A Diary: Our Two Days with the Pope
April 26, 2017
Just prior to leaving for Lisbon, I saw that Fatima (80 miles away) was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s appearance to three children. I was elated when I discovered that Pope Francis was coming to celebrate the centenary, as well as to canonize two of the children — while we were in Portugal!
I remember the joy we felt when Cardinal Bergoglio was chosen Pope. Aside from the fact that he picked the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi (Frank’s patron saint), and that the bishops had elected a Jesuit (we’re big fans!), we were awed by this man’s devotion and humility. Pope Francis radiated kindness and we agreed, “This is just what the world needs right now.”
I knew seeing Pope Francis would seriously make Frank’s whole life so I needed to make this happen.
The online site for the Papal visit was confusing. There seemed to be no tickets and anyone who wanted to go just had to show up. That would no doubt be a madhouse as they were expecting over one million people. Time to try another route. The Fatima website provided an option for press passes. I submitted our information, along with the required letter of accreditation from a local publication, for consideration. And then we waited. And waited.
May 10, 2017
It’s two days before the Pope’s visit. I’m thinking that our pilgrimage is not meant to be. This afternoon, I receive an email from Santuario de Fatima!
“Prezado Sr.(a) ROBIN AND FRANK BUSALACCHI
Temos a alegria de lhe comunicar que o seu pedido de acreditação foi autorizado…
“Dear ROBIN AND FRANK BUSALACCHI We are pleased to inform you that your application for accreditation has been authorized …
Wow! We immediately rush to secure bus tickets – leave early Friday afternoon to witness the Pope’s arrival, return Saturday afternoon after the Papal Mass. At this late date, no hotels were available so we planned to sleep in some corner or pull an all-nighter. I asked Frank if he was up for it. “Are you kidding? This is better than box seats for the seventh game of the World Series!”
May 12, 2017
8am – Frank is like a kid on Christmas morning. He blinks the lights on and off, “We’re going to see the Pope today!!!!”
We pack jam sandwiches, some hardboiled eggs and water, unsure of what to expect in the next 30 hours. A million people? What does that even look like? How close do you think we will we get? We agree — whatever happens, this is going to be phenomenal!
1pm – The Lisbon bus station is orderly and not unreasonably busy. Our comfy coach bus carries a mingling of ages and nationalities. We pass miles of parked cars as we near Fatima but there are no delays.
3pm – The bus drops us off two blocks from the Shrine. People are lining the streets in anticipation of the motorcade. Tents are pitched in fields outside the venue.
We follow signs to an adjacent building, pass the crowded Clergy Accredidation line and arrive at the Media Accredidation room. As we retrieve our press passes, the staff gives us directions to a dedicated press area and offers us coupons for a two-day press-only meal package (Cooked warm food? Goodbye jam sandwiches!).
3:30pm – From the sparsely populated outer square, we turn the corner and come upon a wall of humanity! The Shrine arena holds four to 500,000. The crowd is overflowing along the perimeters and into the streets. There’s a festival atmosphere – people singing, praying and stubbornly staking a claim to their spots. We struggle to push our way through the unwavering throng to the far, opposite-end of the venue.
4:15pm – Frank and I finally arrive at the pressroom. It’s a beehive of activity but there are chairs, couches, Internet and room to breathe! We walk outside to find a spot from which to watch. The press area is spacious with many open, unobstructed views, isolated from the masses pressed up against the fences like sardines. With the Church as a backdrop, in a word, this area is Heaven!
5:10pm – It’s hard to describe how we feel looking out over this flock of half-a-million fellow Christians, all awaiting the arrival of our beloved spiritual leader. Cheers erupt as the Pope’s helicopter flies over and as his approaching motorcade is viewed on the jumbotrons.
5:35pm – The crowd enthusiastically explodes when “Papa Francisco” enters the arena in the Popemobile! The excitement is electrifying and we can’t believe we are part of this mass euphoria. The noise is deafening as he passes through the crowd to the Chapel of Apparitions. Then something truly unpredictable happens. The moment the Pope kneels before the statue of the Blessed Mother, the crowd goes completely silent. It is absolutely surreal.
Pope Francis has such a deep devotion to Mary and, although we are far away, we can feel it. He places the traditional golden rose at the base of the statue.
The volume rises when the Pope does. He prays with the crowd, who sing back their response. We don’t understand Portuguese but recognize the homage to Mary, “Ave O dulcis Virgo Maria” and “Salve Regina Rosarii Fatimae.” In prayer, he urges the faithful to follow in the footsteps of the young shepherds and spread peace, even in times of war. “We will tear down all walls and cross every frontier, as we go out to every periphery, to make known God’s justice and peace.”
Back in the Popemobile, the pilgrims applaud and wave as Pope Francis exits — so much spirituality and so much joy.
9:30pm – We thought what we experienced this afternoon could never be eclipsed. We were wrong.
Close your eyes and imagine a giant glowing rosary enveloped in a sea of several thousand candles flickering in the moonlight. You are standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers and the smell of burning candle wax permeates the crisp night air. And then you listen. The soothing voice of our Pope conveys a message of mercy and forgiveness. He explains the importance of a relationship with Mary, which will lead us closer to Jesus.
The Pope sits facing her statue and the Rosary begins. Various individuals recite the decades in ten different languages. It is a magical night, clearly illustrating that although we are many and different, here we are united as one.
Prayers and masses continue throughout the night. The air is getting colder. Thankfully for us, the pressroom is open all night. We grab and share a couch and try to get some rest.
May 13, 2017
6:15am – The sun is just beginning to rise. The temperature is in the low 40s and the arena is still half full. I truly admire the devotion and perseverance of those who stayed through the night. Seeing them, it’s incredibly ungracious to find fault with the pressroom’s bright fluorescent lighting and our pretzel-like jockeying for comfort. Frank and I were inside. We were fortunate to get some snug, uninterrupted sleep.
I set up our spot and return inside to warm up.
9:15am – The arena is full and the sun is warming things up. The choir sings as the Blessed Virgin statue is carried through the jubilant crowd to the outdoor altar in front of the Basilica. She is preceded by a parade of white-robed bishops, who take their seats.
10am – Pope Francis is escorted down the steps from the Basilica to the altar. He begins the Rite of Canonization. What an honor and privilege it is to witness the proclamation of Christianity’s two newest saints, Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto!
Although it’s in Portuguese, when the “regular” Mass begins, we are able to grasp what’s happening. The cantor is a nun with the voice of an angel. The intentions, like the rosary the night before, are done in various languages.
Frank and I wonder how and if communion could be distributed to so many people. It was and how they did it was pretty slick. First, dozens of priests lined up, exited a side door, and then each returned with a chalice. After the “Lamb of God,” young people in vestments were handed white umbrellas and paired with priests. The duos disbursed throughout the arena and shared communion with all who wished to receive.
When Mass is over, the Pope observes the Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament and then retreats to give a special blessing to the sick. Upon his return, the bishops exit the altar and the procession of the Mary statue begins again.
The sea that is the crowd now has “white caps” as the faithful wave white cloths while she returns to the Chapel of Apparitions. We look up and the Pope is waving one, too! The sight is spectacular!
When Mary is “home,” the Pope quietly and without fanfare, leaves the altar. We are not surprised. This Pope, who we so adore, is a humble man. He wants us to realize that this day (or the last two days) is not about him.
It’s about two faith-filled children who saw the Mother of Heaven. It’s about Mary who came to remind us that “God’s light dwells within us and protects us.” Finally, it’s about all of us, “rediscovering the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.”