FATIMA, Portugal (ChurchMilitant.com) - In an unprecedented flexing of military muscle, thousands of Portuguese soldiers surrounded the shrine of Fátima to prevent pilgrims from entering the holy sanctuary of Our Lady.
Portugal's government launched Operation "Fátima at Home" Monday at 9 a.m. through Wednesday, stationing 3,500 troops from the National Republican Guard (GNR) to "monitor, sensitize and deter possible movements, whether on foot or in a vehicle," GNR Director of Operations Vítor Rodrigues told Rádio Renascença.
For the first time in history, the May 13 services marking the 103rd anniversary of Our Lady's first apparition to Lúcia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto at Cova da Iria will be held without the presence of pilgrims, due to the Wuhan virus pandemic.
Rodrigues welcomed the "fantastic collaborative posture" of the Episcopal Conference of Portugal, with whom the GNR has been working "for many weeks." He assured the public there would be no "need for military force" to besiege the shrine as "the Catholic community is peaceful," and usually does not cause problems.
"The 'siege' of the sanctuary of Fátima by the National Republican Guard is a scandal equal to the closure of the pools of Lourdes due to the coronavirus," Italy's leading Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei told Church Militant.
"The moral culpability of the scandal, however, does not fall on the Portuguese military, but on the ecclesiastical authorities who offered, and even collaborated with the civil authorities to prevent pilgrims from accessing the sanctuary on May 13," Prof. de Mattei maintained.
"Today's spirit of submission to the world and its powers by the bishops, not only Portuguese, suggests that in the future these very churchmen will be ready to submit to Islam, willing to live under Sharia and total subordination to those who would like to make Europe the land of Muhammad," the director of the Lepanto Foundation said.
Author of 30 books, de Mattei warned that "it was in Fátima [that the] the Blessed Virgin asked for private and public prayer and penance to ward off the punishments hanging over the world. The ban on Catholic faithful from publicly showing their devotion to Our Lady in her sanctuary brings the hour of these punishments closer, perhaps already begun with the Wuhan virus."
"Even the anti-clerical government of 1917 did not take these measures," a source in Fátima told Church Militant, relaying eye-witness accounts of how all the main roads into Fátima were taken over by police even before Monday morning.
Military personnel were stopping vehicles and asking passengers to give good reasons why the transport should be allowed to enter Fátima. Anyone entering Fátima on the 12th and 13th for no "good" reason could be fined 350 euros, the source said.
"Devout Catholics in Fátima have said these measures are extreme and unnecessary and that a creative solution could have been found to allow pilgrims to celebrate the first apparition of our Lady on May 13," the source added.
The rector of the shrine, Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas told some locals that if it were up to the sanctuary priests, normal Masses with necessary precautions would already have recommenced in the Recinto of the Sanctuary and the upper church in Holy Trinity Basilica. Cabecinhas maintained that the decision had been made by the Episcopal Conference of Portugal.
However, in a video statement, the rector stressed that the lockdown was "an act of responsibility towards pilgrims, defending their health and well-being."
"I am truly shocked and saddened by the lack of faith and courage on the part of the Portuguese bishops," a Catholic from Fátima told Church Militant.
Portugal's president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, told Rádio Montanha he commended bishop of Leiria-Fátima, Antonio dos Santos Marto and cardinal patriarch of Lisbon, D. Manuel Clemente, for their offer to lockdown the shrine despite the openness shown by the government to host these ceremonies.
"The church did well to suspend public worship, despite the fact that some Catholics were very shocked," said de Sousa. "When the Church defends both the right to life and the right to health, this was the only option it had," he said, asking Catholics to be patient and wait until the end of May.
Meanwhile, faithful Catholics are outraged that thousands of trade unionists were allowed to participate in Labor Day celebrations on May 1 in Lisbon despite the pandemic restrictions.
The Union of Trade Unions in Lisbon secured social distancing by sticking tapes to ensure participants kept a distance of 3 meters from each other. The details were worked out with Health authorities, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the security forces. Sources said the celebrations resembled a "huge military ceremony."
On the other hand, according to a government decree obtained by Church Militant, "only the celebrants, singers, guests of the Sanctuary of Fátima and their respective employees, will be permitted in the enclosure of the Sanctuary of Fátima on May 12 and 13, and must observe the physical distance of two meters between them."
"The state recognizes and classifies, in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, religious freedom as a fundamental right, which includes freedom and the right to celebrate religious rituals and ceremonies," the decree states.
Understanding as relevant to the Portuguese Catholic community the celebration of the apparitions of Fátima, on May 13, and bearing in mind that, by complying with the terms set out in this order, public health is adequately guaranteed, it is considered justified and proportional to this celebration, which, under the terms already duly communicated by the diocese of Leiria-Fátima, will not have the physical presence of pilgrims in the sanctuary precinct this year.
In April, Church Militant reported on Cdl. Marto, bishop of the diocese of Leiria-Fátima, scoffing at orthodox cardinals and those who speak of the pandemic as divine punishment as doing so "out of ignorance, sectarian fanaticism or insanity."
Marto, elevated to the cardinalate by Pope Francis in 2018, insists that the Wuhan virus is instead a wake-up call to "rethink the financial and economic system to achieve more justice and eliminate the flagrant inequality between the world's rich minority and the majority of the poor."