THE FATIMA RECTOR
At the turn of the century when the apparitions of Fatima occurred, the Government was trying to wipe out the Catholic Church. After one government after another failed, the military took over and asked a very devout Catholic, Salazar, to reorganize and run the government. Like the Rector of Fatima, Salazar is often misunderstood, and history is not being kind to him. One of the first things he did was the Concordance with the Vatican, where he returned the Church property back to the Church, and made all Church organizations tax free and independent from the government. Actually Salazar tried to return everything that was taken from the Church, including the great castles of the Knights, the ruins of the great Basilicas, Cathedrals, and Monasteries, but the Church felt they could not afford to restore them and take care of them. Because they are the history of Portugal and great tourist attractions, the government has taken good care of these historic sights. Church property on an individual basis is called a "Factory". The reason for this is so that those employed can have the same government benefits as a secular factory. I am working on a document on Salazar because I think history, the Portuguese newsmedia, and the Portuguese school system is not being fair to this man.
Like Salazar, the Fatima shrine has been run by Fatima's rector,Monsignor Luciano Guerra, for almost four decades. Fatima is the largest and most successful Church in all of Portugal and one of the best in all of Europe. Becoming the head of such a shrine is a great honor and requires a great person. In most Churches the pastor is changed every six years so that the people do not get to attached to the person and the person to the people. I decided to investigate this man for several reasons. First of all, I attend Mass at the Shrine everyday, and this makes him my boss in all that I do with the Catholic Church or for the Catholic Church. His authority over me is similar to a father over a son. Second, is that he has many enemies here in Fatima, especially among the non-Portuguese. Third, he seems to have a great deal of influence on the local government. For a year now I have been observing him, talking to those who work for him, those who like him, and those who do not like him. As an investigator of religious things, all I can do is look at his actions and the results. I cannot look at the motives or the heart. That is up to God alone.
My conclusion after a year is that Monsignor Luciano Guerra is a gift from God for the Shrine of Fatima. Taking into account that he also must be obedient to the laws of the Church, I have never been to a Church that is better run both spiritually and logistically. Before getting into the spiritual aspects of the Shrine and the logistics, let us look at Monsignor Luciano Guerra personally. As the head of one of the largest parishes in the world with over 100 priests at his disposal, he could just delagate the work as most pastors in America do. But Monsignor takes his spiritual job seriously and takes his share of the work. Although there might be 10 to 15 priests already hearing confessions, Monsignor Luciano Guerra will be in one of the confessionals also hearing confessions. I now pastors in America that never hear confessions. Although there are plenty of priests to offer Holy Mass, Monsignor Luciano Guerra will be there offering at least one of them almost everyday. He speaks at least four languages and is easy to see. He listens and in spiritual matters is very kind. He protects Our Lady from fanatics and from controversy as I will elaborate on in logistics.
Spiritually the Shine of Fatima could not be better and after almost 40 years as Rector the credit must be given to Monsignor Luciano Guerra. Every Holy Mass every day is reverent and holy. Shrine guards are there to keep things silent, reverent and holy. Every Holy Mass has music, altar boys, more than one priest, and a good sermon. Every Communion is given with a communion patent under the chin or hands. All the Rubrics of the Mass are strictly obeyed. At the end of each Holy Mass, Rosaries and statues are blessed. Almost everyday Marriage vows are repeated by one or more couples.
When Monsignor Luciano Guerra offers the Holy Mass, he is reverent. He has a good singing voice. He gives a sermon without notes, and even though I do not understand what he says, he is very good. How do I know that? I look at the people. They listen to his every word and seem always to like everything he says. He changes is voice tone just as if he was having a one on one conversation with someone. It is easy for me to tell that he is a master at giving sermons, and he could not be if he did not believe everything he was saying.
As I said every Holy Mass has music and the main quire is one of the best I have ever heard. They are in a sound room with perfect acoustics and a speaker system that can be heard by two million people. The organ plays at every Holy Mass and usually with one singer, a nun or priest. These singers are not very good, in fact very bad, but even that makes me like the rector better. He could tell these people, who have given years of service to the Shrine, that they are getting old and he needs a younger singer, but he also is loyal to his help.
Every communion is given with an altar boy and a communion patent, no mater what day it is. Can you say that about your church? In the big outdoor Holy Masses communion is sometimes served to millions of people, and yet every communion is served with one priest, one altar boy holding a communion patent, and one holding a white umbrella over the priest and Our Lord.
A week ago all the children of the Dioceses around Fatima were let out of school and marched through the streets of Fatima to the Cova, where they honored Our Lady in song, rosary and Holy Mass. All these things are planed and run by the Director.
Today, March 10, 2002, was the time that all the Dioceses of Fatima-Loria came to Fatima to honor Our Lady. There were 100 banners from the parishes, thousands of Boy and Girl Scouts, 40 priests, 80 altar boys, and 30,000 people, almost all from the local dioceses.
Holy Mass lasted for 2-1/2 hours and for the first time since I have been here for over a year, the Statue of Our Lady in the Glass on the site of the five apparitions was taken out and brought in procession to the high altar in front of the Basilica. This is the oldest of the Fatima Statues, made when Lucia was still a young girl.
Consider that San Giovanno Rotundo, Padre Pio's Church has 8,000,000 pilgrims a year, and Lourdes a little more than that. Fatima has officially 15,000,000 pilgrims registered in the hotels, and estimated in the tents and crowds, but this is not counting those who are very local and come every week or more than monthly. These are in the 10s of 1000s a month. In spite of this, this Shrine is run so smoothly you could not tell it is not a small parish church.
Paid guards direct traffic in the streets, and in the grounds. Information experts give out free literature and information in almost every language. They do so with love and smiles as if they love what they do. The maintenance people keep everything spotlessly clean and working 365 days a year. In the winter, things are replanted, painted, and improved without disrupting the pilgrims or the prayers.
To watch a million people receive communion with reverence and order is a man made logistical miracle. The method used is white umbrellas. Where the umbrella is the priest is passing out communion. Just wait until one is close to you and get in line. Today I saw 40 priests pass out 30,000 communions in 15 minutes with reverence and dignity.
Pilgrims without money camp all over the Shrine grounds, even on sidewalks, and no one offends them in any way. The non-Catholic Gypsies are there (conning people), but they also are part of Fatima, and are not pushed away. Pilgrimages that inform the Director they are coming receive great special attention, even special Holy Masses in there own language.
A train can be taken all over Fatima for only a few cents, visiting all the sites of Fatima, the Village, the Parish Church, the August apparition, and the apparitions of the Angels. The local police are the most polite that I have ever seen, and very well trained. I have met the Chief of Police and some of his men. They have an easy job compared to America but take nothing for granted to keep everything peaceful. There is no great push to give out tickets because the money is in bringing people in and out happy.
Why then is the Rector disliked by some people? He does not allow any other promotion in Fatima except Fatima. This makes the promoters of many un-approved apparitions very unhappy, but he keeps Fatima clean. Even the Book by Carlos Evaristo is not allowed in Fatima, and although I love the book, it was imprudent for Carlos to put into it something that the Holy Father did not want made public. This makes it controversial and the rector wants nothing that will bring controversy to Fatima.
I have been running businesses for over 40 years, and I could not run this Shrine any better than it is run. My hat is off to the Rector,Monsignor Luciano Guerra, a gift from Our Lady.