Up to 500,000 expected to greet Pope at Fátima shrine in May

Up to half a million people are expected to welcome Pope Benedict XVI at Our Lady of Fátima’s shrine next month during the highpoint of the Pontiff’s four-day visit to Portugal, Bishop Carlos Azevedo said Tuesday.

Lisbon’s bishop told Lusa News Agency crowds of up to 150,000 are expected to attend open air masses in the capital and Porto during the May 11-14 visit and between 300,000 and 500,000 at Fátima, the country’s holiest pilgrimage site.

Azevedo said a “mega operation” was underway, involving hundreds of church and government personnel, to ready “a joyful feast” for the Pope’s meetings with the Catholic faithful.

“Everything is prepared in detail and there’s a Plan B” in case weather conditions keep Pope Benedict from travelling by helicopter between the three cities, the bishop said.

“A great interest keeps growing” around the visit of the “figure who can offer a unique spiritual experience”, he added, saying that the pope, who began his mandate with the image of “a hard person”, had “surprised” Catholics and others with his message of love, dialogue and questioning current models of economic and social development worldwide