Macau was granted by the Postulation of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, not one, but two sets of relics. Can these sacred objects contribute to the strengthening of Marian devotion in this part of the world?
Carlos Anok Cabral: Inside the Sanctuary of Fátima, there is a chapel that had its construction funded by Macanese Catholics. The harmonious relationship that the shrine maintains with the Catholics of Macau dates back to that time. But even before that, when the parish of Our Lady of Fátima was established here in Macau, the Sanctuary of Fátima and the then bishop of Leiria offered the image of Our Lady of Fátima that still is venerated in the northern part of the city. The new parish priest of Our Lady of Fátima, Father Michael Cheung, who arrived in Macau about two years ago, has always shown the intention of requesting a set of relics of the little shepherds. And why exactly? Since the parish has Our Lady of Fátima as its patron saint and the number of Chinese Catholics devoted to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Fátima is increasing, Father Cheung decided to speak with Bishop Stephen Lee. He told him that we would like to inquire at the Sanctuary of Fátima with the purpose of requesting a set of relics of Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco Marto. The bishop told Father Cheung that he should speak with me. Back then, I was not acquainted with Father Michael Cheung. We were introduced by Father Cyrill, and only then was I granted the opportunity to get to know the project he conceived a lot better, and I managed to understand what was it that he wanted.
Was it a difficult process? What was the response, both from the Sanctuary of Fátima and the Postulation of Francisco and Jacinta Marto?
C.A.C: Actually, we were not aware that the relics were granted by the Postulation of Francisco and Jacinta Marto. We thought that the Sanctuary of Fátima was in charge of the process and so the Sanctuary was the entity that we addressed. The rector of the shrine forwarded our request to the Postulation, which promptly acceded to our solicitation and made itself available to grant the set of relics that the parish of Our Lady of Fatima had requested. The approval process took about 10 to 15 days. Meanwhile, the rector of the Sanctuary of Fátima, Father Carlos Cabecinhas, kindly offered the two images of the little shepherds that were blessed earlier this month and that are now on display in the parish of Our Lady of Fatima.
The images were offered by the Sanctuary?
C.A.C: The images were offered by the Sanctuary. The relics were granted by the Postulation of the Little Shepherds, the Postulation of Francisco and Jacinta Marto. On July 9th, if I’m not wrong, I went to the Postulation Secretariat to collect the first set of relics, the one that had been requested by the parish of Our Lady of Fátima. When I went to the Postulation headquarters, after we were given the relics, we took a photograph and captured the moment for posterity. And it was then that the idea of asking for a second set of relics came to me. I told the Postulation about the long connection between Fátima and the Diocese of Macau, I explained that there has been an altar to Our Lady of Fátima in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady since the early 1940s (…) The Secretariat’s response was very quick. I was told to contact Bishop Stephen Lee because from the Postulation’s point of view there was the willingness to grant another set of relics, now to be installed in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady. For that to happen, it would be enough to make a formal request. Since I was in Portugal, I could also bring this set of relics to Macau.
Suddenly, you found yourself as the guardian of two sets of relics. A big responsibility, even from a spiritual point of view…
C.A.C: Yes. First of all, because I never thought this was possible. I never thought we’d be able to obtain the relics. But we made a second request to the rector of the Sanctuary of Fátima, one related to the little shepherds’ prayer. Cecília Xavier, sister of the late Canon Luís Lei Xavier, and I, we spoke with the personal secretary of the rector, and what we told her is that we regretted the fact that the basilica only had seven official languages. We told them that we were not able to find any material in the Chinese language. In the Sanctuary, we found prayer cards in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish, but we didn’t find anything in Chinese. I tried to explain why there was need to include the Chinese translation. Later, we sent a request…
So, there’s the possibility that the Chinese language may acquire a greater representation in the Sanctuary of Fátima?
C.A.C: We made a request in this regard, for the Chinese language to be considered an official language in the Sanctuary of Fátima. However, we have already accomplished something. The little shepherds’ prayer, which had prayer cards that were in Portuguese, English and several other languages, already has a Chinese translation. We translated the prayer into Chinese and sent it to the Sanctuary and the department that is responsible for the preparation of the prayer cards approved our translation and equated it with the official translations used in the basilica. What does this mean? It means that we have legitimacy and authorization to reproduce and disseminate this prayer that we translated into Chinese through the parish of Our Lady of Fátima. The Sanctuary has granted the parish the permission to print the prayer cards of this prayer in Chinese so that they can be distributed here in Macau.
Do you believe that with the arrival of these two sets of relics Macau can become a pilgrimage centre for Mainland Catholics?
C.A.C: I think that many of these Catholics, after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and the restrictions on the border with Mainland China have eased, will come to Macau to see the relics of the seers of Fátima. I believe this will happen. There are local residents who have different kinds of kinship with Mainland China and, therefore, there are already some people in China who know that two sets of relics of the holy shepherds have arrived in Macau (…) I believe that many Catholics from Mainland China will come to Macau to try to figure out what sort of relics they are, although they are not first-class relics.