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ROME NOTES: What Is Happening in Fatima?; Death in Burundi

Building Project Raises Eyebrows

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 1, 2004 (Zenit) - Controversy has broken out over the construction of a new building near the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

Several Web sites devoted to news about Fatima have expressed outrage at the possibility that the new building might be used for interreligious purposes.

"Fatima to Become Inter-faith Shrine" headlined the Nov. 1 online dispatch of English-language Portugal News.

In the report, the rector of the shrine, Monsignor Luciano Gomes Paulo Guerra, says, "The future of Fatima, or the adoration of God and his mother at this holy shrine, must pass through the creation of a shrine where different religions can mingle."

The head of the Leiria-Fatima Diocese, Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva, faxed me a three-page statement written in Portuguese (I had it unofficially translated) by the rector of the shrine, dated Dec. 28.

The letter resumes the news published by Portugal News, including Monsignor Guerra's statement that the shrine would become a place "where different religions can mingle."

According to the letter, the rector has been inundated by correspondence due to this "sensationalist news."

The rector clarifies: "God willing, a religious space, will begin to be constructed very shortly, and though it is the presumption of some journalists that it will resemble a stadium, it will in fact be a church, with seating for 9,000; it will be exclusively destined to be a place of Catholic worship, located not next to the current basilica, but between the Cruz Alta and a national road and, when opportune, ... can receive pilgrims of other convictions who wish to fraternally partake in our way of prayer."

Regarding the controversy surrounding the building, the rector mentions specifically Father Nicholas Gruner, a Canadian priest who runs The Fatima Crusader, a quarterly newsletter.

"It is our conviction," says Monsignor Guerra, "that the article in Portugal News has been guided by some members of the group led by Father Gruner, a priest who finds himself in an irregular canonical situation, who persists in his crusade in favor of the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to the secret of Fatima (although it has been said and re-said that this consecration has already occurred) and who distributed pamphlets during our October conference against the realization and intentions of the conference."

Father Gruner was suspended "a divinis" by the Vatican in 1996 -- meaning he is relieved of his priestly functions, primarily administering the sacraments. He continues to take a critical stance toward John Paul II's vision of ecumenism, as evidenced by a 2000 document called, "We Resist You to Your Face" -- the You referring to the Pope.

The conference to which Father Guerra refers was held Oct. 10-12 and sponsored by the Sanctuary of Fatima, entitled, "The Present of Man -- The Future of God: The Place of Sanctuaries in Relation to the Sacred."

Conferees included Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal Josť da Cruz Policarpo, patriarch of Lisbon; Bishop Silva; Father Jacques Dupuis, professor of theology at Rome's Gregorian University; and Monsignor Guerra.

On the third day of the conference the floor was opened to representatives of Hindu, Buddhist, Judaic and Islamic religions. Orthodox and Anglican representatives also spoke.

During the conference no mention was made of the construction of a new shrine.

When I recently spoke to Archbishop Fitzgerald in Rome, he said he was surprised that the news of the building had caused such consternation.

"As far as I know, there are no plans that the building is designed specifically for inter-faith purposes," the archbishop said. "We recognize that Fatima is a place of pilgrimage for many religions." But he added that the shrine nonetheless retains its Catholic identity.

"It was the Pope himself who said in Assisi in October 1986 that we are all pilgrims together," continued Archbishop Fitzgerald. "As I said at the conference in Fatima, we must learn to journey together, for if we drift apart we do ourselves harm, but if we walk together we can help one another to reach the goal that God has set for us."

Monsignor Guerra's statement concurs with Archbishop Fitzgerald's sentiments, as most of it is taken up with an explanation of the importance of interreligious dialogue.

The rector of the shrine contends that the Fatima apparitions were exhortations to ecumenical dialogue. His statement says that the Virgin Mary knew that her choice of the site in Portugal would one day be understood as a deliberate association with the ...

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