Fr. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Vatican, said it was not a surprise that hundreds of thousands of people were in Fatima for Pope Benedict's Mass at Fatima yesterday. He recognized a "vitality" in the response and commented on the Holy Father's observation that the prophetic mission of Fatima is not complete.
Estimates put the number of pilgrims in Fatima for Wednesday morning's Mass at around half a million between those who filled the enormous esplanade that sprawls before the Church of the Most Holy Trinity and the tens of thousands of others who joined in from the adjacent streets.
"The crowd of about 500,000 faithful that have participated this morning in the Mass celebrated by the Pope on the esplanade of the Shrine of Fatima is not a surprise," said Fr. Lombardi in an Avvenire newspaper report. He added, "for the Christian people, Papal trips are always occasion for a great mobilization."
Fr. Lombardi noted that there were more people there than in the times of John Paul II, who also was joined by thousands of pilgrims on May 13, 2000 when he celebrated the beatification Mass for Jacinta and Francisco and on two other occasions.
The Vatican spokesman pointed out that the recently surfaced sex abuse scandal could have led to the perception that the vitality of the Church and people's attention to the Pope had be been "obscured."
"But this did not happen," he said, "this vitality is not in crisis because of the discussions of months past, and the fact that the force of the faith manifests itself in such an evident way is very encouraging."
Included in the Pope's homily during Mass was the observation that the prophetic mission of Fatima is not complete because Mary's call to the faithful to offer themselves to God for the reparation of sins and conversion of sinners continues to be relevant.
Fr. Lombardi reflected on the application of Mary’s words to today, saying that in maintaining the prophecy of Fatima as current, the Pope sees it as a way of interpreting the contemporary world and events "in the light of the faith."
He added that those who read the reality of the 20th Century in the visions of Fatima are correct, "because that was the time in which the seers spoke, but, he qualified, " in a perspective of faith, this doesn't mean that the 'school of reading' the events is closed."