Virus fears see Fatima pilgrims keep their distance

Fátima (Portugal) (AFP) –


Catholic believers gathered Tuesday for an annual pilgrimage at Portugal's Sanctuary of Fatima where coronavirus restrictions severely cut participants from their usual 300,000.

Access was strictly limited as the pilgrims, clad in masks to ward off potential infection from the pandemic, descended on the square in front of the Basilica of the Rosary.

Authorities, mindful of the fact the site had had to remain closed for months earlier this year, had limited numbers to a maximum 6,000, and in the event some 4,000 turned up, a spokesman told AFP.

Each had to stand away from the next person in a square marked out with circles for social distancing.

May 13, when most of Europe was in virus lockdown, marked the first of several occasions that three Portuguese children declared they saw a vision of the Angel of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

October 13th that year marked the third apparition to the trio, who lived in a small village just outside Fatima.

Tuesday's restrictions were brought in to avoid a repeat of the large numbers who visited the site a month ago.

Regional bishop Jose Ornelas, said in his homily that the restrictions were unavoidable.

He called on pilgrims to adopt a responsable attitude in the face a pandemic "come to change radically the lives of all humanity".

Fatima is one of the world's most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites, with some 6.3 million visitors last year.