For me the journey towards the World Pro Life Congress 2006, held in Fatima, Portugal, began when I saw the advertisement for this congress in Life Lines (the FLI newsletter). When I looked at the ad. it sort of jumped out at me. The word Fatima did a dance in front of my eyes, and I can still hear myself saying “ I need to go”.
Of course when I say I “need” or “want” to go, it usually means, finding funds, speaking with my “girls” and seeing if it’s OK with them, speaking with my husband and family and seeing if it’s OK with them. Somehow I knew this would come through and within three weeks of seeing the original advert, I was dragging my luggage through the Melbourne international airport and 34 hours later standing weary in the hotel Santo Amaro lobby.
At Lisbon airport I had met up with another Australian traveller (Barrie) and together we finished the end of the journey together.
World Prayer Congress For Life
The congress began with Holy Mass concelebrated, in the apparition chapel. This is the Chapel where the famous Fatima statue stands, where it is believed that the Blessed virgin stood (at that time 1917 above the little oak tree). Today she stands in this spot and it is beneath this statue (in a compartment) that all prayers and petitions are put. Around this Chapel many pilgrims walk on their knees whilst praying the Rosary. There were many of these sights which touched me deeply. One young man literally dragged himself on his tummy, pulling himself forward by his arms, around and around the whole chapel. Several others also had me in tears. A young mother on her knees, carrying a brand new pink bundle (baby) praying the Rosary and her tears were falling to the ground. Her young husband walked besides her carrying the baby bag. and had his hand on her shoulder. I spent many an hour at this Capelinha (little chapel) carrying my family, my supporters, my friends, all the girls (and men) that I had ever seen, are seeing, and the ones still to come.
Our conference opening speaker was His Excellency Bishop Karl Romer, Secretary to the Pontifical Council for the Family and his talk set the tone for this congress. His talk “The Holiness of Life” led us through a journey of the love of God for each and every individual from the instant of conception to natural death. For me, the line which exemplified the whole talk and possibly the whole conference was “each human person is an overflow of the love of God” and perhaps another sentence which touched me was that God has created each species according to its own kind, and our kind comes from God, is like God, that is why we are always seeking and looking and longing for the One after our own kind.
The fantastic Monsignor Phillip Reilly, founder of The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, spoke on Humanae Vitae, Donum Vitae, and Golgotha Today. I felt that I was in the presence of a living Saint. One particular sentence which touched me in this talk was “each life is a song of praise to God.”
His Excellency Bishop Andreas Laun completed the trilogy by speaking on Evangelium Vitae, Fr Duarte, on Theology of the Body. Talks on St Padre Pio, A talk on Blessed Gianna Molla, by her own sister, Sr. Virginia Beretta.
Perhaps the list is too long to cite but there were several other moments that touched my heart deeply. One of these graced moments (for me) was to meet Sr. Charlotte, a nun of a new order of nuns from America, Sisters of Life, This order of Nuns works in “life” ministry, in all areas including post abortion counselling.
The reason I say that this was a graced moment is because Sr Charlotte’s physical stature is challenged (dwarf) and as I looked at her I remembered the little girl who at 32 weeks gestation was aborted (here in a hospital in Melbourne) because she was thought to be a dwarf and her mother didn’t want her and threatened suicide if the abortion was not performed, and furthermore the doctors actually performed the abortion. As I spoke with Sr Charlotte, both privately and in tandem (we did workshops together), I kept thinking of this child that was killed here in Melbourne, at a developmental stage where she could easily have been saved and adopted out to any number of willing parents, and wondered whether we had allowed to be killed, another Nun, a doctor, a scientist, a mother, a saint. This is what we do when we abort one of God’s moments of joy.
Another moment which also touched deeply this pilgrim, was coming face to face with a life size cross (155-160 cm) made of instruments from a closed down abortion clinic. It was this cross which went ahead of us when we did the Stations of the Cross in Valinhos-Aljustrel. I felt very privileged to be asked to lead the prayers for the First Station, and then proceeded to cry for the rest of the thirteen other stations, as I remembered that these instruments forming this cross were used to kill my babies.
This way of the cross was constructed with gifts from the Hungarian people in thanksgiving and in memory of what happened in Budapest in 1956. Each of the Stations of the Cross have been constructed and carved in marble and are so beautiful. At the end of the Stations we celebrated Holy Mass (His Excellency Bishop Romer and fellow priests). This Mass was celebrated at the chapel of St Stephen, but the place itself is called The Calvary, because above the Chapel are three Crosses.
Perhaps it is difficult for me to speak about all the remaining speakers because there were so many and goodness so inspiring. Sufficeth to say that it would be impossible to do justice to them all. However, I would like to comment on the workshops which I participated in, in conjunction with the Sisters for Life.
The workshops came at the end of the actual congress and were conducted in a more relaxed manner. The Sisters did a power point presentation of post abortion symptoms and I spoke on the efficacy of catholic counselling. I also introduced
the importance of being alert to abortive women with multiple abortions, which can often mean that there are other deeper issues and wounds which need to be dealt with before the abortions are even discussed.
From my own experience in my counselling rooms, whenever I have a client who has had multiple abortions (3,4,5,6,7,8,) there is always, always, always, some form of sexual abuse present, and if this is the case it has to be dealt with first. Her multiple abortions are a crying out for help.
It was interesting because as I was speaking I could see and hear several women who were sobbing, and I knew that I had touched someone’s pain.
This was later confirmed when I spoke privately to three women, two quite older ones and one very young one.
On the last evening of the workshops we completed with a celebration of Holy Mass.
On this evening I was also asked to do a taped interview (1 hour) on my work in Australia, post abortion issues and the connection between multiple abortions and sexual abuse, and what to look for when someone comes in to the office looking for assistance.
The day following the end of the congress was a quiet one for me. I needed to reflect and think and be thankful for the opportunity to be present at such an event.
During my time in Fatima I also was present for the October 12/13th celebrations where between 30- 50,000 people attended. I had a fantastic position on the day of the 13th on top of a TV camera stand. I must have looked lost because I was offered a place and was thankful because I could look down and see this sea of humanity waving white handkerchiefs as the Fatima Statue was brought out of the Capelinha (little Chapel) and to the Altar for Mass. She was taken to stand next to her Son and his Ministers and then at the conclusion of the Mass returned in procession back to her place in her Chapel. Can you imagine about 1000 or more priests!, Bishops, Monsignors, in procession and she humbly following behind the priests of Her Son.
The night of October 12th into the 13th (Vigil) was also spectacular with same numbers of people, the procession with the Blessed Virgin being taken to the Altar to be with her Son at Mass, and then returned in procession with a sea of humanity holding lit candles and singing the Ave Maria, again and again and again.
The rest of the time in Fatima I visited the houses of the three Shepherds, attended daily Mass, walked and looked and cried buckets of tears for my own sins and the sins of us humans.
I had several Masses offered for my family, Priests of God, and my supporters whether financial or prayer. I prayed for everyone I could think of by name and the rest who live in my heart.
And I marvelled at the Mercy of God, and His extraordinary generosity to such a sinner like myself. I am an abortive mother. I should never have been allowed to be in such a Holy place, and yet the Lord in His infinite Mercy made all things new and possible.
Thank you to Dietmar Fischer and his magnificent staff, Claudia, Ioannes, and the rest for putting together such an event, and thank you to those people who helped me financially to get there. I could not have done it without their help.
It is said that Fatima is the gate of Heaven. I tend to believe it is.