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June 28, 2017
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Portugal: The Protocol to Welcome Pope Francis


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pope francis at the shrine of fatima in portugal

By Cristina Fernandes, Protocol Consultant

His Holiness Pope Francis travelled in pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima, at the invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese of Leiria-Fátima, António Marto, in April 2015, having replied that if God gave him "life and health" he would be in Cova da Iria presiding over the Celebrations of the Centenary of the Apparitions.

The firm intention of coming to Fatima was transmitted to the Portuguese Bishops on September 7th 2016 and therefore the arrival of Pope Francis concretised not only his intention but also an event much desired by the Portuguese. He was thus the fourth Pope to visit Fatima, celebrating the sixth trip of a Supreme Pontiff to Portugal in a period of 50 years.

It should be clarified that Pope Francis was in Fatima in pilgrimage and not in a state visit. A state visit follows an invitation addressed by a Head of State from a given country to a counterpart, and of course involves strict protocol practices coordinated between the protocol services of visiting and visited states. In Portugal, state visits are supervised and organised by the State Protocol Services.

Having confirmed the Holy Father's trip, a complex process of logistical and, above all, security (the largest security operation ever set up in Portugal) is initiated. Of course, protocol seems indispensable from the outset involving three entities: the Vatican, the Shrine of Fatima (as host entity) and the Protocol of the Portuguese State.

From a protocolary point of view - and not considering in this analysis, for discernible reasons, the Liturgical Ceremonial - it is the responsibility of the Shrine Protocol team, which I had the honour of coordinating, under the supervision of the Rector and Vice Rector, to cover two distinct areas: on the one hand, to carry out the entire process relating to the 198 participants in the celebration, sitting in the South Colonnade of the shrine. In this context, invitations were issued, protocol notes were issued at different times, providing all the information related to the complex security process and consequent accreditations and, on days 12th and 13th, the place was guaranteed to these participants (some of whom were high individualities of the Portuguese State, whose precedence was duly respected), having been properly received. Part of this audience, in the South Colonnade of the shrine, was handed over to State Protocol, these places being under their management, which allowed the Portuguese State to guarantee a seat to a number of official national and international entities.

On the other hand, the Shrine Protocol Team was also responsible for the reception, accommodation and meals of the Holy Father, as well as the Papal Commission (in a total of 48 people) and the Bishops of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. The lodging took place in the Casa Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a retreat house, property of the Shrine, where, by the way, the previous Popes had already been housed during their stay in Fatima.

Since the Holy Father's arrival and departure ceremonies in Monte Real were the State Protocol responsibility, given the responsibility of the President of the Republic at this time, to analyse the role of the Protocol of the Shrine in this event, if we detail the little more than 23 hours that the Holy Father was at Fatima, we find that there were, in addition to the Liturgical Celebrations, some fundamental moments from the protocolary point of view:

The arrival of the Holy Father (and main members of the Entourage) to Casa Nossa Senhora do Carmo and his reception, on 12th.
Dinner on 12th.
Breakfast on 13th.
The hearing, also at Casa Nossa Senhora do Carmo, of the Portuguese Prime Minister, his wife and daughter.
The gift exchange between the Holy Father and the Rector of the Shrine.
The Holy Father's greeting to a group of Shrine Workers.
Lunch, 13th, of the Holy Father with the Bishops of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference.
The farewell and departure of the Holy Father and Entourage from Casa Nossa Senhora do Carmo.

All these moments were the Shrine's total and absolute responsibility, operationalised by the Protocol Team. In addition to detailed planning and thorough organisation, which are developed over a period of months, always in complete alignment with those in charge of the Vatican Travel, Security and Protocol Organisation, implementation and execution must be absolutely flawless, fulfilling not only an established agenda by the minute, but also extraordinarily demanding safety rules.


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