Sunday, December 4, 2011

Santarem, Portugal

On our drive home from Fatima, we took a short detour to Santarem, Portugal. Santarem is a small town about 45 minutes north of Lisbon. I had never heard of it until about a month before I found out that we were coming to Portugal. I was reading a book, and the book mentioned a Eucharistic Miracle that had occurred in Santarem in the 13th century.

The basic story is this: A husband and wife were living in Santarem, and for some reason (I think that the husband was being unfaithful), the wife decided to seek help from a sorceress. The woman wanted the sorceress to put some sort of a spell on the husband so that he would love her. The sorceress told the woman that she could help, but first, the woman had to bring her a consecrated host. The next time that the woman went to Mass, she received Holy Communion but immediately took the host out of her mouth and put it in a handkerchief. The host started to bleed, and others at the church started to notice the blood, thinking that the woman was hurt. Some tried to see if she was ok, but she ran from the church. When she arrived home, she was frightened so she put the host in a chest in her bedroom. That night, a bright light began shining from the chest, and it woke up the woman and her husband. She told him what she had done. The two of them spent the night kneeling in adoration. The next day, the woman informed the local priest, and he came and took the host back to the church, placing it in a wax reliquary where it continued to bleed for three days.

In 1340, nearly 80 years later, another miracle occurred. When the priest opened the tabernacle, he saw that the wax reliquary which had previously been holding the Sacred Host, had been broken into many pieces. In its place was a beautiful crystal vase. To this day, it is still possible to see this miracle.

When we arrived in Santarem, we didn't really know where to go. The book I had read said that the miracle was in the Church of St. Stephen. I asked a couple of people where that church was, but they didn't know what I was talking about. Finally, I was able to explain that we wanted to see the Eucharistic Miracle. A taxi driver was very helpful and explained that the church is now known simply as the Church of the Miracle. He gave absolutely perfect directions which was very impressive because the church is located on a very narrow street almost hidden between buildings - we never would have found it without help!

When we arrived at the church, we saw pictures and information explaining the miracle. As we were about to enter the church, Jen and I heard people singing in English - and it was a song we knew! We walked in and realized that they were finishing Mass, so we waited quietly in the back. When Mass was over, someone announced that it was possible to walk up the stairs behind the altar to get a closer look at the miracle (all of this was being said in English). We got in line with the group, and as we were waiting, we discovered that the group was on a pilgrimage. Half of the group was from the Philippines, and the other half was from Southern California (specifically Riverside - basically the same area where Jen is from). Jen and some of the other people were talking about where they go to church and different priests they know - such a small world! It was pretty cool that we just happened to be at the church at the same time as this group!

Getting to see this miracle was incredible. Whenever I am able to read about or see something like this, it just really causes me to stop and think about what an indescribable gift we have in the Eucharist. Praise Jesus! :-)

If you want to read more about this miracle, here are two links:

Church of the Most Holy Miracle (Igreja do Milagre)

The words above the altar say: "Surely the Lord is in this place"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day on the Coast

Last week, one of the men that works at our club (he also has sons who play for the club) asked us if we wanted to take a little day trip to Cascais (one of the beach cities near Lisbon). We said yes, but we didn't really discuss many details. He told us that he would pick us up from Alges after our morning practice. I thought that we were just going to go to Cascais and have a lazy afternoon on the beach (and that would have been just fine). It turned out that he had much more planned - and his plans were great! We drove all along the coast, and it was beautiful and relaxing. Parts of the road are very similar to the Pacific Coast Highway so Jen and I sort of felt like we were in California :-)

We first stopped in Cascais, got some ice cream, and walked around for a little bit. Then, we continued driving to a place called Boca do Inferno (translated it means Hell's Mouth). Alfredo told us that this particular place on the coast often gets very severe storms (big waves and strong winds). The rocky cliffs have some caves underneath them, and when the waves get into the caves, a hissing sound comes out from the rocks. Anyways, we stayed there for a while, and then we got back in the car and continued our trip.

Our next stop was a place called Cabo da Roca (Cape of the Rock). We learned that it is the westernmost point of continental Europe. It was beautiful, quiet, and peaceful. I would have been content to just sit there for hours looking at the ocean. We really enjoyed it.

After spending some time there, it was off to our next stop: Azenhas do Mar. This place is very popular in the summer. There is a big pool that is filled up with salt water from the ocean. The day that we were there, the waves were quite strong and were frequently crashing into the pool - you probably wouldn't have wanted to be in the pool on that day :-) Apparently the waves aren't as strong during the summer :-)

Our final stop of our daytrip was Sintra. It is a beautiful city about 20 minutes from where we live. One of our teammates lives there, and people kept telling us that we had to go visit Sintra. It is a very charming little town that feels far removed from a big city (in reality, it's not really that far from Lisbon). We parked the car and walked around for a bit. We went to a pastry shop and had hot chocolate and queijadas. Then, we walked over to the palace for a couple of minutes. We didn't have a whole lot of time because we had to get back for our evening practice. I know there is a lot that we didn't get to see this time, but I'm sure we will go back.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We got to see parts of Portugal that we had not seen yet - it's a beautiful country! I think the fact that we didn't know what the plan was made it even better. Thank you for an amazing day, Alfredo!!! :-)

Beginning of our beautiful day on the coast

Boca Do Inferno (Hell's Mouth)

Jen and Alfredo

Cabo da Roca (Cape of the Rock): This is the westernmost part of mainland Portugal and of continental Europe.

