Fátima, Pope Francis and Steve McCurry 
Fátima, Portugal [May 13th, 1917] - The Virgin Mary appears before 3 children: Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta, carrying an important message to the world.
Fátima, Portugal [May 13th, 2017] - Every year the apparition of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on the same day, May 13th. People from all over the country and abroad come on pilgrimage, doing several hundred kilometers on foot to be present at the celebrations.
This pilgrimage is made all year round, but especially on May 13th and October 13th. And this year 2017, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first apparition, the Sanctuary had a special guest: His Holiness the Pope Francis.
I knew this would be a big event, with people coming from all over the world, with the most diversified religions or none at all. And I had to be present to document this day. Actually the celebrations started the night before, with people sleeping in front of the sanctuary to secure the spot.
All photographers seek to do aesthetically appealing work, but if it has no meaning, no purpose, it is completely void of content. Therefore, I insist that the first basic rule for doing a documentary photographic project is to seek to know the subject and to genuinely be interested in it.
For a long time this pilgrimage interested me particularly and this year, with the visit of the Pope, I could not pass up the opportunity.
Of course I could have simply driven my car and parked a few hundred meters from the Sanctuary to attend the event. But to truly understand the meaning of the pilgrimage, I had to do it myself.
After 3 days of walking and 110km afterwards, I arrived at the Sanctuary. It was a unique experience and it's difficult to be explained by words, it has to be lived. The walk was not particularly difficult because I live relatively close to Fátima. But I came across people from all over the country and even some foreigners. I found that this is an experience that is done by all, more or less religious and even non-believers. The feeling of entering the Sanctuary at the end of a period of sacrifice is unique.
I left with the intention of capturing a series of photographs during the walk, but to make 30-40km per day it's necessary to maintain a steady rhythm and have the goal to reach a certain point before the end of the afternoon. Therefore, photography turned out to be a secondary goal and I captured very few images during the path.
The Sanctuary of Fatima
As soon as the pilgrims arrived at the Sanctuary, the square began to fill. According to the numbers announced in the news, about 1 million people visited Fátima and were waiting for the celebrations of the 100 years of the apparitions and the visit of Pope Francis.
The sense of relief after a hard pilgrimage was present on everyone's faces. Serenity and peace are the words that best describe the environment in the square. It amazed me to see hundreds of thousands of people in absolute silence, waiting serenely, with total respect for each one's individual space.
It is impossible not to have a deep respect and admiration for Pope Francis. It was the second time I saw him, having first been in the Vatican in 2015.
After a few hours in silence and meditation, everyone in the square celebrated his arrival to the Sanctuary with great enthusiasm.
His words were heard in complete silence. It was a definitely special moment and it becomes difficult to explain in words to anyone who was not present that day. Closing our eyes, one does not hear a single sound, as if he were alone in a field. But by opening them, we realize that we are surrounded by thousands and thousands of people. Unique, special.
The Candles Procession
I attended on May 12th and then again on October 14th. Although in May it has had a much larger dimension, it is always a special event and, for photographers, something extremely photogenic. It's wonderful to watch the faces of people lit by candlelight.
I have long admired the work of Steve McCurry. And finding him in this place that I longed to photograph was a really special coincidence. I was trying to photograph one of the pilgrims and another photographer was in front of me, within the frame that I wanted to capture. While I waited for him to finish taking his photograph, I looked again and noticed that he was Steve McCurry! We talked a little bit and of course I asked to take a picture. An unexpected encounter with a great master of World's Photography and a very nice and kind person.
Photographing the event
Being a person who always, but always, carries a camera, during these days many were the situations in which I simply kept my equipment in the backpack and simply enjoyed the moment. From the pilgrimage to the various phases of the celebrations at the Sanctuary, frequently I just wanted to live the moment instead of capturing and imprisoning it inside a photograph. I am sure that I failed many fantastic photographs, often I even had my eyes closed. But it was worth it.
Having the press card and the Sanctuary authorization to cover the event, no one refused to be photographed. But even if I had not, the general environment was so friendly and special that I realized that everyone cordially allowed to be photographed at this happy time in their lives.
The two times I visited Fatima in 2017, I ended up using a lot of equipment, each one with its specific characteristics.
Fujifilm X-Pro1: Always coupled with the XF 35mm f/1.4, this has been one of my favourite cameras for this type of projects. Small, lightweight, with a very simple use allows me to make the necessary adjustments very intuitively and, this way, I can concentrate on the subject that I am photographing. The focusing speed is slow, but for this kind of photography this rarely poses a problem. With a maximum aperture of f/1.4, it allows me to shoot at night without hesitation.
Sony A77: This camera looks like a DSLR, but it's actually a DSLT, as Sony calls them. The viewfinder is electronic so it has all the advantages of both the DSLRs and thge Mirrorless cameras. This camera accompanied me for years in Africa and never failed me. It is a fantastic traveling companion, robust and always reliable. As it rained for most of the time, I took it because the A77 is weather-sealed and this way could photograph under rain without any fear. I've done it several times in the past and I've never had problems. The Sony 16-50mm F2.8 SSM is an amazing lens and weather-sealed as well. For a longer focal length, I've also used the Sony 85mm f/2.8 SAM.
Sony Nex-7: One of my favorite cameras of all time and the one that led me to enter the Mirrorless world in 2012. It was also a great companion in Africa, having captured thousands and thousands of photographs. It's old and needs to be replaced, but once in a while I still use it and still produces wonderful images, even with the kit lens (Sony E 18–55 mm F3.5–5.6 OSS).