Pope abroad, to Portugal this time

The pope is off again tomorrow, this time on a slightly longer trip and somewhat further away: Portugal. The full program of this second international trip of this year can be found here.

Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting Lisbon, Fátima and Porto and of these, the second destination may be the most interesting. Fátima is, of course, the place where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children in 1917, and as such one of the most important Marian shrines in the world. Pope John Paul II had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin and credited his surviving of an assassination attempt in 1981 to Our Lady of Fátima. The crown of the statue of Our Lady in the shrine contains the bullet that was removed from the Venerable John Paul II’s body.

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the shrine will be different from the three visits of his predecessor, simply because they are not the same men. The current pontiff is much more scholarly, and his faith is rooted in theology more than highly spiritual devotions. Not to say that he is not spiritual – he clearly is – but John Paul II’s devotion came chiefly from the heart, while Benedict’s is tempered by his head.

Portugal, unlike other European counties, has not been affected by the abuse crisis, but I do expect that the pope will say some things about it. Whereas the Malta trip was very much a personal trip, this has the feel of a more official journey. The length (four days instead of two), the meetings with politicians and bishops (Portugal has 48 of the latter, whereas Malta has only 6) and the context of Portugal as middle-sized player in Europe will assure that the eyes of the media will be on the pope more so than in Malta.

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