Yesterday the rector of the Shrine of Fatima shared his personal impressions and those of the people of Portugal with Vatican Radio following the Pope’s Apostolic Visit. Contrary to the thought that the Pope might not be able to touch the hearts of the faithful, said the priest, he was “so human that he seemed like someone from our family.”
Fr. Virgílio do Nascimento Antunes spoke with Vatican Radio in an interview released on Sunday. The priest is the rector of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, the destination of Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage last week during his visit to Portugal.
Reflecting on the warm reception of the Portuguese people to the Holy Father’s presence, Fr. Antunes said, “I can say that it surpassed many of my expectations because there was also a very big crowd in Fatima.”
Estimates put the number of pilgrims at the Shrine for Thursday's Mass at half a million.
Before his visit, “The Pope was seen in Portugal as the theologian, the philosopher that wasn’t able to touch hearts… It was completely the contrary!” exclaimed the Fatima shrine rector.
“The Pope touched the heart of the people,” explained Fr. Antunes, commenting specifically on his manner with children, young people, the elderly and the sick.
“He is a man so human that he seemed like someone from our family and that we had already known him for a long time and for this reason the way of receiving and recognizing his personality has changed a lot,” the priest remarked about the effects of Pope Benedict's brief stay in the nation.
An equally large turnout and show of appreciation welcomed the Pope on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square for the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer at midday. Final attendance estimates came in at around 200,000 people for the event which often draws just a quarter of that number.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops, was also present in the crowd that had been called together to show the solidarity of the Italian people with Pope Benedict.
During the homily of the Mass he celebrated afterwards in St. Paul Outside-the-walls, Cardinal Bagnasco called Christians to stand up and join the Holy Father as witnesses to the faith.