There is much we took away from our experiences at the International Gathering of Teams of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal July 16 to 22, 2018. We arrived and gathered on a cool Monday evening after checking into our lodgings and getting oriented to the planned schedule (what, where, and when). The weather for the whole time of the Gathering was about optimum – a little cooler than normal for this time of the year at Fatima and this was a blessing. The Sanctuary (two basilicas, the Chapel of the Apparition, the statuary) has a unique atmosphere of peace.
The organization and logistics were phenomenal. Imagine about nine thousand people from all parts of the world participating in a deeply spiritual retreat, getting themselves to the right place at the right time for lodging, meals, and activities. There was a modest allowance of time for sleeping. The Gathering Theme was “Reconciliation: Sign of Love” and the Gathering Gospel passage was the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 12 – 32). Reflections/meditations were based on them.
Each morning Archbishop Tolentino de Mendonca of Portugal offered a brief Meditation on a portion of the Gospel passage setting a tone/mood for the day and helped us prepare for our Mixed Team meeting later in the day by focusing on a part of the parable. The talks and testimonies of the day seemed to build on the Meditation very beautifully. Day by day we moved through liberation/freedom, dissipation/sin, repentance, compassion/mercy, and celebration of the joy of our sacrament, gaining new insights or rediscovering old ones. Each day the longer talks blended the thought/topic of the day with marriage and family and conjugal spirituality, giving us a lot to think about and pray about. A special high point was the talk by To and Ze Moura Soares (the outgoing Responsible Couple for The International Responsible Team) on “Mission of Love: Love on a Mission”. Their talk showed how going back to the beginning of Teams with Father Henri Caffarel, what Teams is about, and why Teams are critical/essential in today’s world. This helps all of us to develop and grow in each couple’s conjugal spirituality and evangelize to the whole world, to witness to what marriage is, and accompany all who are struggling. Their talk included announcing the availability of a new publication “Vocation and Mission” which offers us an inspiring challenge to grow in what we are about as a couple. The testimonies of Teams Couples were often very moving as they gave witness to living one or more of the endeavors.
The talk by Sr. Angela de Fatima Coelho da Silva about the Fatima Apparitions was a highlight. She has been intimately involved in the causes for beatification of the three children, Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia. Her talk was inspiring as she used the events with the angel, Our Blessed Mother, and the three children, as they occurred, to give a teaching on the message of Fatima and ways in which we can model the call to holiness in today’s world in our lives.
Each day featured a very brief slide show on one or more of the endeavors. Simply the visual images and music conveyed what the specific Endeavor(s) is about, and a brief teaching on the endeavor after the video clip could help our individual team have a refresher on what the endeavors are meant to be. Being part of thousands of couples having a Sit Down in the middle of the Sanctuary was inspiring and a tremendous witness to the specialness of our sacrament.
Mixed Team meetings were held three times. Mixed teams were formed based on having a common tongue (English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese to our knowledge) at our hotel. Our team had eight couples (two American couples, two Polish couples, an Irish couple, an Australian couple, an Albanian couple, and an Italian couple). With English as our common tongue, the Albanian couple assisted by the Italian couple, and the Polish couples were assisted by the Australian couple because the wife is of Polish heritage. Patience was important, but it was beautiful to experience the openness, honesty, and insightfulness of people who had just met. Each day we met, had a part of the parable of the Prodigal Son or a piece of Father Caffarel’s writings to meditate and share on. There were also a few discussion questions which we either got to or didn’t because of time constraints. These meetings were a highlight for us.
Over the course of the Gathering we had Mass every day except the arrival day - week day Masses with nine thousand participants is something to behold. There was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament one night and a Rosary procession another evening to enhance our experience.
We departed in peace, inspired, and challenged; and we were refreshed even if we were not well rested.