Pat and Tony Banks from St Joseph's Parish, Penketh flew out to Fatima in July for the XII International Gathering of Équipes Notre-Dame/Teams of Our Lady – a Catholic movement for married couples. Here they describe a memorable stay.
On 16 July, along with three other couples from the north-west, we joined almost 9,000 members of Équipes Notre-Dame in Fatima. That first evening, we gathered by the High Cross and processed into the Basilica of the Holy Trinity for an opening ceremony in which the flags of 84 of the 92 countries represented were carried forward to the sanctuary. Some of the loudest cheers were reserved for the flags of Syria and Lebanon.
Each morning, we met in the Basilica for prayer and a daily reflection on the Gospel passage of the Prodigal Son. Father Tolentino de Mendonça, from Portugal, spoke each day on a theme taken from part of this story and helped us to meditate on it. Our days continued with talks, inspiring testimonies from Teams members, and mixed Teams meetings.
There was also a daily celebration of the Eucharist and the sanctuary was filled with cardinals, bishops and priests who concelebrated the Masses. Several hundred priests were also in attendance in the Basilica, providing a joyful sign of our international unity. One evening Mass concluded with a Holy Hour and a procession of the Eucharist to the Rosary Basilica for an overnight vigil.
Other highlights were the Rosary service and torchlight procession, and the 'Sit Down' in the sanctuary and nearby grassy areas – a moment for couples to sit together and reflect on their lives, listening compassionately and intently to one another. This 'Sit Down' is a regular monthly endeavour for Teams couples.
And finally to 'Party Night' which, with its stage, giant screens and booths distributing free food and drinks, had the feel of a mini-pop festival. In this case, the music and dancing were 'home-grown' – most memorably, from our Indian and Trinidadian Teams. For us, it was particularly special meeting again the 'Mixed Team' we had formed at the last International Gathering in Brasilia six years ago. We still feel like a closely-knit group.
After our closing ceremony, and a spectacular outdoor Mass in the sanctuary, we were sorry to leave Fatima and all our friends in Teams, but we're already looking forward to celebrating 60 years of Teams in Britain at Westminster Cathedral in November 2019.
• To learn more about Teams, email: NorthernBritain@teams.org.uk