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LISBON (Reuters) - Any Roman Catholics who have vowed to make the pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal which is famous for religious visions but can't fulfil their promise, help is at hand -- rent-a-pilgrim.
For 2,500 euros (1,671 pounds), Pilgrim Gil will make the journey in your place -- and send you a certificate stamped along the way to prove he walked your every step.
Carlos Gil, 42, who owns a small computer company, took up this mediaeval practice four years ago when he suddenly "felt an urge to walk to Fatima" and said charging each client was simply a way to keep doing what he loves.
"I make the trip to Fatima once or twice a year because it elevates my spirit," said Gil. "Sometimes the trip is so intense that I forget I'm doing it to fulfil my client's promises."
Like a true pilgrim, Gil begins his seven-day journey to Fatima on foot from his home in Cascais, a small town on the outskirts of Lisbon, about 160 kilometres from the shrine. It takes him another six days to walk back.
Fatima's claim to fame is the Sanctuary of Fatima, built after the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared six times to three shepherd children on a hillside near the town in 1917.
One of the children, Lucia dos Santos, became a nun after having the visions and is said to have foretold the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in May 1981. She died in 2005 while the other two children died in 1919 and 1920.
Pope John Paul later placed one of the bullets that nearly killed him in the crown of the statue of Fatima.
Ever year about 3.5 million visitors flock to the shrine to celebrate the Virgin's appearance -- and Gil goes in the place of some of would-be pilgrims although he would not say how many people he walks for each year.
"It is a romantic way for my clients to thank God for what they have, like buying a candle or a plaster statue of Fatima," he said.
To guarantee to his clients that he made the trip on foot, Gil has a system of handing his customers a certificate after every journey with various stamps from places along the way.
"That way they know I kept their promise," he said.
He insists he makes the trips because it makes him feel good and the money he charges is used to compensate for time-off from his company and expenses along the way.
"As long as I'm not making a profit, I don't see a problem in this," he said. "It doesn't matter if you can't make the trip yourself because you are I and I am you, if you know what I mean."
Those who wish to hire Pilgrim Gil can do so through his website peregrino.org, which is translated into three different languages and includes a credit card payment system.