Every Ascension Thursday, nearly 20,000 faithful, most of them from the Portuguese community, take part in the pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima above Wiltz. They thus pay homage to Our Lady of Fatima, the Virgin Mary who appeared six times in 1917 to three children in Fatima, a small village in central Portugal.
Portuguese immigrants create their own tradition
The fact that the pilgrimage became a proper popular festival and a tradition is owed to the Portuguese community. In 1968, around a hundred members of that community launched the first pilgrimage. They were essentially immigrant workers of the 1960s, for whom the sanctuary represented a link with their homeland.
Besides the religious aspect, which remains very significant, the pilgrimage has become a really popular festival and an opportunity to meet family and friends. Today, the majority of pilgrims are still part of the Portuguese immigrant community, but the event is becoming more and more inter-cultural.
The history of the sanctuary dates back to dark days, when fierce battles devastated the region in the winter of 1944-1945. Northern Luxembourg became the epicentre of the last German offensive, known as the 'Battle of the Bulge'. A group of parishioners, having taken refuge in a cave, promised to build a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary if fate was kind to them.
They emerged unharmed and the sanctuary was built in 1951. It was built in the honour of Fatima, the statue of whom was transported across Europe to give strength to believers. The sanctuary's official inauguration was held on 13 July 1952.