In pics| Thousands of faithful Catholics pray at Portuguese shrine despite fears of new Covid wave
Happy but cautious at being able to join a mass religious event for the first time since the pandemic began, thousands of Catholic faithful gathered at a sanctuary in Portugal on Friday, as authorities brace for a potential sixth wave of COVID-19.
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Last year, only 7,500 were allowed inside the sanctuary and people had to stand in circles to maintain social distancing.
For many, it was a special moment to see the sanctuary finally opening doors to a big crowd after the vast majority of COVID-19 rules were lifted last month.
But, as daily infections rise again, Teresa Maria decided to keep her mask on.
praying for ukraine as well
Retiree Teresa Maria, 62, was one of about 200,000 people who travelled to the famous Fatima Roman Catholic shrine to mark the first of three reported visions of the Virgin Mary, also known as Our Lady, more than 100 years ago.
Priests in Fatima blessed a statue of the Virgin Mary and will offer it to a cathedral in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which has become a refuge and key stop for those fleeing war.
Teresa Maria and others took the opportunity not only to pray for a world without COVID-19 but also for the end of the war that has been ravaging Ukraine since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.
Portugal has the European Union's highest seven-day rolling average of cases per million inhabitants, according Our World in Data. Health experts believe a "sixth wave is shaping up very intensely".
Deaths and hospitalisations are far below levels suffered during the peak of the pandemic. Those aged over 80 will receive the fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from next week, three months ahead of schedule.
People carry the statue of Our Lady of Fatima (the Virgin Mary) during an event marking the 105th anniversary of the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children, at the Catholic shrine of Fatima, in Fatima, Portugal.