FÁTIMA, Portugal, May 24, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Portugal Pro-lifers say they were bewildered on May 12 as they were expelled from the exterior area of the famous Marian shrine in Fátima by shrine personnel and were prohibited from collecting signatures to promote a national pro-life referendum.
“We were not collecting signatures in the church buildings or in the open areas around,” said Luís Botelho of Portugal pro Vida to LifeSiteNews. “Under Portuguese law, everybody can collect signatures for petitions in any place, public or private property, as long as it is ‘public circulation area.’”
“We were positioned just outside the main access gates to the shrine. Two of our teams were expelled from the area outside the shrine.”
Botelho, the leader of Portugal pro Vida, the country’s only pro-life party, described the situation as “a scandal” and “absurd.” He has resigned from his elected positions on May 13 in outrage over the incident.
“This small episode at the Marian shrine shows the mood of the times in Portugal, with a significant part of the Catholic hierarchy largely failing to support Christian groups carrying out pro-life activities,” said Portugal pro Vida in a statement emailed to LifeSiteNews.
LifeSiteNews contacted the shine Rector, Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, and local Bishop António Marto for comment but received no response.
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Pro-Referendo Vida has been campaigning to collect the necessarily 75,000 signatures if Portugal is to convene a referendum on the humanity of the unborn child. So far they have collected nearly half of what they need.
The referendum would ask the country’s citizens, 85% who identify themselves as Catholic, if they “agree that Portuguese law guarantees the inviolability of human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.”
Abortion on-demand in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy was legalized in the largely Catholic country in April 2007 following a referendum where 59.2% of the voter turnout approved the “decriminalization of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” According to the Portuguese Constitution, however, the results were not legally binding since only 43.6% of the registered voters turned out to vote. At that time, Prime Minister José Sócrates of the governing Socialist Party nevertheless decided to expand abortion in his country.
Pro-life activists from Pro-Referendo Vida who were collecting signatures that day at Fátima told LifeSiteNews how they experienced what they called a “dramatic showing of pro-abortion support or indifference to the pro-life cause” among the pilgrims visiting the world famous shrine where Mary the Mother of God was reported to have appeared to three peasant children in 1917.
During one of the apparitions, one of the seers heard Mary say that “In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved.”
The pro-life activists said they heard statements from visitors at the shrine such as “Abortion is each one’s business,” “I’m pro-choice and proud,” and “Do you hear our Bishops condemning abortion? Why should we?”.
When Pro-Referendo Vida emailed Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, the rector of the Marian shrine, to let him know of their intention to gather signatures, he reportedly replied that signature gatherers are “prohibited” at the shrine not only in the “pray areas, but also all the areas under our property, including entrances, car parking areas…”
“Given the general susceptibility for pollution problems … also taking into account the wealth of applications that would arise in the future [should we grant you permission], … we ask for your best comprehension of our position.”
The pro-life activists told LifeSiteNews they thought they were following Fr. Cabecinhas’s directives by staying outside the shrine. Despite the opposition that countered their efforts, the group of 15 volunteers managed to gather 500 signatures in five hours beneath the blazing Portuguese sun.
One signature gatherer, Isabel Alexandre, told LifeSiteNews that there could have been no “greater joy that we could have given to Our Lady than working to prevent the death of many innocent people who are killed by abortion.”
“There could not have been a better day or a better place to raise awareness of the error committed by Portugal when it allowed abortion to be legalized,” she said.
Gualberto Garcia Jones, director of legislative analysis for Personhood USA, told LifeSiteNews that the Magisterium of the Church is “unequivocal” when it comes to granting personhood to babies in the womb. He referred to a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states, “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
Garcia Jones emphasized that pro-life activists must be “solid on the principle and be bold in our pursuit of it.”
“When the guards at Fátima expel these pro-life missionaries from the shrine, then it is time to hit the entrance, if they are expelled from the entrance then it is time to go to the narrow streets leading to the entrance.”
Garcia Jones said that Catholic laypersons often find it “very difficult” to take a leadership role, but “what is absolutely clear to me is that we cannot wait for leaders to do the right thing, as long as, according to the teachings of the Church, we know what the right thing is.”
“John Paul II was the inspiration for our whole generation of pro-lifers, but leaders like him are rare and most members of the hierarchy don’t want to rock the boat, so our only choices are to leave in disappointment and frustration, or take up our cross and stand up for the Truth, maybe get persecuted, and then open the door for the grace of God to lead a revival through our suffering.”
“We stay faithful and we stay active, we pray for the Church and eventually Catholic leaders will join in the fight.”
In the meantime, as Botelho lamented, “as long as the Portuguese Catholic Church does not stand united in principle and in street-action in favor of the pro-life position, then Catholics in the country will remain confused and divided on the issue, and all our pro-life efforts will be like a voice lost in the wilderness calling out in vain for help.”
Bishop António Augusto dos Santos Marto in the diocese of Leiria–Fátima
Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, Rector of the Fátima shrine