FR. MICHAEL WRITES:-
The Chapel of the Shrine of the Apparitions at Fatima, from whence I have just returned with parishioners after a fulfilling pilgrimage, is the focus of most of the devotion of the millions of pilgrims who visit Fatima each year. The great events, such as the Torchlight Procession, might cover a lot more of the grounds in the Fatima complex, but most of them seem to begin and end at the Apparitions Chapel. This is hardly surprising given that the chapel locates the place where Our Lady mostly appeared to the three little children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, a hundred years ago this year, two of whom are to be canonised by Pope Francis in a fortnight’s time when he arrives in Fatima. Also unsurprising is that shrine itself within the chapel has a designated wall against which the faithful can place their floral offerings as well as their petitions. Shrine attendants place the petitions through a letterbox but the flowers, hundreds of bouquets, may be directly placed by the devout. What was surprising about this arrangement was that shrine officials had obviously found it necessary to put up a large and somewhat fiercely printed sign by the flowers which read: ‘These flowers are offerings to Our Lady. Please do not remove them. Thank you.’ It seemed to me such an odd if ironically enjoyable juxtaposition of the best and worst in human nature to be found even in pilgrims to a shrine of the Mother of God who, presumably, were seeking her intercession for graces for themselves, their loved ones and/or the world, while they were also making off with some of her flowers. And yet, look at the same juxtaposition of the best and the worst in human nature in St Peter’s accompanying Jesus in His Passion and Resurrection. One apparently small detail in today’s Gospel, which is about so much else and all of it so rich, refers to what I imagine must have been one of the most important moments of St Peter’s life. Jesus’ companions, excited to break the good news to the two others who had just returned from Emmaus, say “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon”. He had appeared to Simon Peter on Easter Day itself, just days since Peter had denied Jesus three times even as he had professed hours earlier that he would die for Him. They had parted on those terms and Peter had wept bitterly. Peter might have dreaded meeting the risen Lord but his fears will soon have been overcome by Jesus’ overwhelming love and commitment to Peter. We too are healed of the wounds of our sins, of the complexity and inconsistency of the interplay between what is good and bad within us, by His love and commitment to us, if we seek to encounter Him. Let us recognise His presence in the breaking of the bread.