By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira
FATIMA, Portugal (Reuters) – Florinda, 77, woke up at the crack of dawn on Thursday to mark one of Portugal’s biggest religious celebrations – though not early enough to get a spot inside.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, she was barred from entering the Fatima sanctuary and, with hundreds of others, had to listen to mass from the street.
“They left us here, in the cold. We thought we were going to be able to get in because we came so early,” she said, sitting on a camping chair she brought from home. She could hear the priest, even though she could not see him.
“It’s complicated, but it has to be this way.”
Every May 13, huge crowds from Portugal and across the world make a pilgrimage to Fatima to mark the anniversary of a reported 1917 apparition of the Virgin Mary.
Restrictions meant just 7,500 were allowed inside the sanctuary this year, a far cry from the 100,000-strong crowds of the past.
Inside, people who had arrived at the site even earlier than Florinda stood in circles marked to maintain social distancing.
From shops selling small saints statues to restaurants feeding the faithful, the huge drop in visitors also hit the local economy.
“It’s going very badly. There’s … almost nobody,” Gracinda do Espirito Santo, 60, said as she waited for customers outside her tiny souvenir shop.
“Maybe, in a year from now, everything will be better,” said 49-year-old pilgrim Sergio Passos outside the shrine.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira in Fatima; Writing by Catarina Demony; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Andrew Heavens)