco's home and was thrilled when no one was there except for the owners. They graciously invited me in, and I was able to have long and deep meditations in each of their rooms--undisturbed. The energy in their rooms was incredible.
I purchased some books from the guardians and genuinely thanked them for letting me stay so long. To be honest, I think they forgot I was there. On the way back to the hotel mobs of people were picnicking on the sides of the road.
The Message of Fatima pleads with sinners to stop offending God, to seek pardon for their sins and to amend their lives. Mary asks for all to pray wholeheartedly and to make sacrifices for sinners, so they will not suffer eternal damnation in Hell. I feel a lot of what Mary said was in the language of those times.
Even though I do not share many of the beliefs of Catholicism, such as eternal Hell in the literal sense, I was deeply moved and swept up by the history of this place. When I went into the homes of the children, and walked across the fields where Mary appeared, I was taken back in time. I felt their presence and their intense love and devotion to God. I was quite taken by the hundreds of pilgrims saying the rosary fervently over and over again. I couldn't help wonder what ached in their hearts as they steadfastly counted their beads and prayed for a miracle. And wondered what I, not even knowing what the rosary meant at that time, was doing there.