ROME, DEC. 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Pope John Paul II visited the shrine of Fatima three times, and the rector of the pilgrimage site hopes that Benedict XVI will visit as soon as next year.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Luciano Guerra, rector of the shrine since 1973, speaks of the new challenges facing the pilgrimage site, and his hopes for a papal visit.
Q: What has been your experience as rector of the Fatima Shrine for more than 30 years?
Father Guerra: The experience has been very positive. Fatima is a place where one scarcely notices a crisis. Today there is an atmosphere of crisis in the civil and religious world. At Fatima, we virtually have no crisis. The number of pilgrims has increased and I think it will continue to do so. Therefore, it is a really positive experience and I thank God for it.
Q: And in regard to the relationship with pilgrims?
Father Guerra: As priests, we are in constant contact with pilgrims. It is lovely to see how pilgrims like Fatima because of the environment and because they have the possibility of living intense times of prayer, so they return many times. We have foreign pilgrims who have returned to Fatima dozens of times because they feel well here and rarely there is a serious complaint. Obviously, there are also defects and difficulties, but the pilgrims’ reactions are very positive.
Q: Many faithful go to the shrine who no longer attend the Sunday Eucharist. Can we understand this fact as a search for spirituality?
Father Guerra: Indeed it is. They are people who have abandoned their commitment to the Church for historical or other reasons, but I am convinced that as people leave the Church they also begin to realize their loneliness. They are without the protection of an institution that has as its main motto to honor and glorify God and to work for salvation from all the human being’s points of view.
I think that a place of pilgrimage is a place where a person not only satisfies a personal desire for relationship with God, but ends up by perceiving that communion with brothers is essential, and that without it there cannot be true religion.
Q: Our Lady of Fatima is known throughout the world. What is the present importance of the Fatima message for the Church and the world?
Father Guerra: Its timeliness is revealed precisely in the interest that people manifest in Fatima. Of course there is a general interest that comes from the fact that Our Lady appeared there in modern times. All that is entailed in a supernatural apparition is a rejuvenation of the faith starting from its own foundations, namely, the existence of God, of Our Lady, the place of Jesus Christ. Moreover, there is the fact that God is with us and manifests his love for us.
I think this is the main and fundamental reason of the Fatima message. It is God. Those who are really convinced that Fatima is true, are convinced that God exists. Once we are convinced that God exists, as St. Teresa would say: “God alone suffices!”
Q: John Paul II visited the Fatima shrine three times: in 1982, 1991 and 2000. In your opinion, what was the contribution of John Paul II’s visits to the shrine?
Father Guerra: I think the main contribution was above all his having carried out the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary together with the bishops of the world, as he was asked from the point of view of the message. Then it was his profound conviction that he was really saved by Our Lady’s intervention, given that it was on May 13, the day of Our Lady’s invocation.
Once again we return to the experience, to the awareness of the presence of God in our lives. John Paul II was consistent in his manifestation of a great love for Fatima because he was convinced that Our Lady wished to manifest to him, with the force of the message, with the force of her presence in Fatima, that she was beside him.
Q: Looking at the future, what activities and projects do you have in mind?
Father Guerra: I don’t have any long-term plans. I think the main plan is to continue to receive pilgrims adequately. It is true that pilgrims are increasingly sensitive to climates and environments of prayer and silence. As we make a great appeal to adoration of the Most Blessed Trinity, in addition of course to Marian devotion and worship of the Most Holy Eucharist, I think that the future of the shrine lies in encouraging pilgrims to be ever more recollected in adoration of God, of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Most Blessed Trinity. Therefore, it means emphasis on formation and essential expression of the faith.
Q: In the area of social communication, is the shrine’s magazine The Voice of Fatima now known? Do you think this is an important means to make the shrine known?
Father Guerra: We have never been very strong in the area of social communication. We also have a Web page which we intend to nourish. I think it is one of the factors that the shrine must resolve in the future.
Today the means of social communication are essential, despite the fact of knowing that there might be a risk of alienation on our part. I think we must always seek our neighbor, and the person who could come into contact with us through a means of social communication is a very relative neighbor.
Therefore, the Church must attempt to form communities of people that live near one another, and can express their community experience and Christ’s action in them. In any case, above all from the point of view of pre-evangelization, for a proclamation capable of awakening a certain interest and sympathy, I think that the means of communication are, in fact, important.
Q: What are your thoughts on Benedict XVI’s relationship with the Fatima shrine?
Father Guerra: Without a doubt, he has a very great relationship with the shrine. Not only because he has visited prior to being Pope, but also because he wrote that commentary [cf. “Theological Commentary to the Third Secret of Fatima,” by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, edn]. It was not a decision of little value, even admitting that it was requested by John Paul II.
I frankly hope that Benedict XVI will go to Fatima. I would very much like him to go as early as next year for the inauguration of the church of the Most Holy Trinity and, if possible, for the canonization of the children.