For the first time in its history, the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima celebrated the May 13 anniversary of the 1917 Marian apparitions without the presence of the public.

“Yes, the sanctuary is empty, but not deserted. We are physically separated, but spiritually united as a Church with Mary, in an intense way, with a heart full of faith and trust,” Cardinal António Marto said as he led the rosary on the eve of the anniversary.

“Holy Mary, teach us to believe, hope, and love you. Star of the Sea, shine on us and guide us on our way in the sea of history,” the cardinal prayed.

Marto, the bishop of Leiria-Fátima, offered Mass May 13 via livestream at the Fatima shrine, calling for conversion and dedication to the rosary in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“A pandemic is a call to a deep spiritual conversion,” Cardinal Marto said in his homily May 13.

“A short time ago we were living with enormous trust in the technical-scientific power, in the economical-financial power, thinking that we were perhaps immune to any epidemic or, if it came, a quick solution would be found. But, unexpectedly, an unpredictable, invisible, silent virus, able to contaminate everything and all, staggering the world. We felt the ground falter under our feet,” he said.

Marto said that the current “dramatic and tragic situation” reveals humanity’s vulnerability and frailty, and invites one to reflect on what is essential in life.

In Portugal, the celebrations of Our Lady of Fatima began on the eve of the feast. Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, the rector of the Marian shrine, invited families to place candles in the windows of their houses as a way to participate in the traditional procession of candles at Fatima from home.

The rector said that while people cannot make a pilgrimage with their feet, they can make an interior pilgrimage with their hearts.

Public Masses are expected to resume in Portugal May 30 with some restrictions laid out by Portugal’s bishops’ conference to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At Fatima’s Chapel of the Apparitions, Cardinal Marto led the rosary May 12 with meditations on the sorrowful mysteries for the intention of ending the coronavirus pandemic.

“To the virus pandemic we want to respond with unity and prayer, with compassion and tenderness,” he said.

“Today we respond with the rosary, a prayer for difficult times,” Marto said. “By meditating on the painful mysteries, we unite all the suffering humanity. We entrust our pain to Mary's maternal heart.”

The cardinal then quoted the Virgin Mary’s request when she appeared to three shepherd children Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco on May 13, 1917: “Pray the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”

Jacinta and Francisco Marto were canonized on May 13, 2017, by Pope Francis in Portugal. Both of the young saints died of the Spanish flu pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people in the early 20th century.

Pope Francis encouraged devotion to Our Lady of Fatima during his general audience offered via livestream from the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace May 13.

“Today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Fatima,” he said. “We turn our thoughts to the apparitions and its message transmitted throughout the world.”

“In our prayer we ask God, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for peace for the world, the end of the pandemic, the spirit of penance and our conversion,” Pope Francis said.