It didn’t start off too well as we were delayed leaving San Francisco by three hours. We were already on the plane about to take off and something happened. The pilot said there was a problem with the steering. We waited on the tarmac for three hours while the mechanics repaired what needed to be fixed. It’s a good thing we had asked the travel agent to give us more time in Frankfurt to connect to the flight to Bilbao; otherwise, we would have missed the connection. So after 14 hours (11 hours flying time and 3 hours waiting), we arrived in Frankfurt with an hour and a half to spare to go through immigration and security, and walk to the departure gate for Bilbao.
From Bilbao we rode the tour bus, enjoying the lush mountains of Cantabria, Spain before arriving in the hamlet of Garabandal. With population of 50 it is like a ghost town in winter; but the number spikes up to 300 for the rest of the year.
The Rosary is prayed at 7:00 p.m. every day at the church in Garabandal, a tradition for the past 500 years. Garabandal is the town where four children had a number of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin from July 2, 1961 to November 13, 1965. The children were told that a future miracle would happen at the grove of pine trees on a bluff overlooking the village of Garabandal. To get to the pine trees, we had to climb the steep and craggy hill, crossing and jumping over rocks and boulders, and at the same time praying the Stations of the Cross. This challenging path was a constant reminder of what Jesus went through before he was crucified.
Nearby is the Santo Toribio de Liebana Monastery, founded before the 6th Century. The monastery safeguards what is believed to be the biggest surviving piece of the Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified, known as Lignum Crucis or Wood of the True Cross, brought from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by Saint Turibius of Astorga.
Next stop is the famous Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James. St. James’ remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem where he had been beheaded, and were buried in Santiago de Compostela. There are dozens of pilgrim routes to Compostela, and depending on which route you take, it could be months or years to finish. The most popular route starts in Biarritz, France to Santiago, Spain and encompasses 500 miles. It would take about 30 to 35 days, assuming you walk between 23 to 27 kilometers a day. People walking the Camino do so for their spiritual growth. Of course, there are also hiking and biking enthusiasts, as well as tour groups like ours, who traverse the path. Today, on Day 5, we are going through the forest for only a three-mile hike. Thank God!
Day 6 brings us to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Lisbon has a population of about three million and is situated along the Atlantic coast. It is the oldest city in Western Europe. The city borrowed something from San Francisco –- the Golden Gate Bridge –- or the 25th of April Bridge as it is known in Lisbon. It is the oldest bridge across the Tagus River of Lisbon.
It is in Portugal where Fatima is located, the parish where three shepherd children witnessed several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in 1917, making this year, 2017, its 100th anniversary. The children were Lucia de Jesus, aged 10, and her cousins, Francisco, 9, and Jacinta, 7. Our Lady’s message at that time was to pray for world peace.
On the 13th of May 1917 as the brochure relates: About midday, after praying the rosary, as was their custom, they were amusing themselves building a little wall of stones scattered around the place where the Basilica now stands. Suddenly, they saw a brilliant light, and thinking it to be lightning, they decided to go home. But as they went down the slope, another flash lit up the place, and they saw on the top of a holmoak (where the Chapel of the Apparitions now stand), “a Lady more brilliant than the sun,” from whose hands hung a rosary. The Lady told the three little shepherds that it was necessary to pray much, and She invited them to return to Cova da Iria during five consecutive months, on the 13th day at that hour.
The whole area where the apparitions first occurred has been transformed into a sacred city with the Church of the Apparitions, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, where the tombs of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta are housed, other chapels, a bookshop and a museum. The plaza can hold thousands of people.
Lucia became a nun and died on February 13, 2005. She is buried at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, next to Jacinta and Francisco, who both died at around the age of 11 from an illness,.
After two weeks, this spiritual journey has ended. Our group of 18 pilgrims is on their way home, 2 to Manila and 16 to San Francisco. One of the pilgrims describes the experience as creating a spiritual community where members can share their religious and spiritual thoughts, feelings and experiences with one another and at the same time meet new friends. “The bond is so much deeper,” she says.