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Faith, football and a first win in the Eurovision Song Contest after 53 years of trying have lifted spirits in Portugal to a degree the country has rarely enjoyed in a decade marked by deep recession and a punishing international bailout.
Hours after hundreds of thousands of worshippers heard Pope Francis canonise two child shepherds at the shrine of Fátima on Saturday, Portugal won the Eurovision contest with the highest vote any country has achieved.
An estimated 200,000 football fans, already celebrating boisterously in central Lisbon after local club Benfica clinched the Portuguese league title, sang along with Salvador Sobral’s winning song when his victory was announced close to midnight.
“We have made Eurovision history in Portuguese,” Prime Minister António Costa tweeted, after “Amar Pelos Dois” (Love For Two) became the first song not sung in English to win the competition since 2007. “Bravo Salvador! Bravo Portugal!”
In another tweet, the Portuguese Football Federation compared the 27-year-old singer’s win to Portugal’s victory in the Euro 2016 football championship, saying, “10 months on, Portugal conquers Europe again!”
The euphoric mood marks the highest point so far in Mr Costa’s efforts to build a more optimistic outlook for a country hit by record unemployment, high emigration and increased poverty in the wake of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
Economic benefits are likely to follow. Fátima is expected to attract 8m visitors this year, an influx that will boost an already booming tourism sector, where revenue increased by almost 11 per cent last year to a record €12.6bn.
As this year’s winner, Portugal will host the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. The advertising value is seen as a huge potential benefit, alongside increased business for the hospitality industry.
But Mr Costa, whose “anti-austerity” Socialist government took office in late 2015, has repeatedly come under fire from opponents for attempting to put too positive a spin on a fragile economic recovery.
Despite cutting the budget deficit to a record low last year, Portugal is burdened with one of the highest public debts in the eurozone. Weak growth has held back the economy for more than a decade.
In the 1970s, “Fátima, fado [Portugal’s national folk music] and football” were condemned as a form of “opium of the people” used by the 1926-74 rightwing dictatorship to lull political dissent.
The weekend’s celebrations appear to show that Portugal has reinvented, rather than discarded, some of the mainstays of its national culture. Although not a fado song, Mr Sobral’s winning ballad was praised for the simplicity and emotional directness it shares with that tradition.
After triumphing with a song written by his sister, Mr Sobral said: “We live in a world of fast food music without content. I hope this can be a victory for music that means something.”
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Costa met privately with the Pope at Fátima, where, according to the Vatican, about half a million pilgrims had gathered. Once a poor rural area in central Portugal, Fátima grew into one the great shrines of the Catholic faith after three children reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary there in 1917.
“We declare the blissful Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto saints,” the pontiff announced to an applauding crowed, many of whom had walked for days to reach the sanctuary.
The two children were aged six and eight when they reported seeing visions as they tended their family’s sheep. Both died within three years in an influenza epidemic. They have been canonised for miracles attributed to them.
A third child, their cousin Lúcia Santos, who also said she had seen the apparitions, became a nun and died in 2005, aged 97. She is on her way to sainthood after her beatification process began in 2008.