Azenhas do Mar


We went to this little bakery and got hot chocolate and queijadas (a popular pastry in Sintra)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Picture Blog - Fatima

(Jen): When Tina and I found out we were coming to Portugal to play basketball we knew we had to visit Fatima! Tina brought a book called, “Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope”. I have been reading the book to learn more about what exactly happened in Fatima. When we found out our friends from Slovakia were coming to visit, we knew we had to plan a trip to Fatima.

Here's a little bit of information about Fatima for those of you who may not be too familiar with it:

Fatima is a small, Portuguese town located in central Portugal (about an hour and a half north of Lisbon. In the spring of 1916, an angel appeared to 3 young children (Lucia - 10, Francisco - 9, and Jacinta - 7) in the Portuguese village of Fatima. On the first visit, the angel taught the children to pray this prayer: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.” On the second visit, the angel encouraged the children to pray and offer sacrifices in reparation for sin. On the third and final visit, the angel brought Holy Communion to the three children. The angel's visits were meant to be preparation for Mary's visits the following year.

In May 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three children. They described her as being dressed in white and shining brighter than the sun. In total, Mary appeared to the children six times. Each time she came, she encouraged the children to pray for souls that were going to hell.

During the July 13 visit Mary shared three secrets with the children. The first was a vision of hell. The second was a prediction about the end of the war and a warning about another World War and the role of Russia. The third was a vision of the assassination attempt on the life of a pope.

During one of her previous visits, Mary told the children that her final visit would be accompanied by a miracle so that all would believe. On October 13, 1917, 70,000 people gathered in the Cova da Iria (the place where the Fatima sanctuary is located today). These people witnessed what secular and government sources called 'The Miracle of the Sun.' People saw the sun spinning in the sky and then saw it break loose and zig-zag towards the earth, looking as if it was going to fall upon the people.

To someone who has never heard of the Church’s approval of the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, the events that took place may seem unbelievable. “Yet, the apparitions – and their culmination with the Miracle of the Sun was witnessed by more than 70,000 and testified by even secular journalists. Not only that, but events predicted at Fatima did come to pass in the years after the visions.”

There is much more that we could say about this, but hopefully this summary helps a little. If you want to learn more about it, you can go to this website:

Trying to figure out how to get to Fatima. We had reserved a rental car, but upon arriving at the rental car location, we found out that we could not rent it because none of us had a credit card. Then we looked up some bus schedules to see if that was a possibility. In the end, we ended up renting a car from a different company who said that it was ok that we didn't have a credit card.

Our car was a 'Fiat' - very appropriate! When the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would become the Mother of God, her response (translated into Latin) was "Fiat," which means "Let it be done unto me."

Jen and her scapular. On one side of the scapular there is a picture of Jesus, and on the other side there is a picture of Mary.

Our driver, Marek, getting focused and ready for the trip.

We felt really safe with Marek driving. Here he is sleeping at the wheel! :-)

Fatima straight ahead!

We were heading into some pretty dark storm clouds! It was raining very hard as we got closer to Fatima, and we were thinking, "Uh oh. This might not be too fun to walk around outside in this weather."

It stopped raining just as we arrived which was a nice surprise! :-) This is a picture of Jen and me with Pope Pius XII. There are statues of all of the popes who took pilgrimages to Fatima. Pope Pius XII was the pope during WWII, and he was a courageous defender of the Jews and a powerful voice against the evils of Nazi Germany.

The Church of the Holy Trinity

Jen and Katka

Inside the Church of the Holy Trinity

If you look at the front of the altar, you will see a rectangle that looks lit up. There are words (I believe it's Latin) and a piece of something that I could not identify. When I went home and translated the words, it said that it was a small piece of stone from the grave of St. Peter!

They were trying to take a picture like the 3 children of Fatima - Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta.

Jen standing in front of the Church of the Holy Trinity with the Basilica in the distance

Church of the Holy Trinity

Jen standing in the middle of the Sanctuary of Fatima. In the direction that Jen is facing is the Church of the Holy Trinity. Behind her (in the direction that I, the photographer, am facing) is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. To the left of the picture is the Chapel of the Apparitions, the place where Mary actually appeared to the children on several occasions.

The Chapel of Apparitions. It's not the best picture, but if you look at the statue of Mary, you will see that it's set on top of a white pillar. The pillar marks the exact place where Mary appeared to the 3 children in 1917.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. The long blue sign that stretches out in front of the basilica says: "Most Holy Trinity, I adore you profoundly." These were some of the words that the angel taught the children to pray.

Inside the basilica

All of the paintings and stained glass windows in this basilica depict events from the Marian apparitions in Fatima.

The bodies of the 3 children (Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta) are buried in the basilica. Here are the tombs of the two girls. Francisco is buried on the other side of the church. All 3 children have been beatified.

A picture taken from the steps of the basilica showing the whole sanctuary of Fatima. This is what was known as the Cova da Iria before the apparitions. This is where Mary appeared, and this is where the 70,000 people gathered to witness the Miracle of the Sun.

A statue depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus

An assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II occurred on May 13, 1981, as Mary had predicted. After he had recovered, Pope John Paul II had the bullet sent to Fatima. The Bishop of Fatima placed the bullet inside the crown of the statue of our Lady of Fatima where it remains today.