Praying for a miracle? Thousands join socially distanced pilgrimage
Every year on October 13, huge crowds of Catholics usually make the pilgrimage to Portugal's Fatima shrine to pay homage to the Virgin Mary. However, this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically diminished the holy celebration.
Around 100,000 visited the site in 2019 to mark the anniversary of the date in 1917 when the third and final vision of the Virgin Mary authenticated by the Catholic Church took place. This year, because of coronavirus restrictions, just 4,500 could attend the festivities.
According to spokeswoman Carmo Rodeira, the drop in figures means donations on which the sanctuary depends have all but dried up.
"The sanctuary exists to welcome pilgrims ... but the biggest impact is on the way we celebrate faith and this is the biggest challenge that the pandemic has brought to the Church," she said.
Local businesses have also been hit hard in the religious tourism-dependent town, with hotel takings down by up to 90 percent. Close to the shrine, shopkeepers at the majority of the stores selling religious items stand mostly empty and even those with customers continue to struggle.
According to the director of Fatima Hotels, Alexandre Marto: "The international guests simply disappeared."
Locals who profit from the festivities are praying for better days, but not knowing how long the coronavirus curbs will last, many remain unsure of how long they will be able to stay in business.