“People feel different things when visiting apparition sites - I think it depends on their level of spirituality”

During the interview that opens this chapter, Beth described Fatima as a place that was different from the increasingly empty churches in Ireland: “When we (the Irish pilgrims in her groups) were all back home we were all able to pray in a much deeper, spiritual, sense than the moment before we came to Fatima”. She added: “When you went back home you felt drawn to come back ... Every time you come you feel renewed, and you always feel a lovely spiritual feeling”.

Beth also added that if 1 was to understand pilgrims to Fatima, I needed to speak with Barbara, who had been accompanying Irish groups to this and other Marian shrines for a long time. An energetic lady in her late fifties, Barbara was used to speaking about Fatima and had read many books and also visited other shrines in that area.2 After telling me about her life and her visits to officially recognized as well as other Marian apparition sites in Ireland and Continental Europe, Barbara started to describe her special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and her personal way of being a good Catholic. She observed: “you know, God wants spiritual fruits not religious nuts”. Surprised by this further, spectacular appearance of the spiritual/reli-gious divide, I asked Barbara to explain what she meant. “The religious nuts are all spiritually sick, they are all ... they are overdosed. They have taken in too much religion, they are unbalanced. We need them to be levelled. So we get the religious nuts up here”.

To explain this overdose of religion better, Barbara told me the following story she had once heard from a priest. A couple of Catholics are driving through the countryside towards the church to attend the Sunday mass when they see some people with a broken-down car. Instead of stopping to help them, the couple drives on because otherwise they will miss the Sunday mass and this will represent a sin. In Barbara’s words the couple are religious nuts

"God wants spiritual fruits not religious nuts" 175 because they only follow the rules and are unable to understand that according to Jesus’ message it is much more important to help those in need rather than attend Mass on Sunday. As Barbara said: “they got the faith wrong” - they were “spiritually sick” and unable really to encounter the divine and experience joy and peace.

During the following months, I would hear similar stories taken from everyday life about apparently devout Catholics practising a shallow religion, unable to decide when it was important to “follow the rules” and when it was more important to “follow the heart” and help others rather than arriving at the next pilgrimage stop in time to pray the rosary or attend Mass.

Barbara urged me to write in my book about Fatima that the spiritually sick people were cured in Fatima and that this kind of cure was in fact one, if not the main, specific feature of Fatima: “Lourdes is for the (physically) sick and here it is the spiritual sickness of people that gets cured”.

The idea that Fatima is a particularly important place in terms of spirituality emerged also in comments by a substantial number of other pilgrims coming from different countries. Sometimes, these pilgrims also made a comparison with Lourdes in similar terms to Barbara. As one Italian pilgrim put it: “In Lourdes you see religion, in Fatima you can see, live and share the spirituality of the people.” When I asked him to say more, he explained that religious people just follow the rules and go to Mass or light a candle because this is what they have learned to do. Spiritual people may do similar things but they have a profound devotion and manage to feel the presence of God. According to him, the Portuguese pilgrims in Fatima, in particular, clearly embodied this kind of spiritual, more real approach, whereas in Lourdes the devotion of the French and other visitors appeared more formal and, in some ways, shallow. This distinction is very similar to the comments made to Nancy Ammermann by “spiritual” informants concerning the hypocrisy and empty rituals involved in religion (2013). Religion has become a sort of umbrella term for elements that are criticized and viewed as immoral or “unbalanced”, as Barbara put it. Spirituality stands for a sort of inverted or re-balanced religion that has been purged of its problematic features.

Not all pilgrims who had been to Lourdes were critical of this French shrine. However, when a comparison with Lourdes was considered important by my interlocutors, usually Fatima emerged as the moral winner, representing lively spirituality as opposed to a shallow religion.'

In some cases this reference to spirituality was also accompanied by the use of the term energy to describe the special feeling of divine presence that the pilgrims experienced in Fatima. After learning about my research, Elettra, an Italian woman in her early forties whom 1 met in my Italian hometown, described her visit to Fatima in 2017 thus: “The energy inside the apparition chapel is very powerful. I visited Fatima with a friend who is (Russian) Orthodox and she felt the same. As soon as you enter you can feel how powerful it is.” The term ‘energy’ was most often used by Brazilian pilgrims, who insisted on describing themselves as Catholic and often criticized the growth of evangelical churches intheir home country. On rare occasions I found Catholic pilgrims who were strongly critical of the New Age and alternative spiritualities. One of them reacted negatively when 1 used the term ’energy' referring to things 1 had heard from other pilgrims and he subsequently sent me links to articles about the danger that the New Age represented for Catholics.

So far we have seen that the way in which the spiritual/religious divide is used by pilgrims in Fatima is not so different from what 1 have observed among Magdalene pilgrims or what is reported in Ammerman's study (2013). Religion emerges as a moral enemy that pilgrims need to distance themselves from and their spirituality is constructed in opposition to religion. Following Talal Asad’s analysis (2003) of the ways in which the religious and the secular mutually constitute each other, we can observe that a similar phenomenon happens with religion and spirituality (Fedele and Knibbe 2013). But how does spirituality relate to the secular in Fatima?

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >