The story of Our Lady of Fatima begins in a small village in the centre of Portugal about 70 miles north of Lisbon. It was there, in 1915, that three humble peasant children began having a series of apparitions of angels and later, the Virgin Mary. The children were eight-year old Lucia Santos and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. At the time, the Portuguese government was secular and very antagonistic towards religion, which eventually led them to treat the children very harshly.
The Three Children
The first apparition occurred on an unnamed day in 1915, when the three children, sat down in a field close to their village to eat their lunch.
After lunch, as was their custom, the children began to say the Rosary. This time, however, they were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a cloud, in the form of a man, above some foliage. Lucia later described it as, “like a cloud, whiter than snow, slightly transparent, with a human outline”.
The three children were surprised and full of wonder and, although the same apparition occurred two more times, the children may have eventually forgotten them, except for the events that happened later. A year later found the children again tending the sheep. It began raining and they went into a small cave to escape the rain. The rain eventually stopped and the sun emerged but they stayed in the cave to eat their lunch, say the Rosary and play a game of jacks.
They played only a short time, when a strong wind came up that swayed the trees. The children looked outside to see what was happening. Suddenly, above the trees they began to see a bright light. Lucia’s description was “the form of a young man, transparent, and more brilliant than a crystal pierced by the rays of the sun”. The apparition approached them and said, “Fear not, I am the Angel of Peace. pray with me”.
The angel then knelt on the ground and bowed very low. The children imitated the angel and repeated his words, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I beg pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” The angel repeated the prayer three times, and then rose and said, “Pray this way. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”
The angelic vision did not attempt to focus any adoration or even any attention to himself, but rather to God. The angel asked the children to pray with him, in recognition of his position as one of God’s creations and his role as a messenger of God. In his prayer, he gave God four things: belief, adoration, hope, and love. He repeated it three times, as a teacher is apt to do when attempting to get young children to memorize something.
After the angel disappeared, the children remained in the cave with a deep awareness of the supernatural. As Lucia described it, “We felt the presence of God so intensely, so intimately, that we dared not speak, even to each other. The next day we felt ourselves still enveloped by that atmosphere. Only very gradually did its intensity diminish within us. None of us thought of speaking of this apparition or of recommending that it be kept a secret. It imposed secrecy of itself. It was so intimate that it was not easy to utter even a single word about it. Perhaps it made a deeper impression on us because it was the angel’s first clear manifestation”.
The angel appeared to them several more times, each time giving them a message of the need for sacrifice and to prepare them for the prophecies that were to follow. In later years, Lucia revealed that, “the words of the angel were like a light that made us realize who God was, how He loved us and wanted to be loved; the value of sacrifice, to what degree it pleased Him, and how it was rewarded with the conversion of sinners”.
On Sunday, May 13, 1917, in a world immersed in the First World War, the children of Fatima were to receive their first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As usual, the children went to the cave to eat their lunch, after which they said the Rosary. Shortly after they returned to tending of the sheep, a bright shaft of light pierced the air. They could only describe it like a flash of lightning, however Lucia later said that it was not really lightning, but rather the reflection of a light that approached little by little.
The children were very frightened by the flash; they looked at the clear sky, which held no indication of a storm that might be responsible for a flash of lightning. The children, however, thought that they had better head home. As they descended the hill, another flash surprised them. They became fearful and took only a few more steps when suddenly, standing over the foliage of an oak tree, was a beautiful lady.
Lucia recalled the vision, “It was a lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water, pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”
The lady spoke to them and said, “Fear not, I will not harm you.” The children asked where she was from. The lady answered, “I am from Heaven,” and raised her hand towards the distant horizon. Lucia asked what the lady wanted of them. She replied that she wanted them to return to the same spot, at the same hour, on the thirteenth day of the next six months. She said that she would tell them later who she was and what she wanted of them and also that she would return again a seventh time.
Mary allegedly appeared on the thirteenth of each month, and the children were there each time except for one apparition when government officials locked them away. Each time the children reported similar phenomena, and many messages and secrets were revealed to them.
At each successive apparition, word of the events at Fatima spread farther and wider together with the story that the October apparition would be particularly dramatic. The October miracle was predicted to be one that everyone would see and thereby believe. The crowd, on the day, was estimated at some 70,000 and although the sun rose that day, soon dark clouds overshadowed it and threatened a severe storm. About ten o’clock in the morning the rain came, driven by a cold fall wind. The pilgrims and the interested skeptics kept coming, however, and made their way to the area around the cave. The children’s families were worried over their safety, particularly if such a large crowd was disappointed should the predicted miracle not occur. Nevertheless, the children eventually made their way to the cave under the careful protection of their relatives and friends and surrounded by thousands of observers.
At noon, the predicted time of the apparition, nothing happened. After waiting a few minutes, the priest accompanying the children suggested that they leave and that the crowd disperse
The children insisted on remaining, and just as the priest began to push them away from the site, Lucia saw the flash that always preceded the vision of Mary.
As she arrived, the rains ceased and the sun began to emerge. The apparition of Mary settled over the oak tree as usual, which had been adorned with ribbons and flowers for the occasion. Lucia inquired of Mary, “What do you want of me?” Mary said, “I want to tell you that the people must build a chapel here in my honor; that I am the Lady of the Rosary and that they should continue to say the Rosary every day. The war will end and the soldiers will return to their homes soon.” This referred to the First World War, which was then raging in Europe.
Lucia asked Mary if she would grant some petitions, to which she replied, “Some I will, others I will not. The people must mend their lives and ask forgiveness for their sins. Offend not Our Lord any more, for He is already much offended.” As Mary left, she opened her hands, which emitted a flood of light. While she was rising, she pointed towards the sun and the light gleaming from her hands brightened the sun itself. Suddenly, a cry of awe and wonderment came from the large crowd. The sun became pale as the moon. To the left of the sun, the children saw Saint Joseph holding, in his left arm, the Child Jesus. Saint Joseph then raised his right hand and together with the Child Jesus they made the sign of the Cross three times over the crowd. The crowd, however, did not see this manifestation, but only the sun, which was rapidly pulsating.
Mary was said to have appeared to the right of the sun and was brilliant. She was dressed in the blue and white robes of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Lucia said that she then saw Jesus dressed in red as the Divine Redeemer, also blessing the crowd. Both He and Saint Joseph appeared only from the chest up. Mary next appeared, dressed in the purple robes of Our Lady of Sorrows, between Jesus and Joseph. Finally, Mary again appeared, this time in the simple brown robe of Our Lady of Carmel.
The crowd, although not seeing the apparitions, were enraptured by other signs in the sky. As one witness said, “We could look at the sun with ease. It did not bother the eyes at all. It seemed to be continually fading and glowing in one fashion, then another. It threw shafts of light one way and then another, painting everything in different colors, the people, the trees, the earth, even the air.” The sun stopped its play of light and then started, what can only be described as, dancing. This continued until it seemed to loosen itself from the skies and seemed as if it would fall upon the people. It was a moment of terrible suspense.
Another witness reported that the sun “… cast different colors: yellow, blue, and white. It trembled constantly. It looked like a revolving ball of fire falling upon the people.” In his book, Fatima, From the Beginning,” John de Marchi presents a vivid description of the phenomenal miracle of the sun as witnessed by Dr. Almeida Garrett, professor of Coimbra university: “The sun had broken through the thick layer of clouds. It seemed to be drawing all eyes and I saw it as a disc with a clean cut rim, luminous and shining, but which did not hurt the eyes; it gave light and heat and the clouds did not obscure the light of the sun. One could fix one’s eyes on this brazier of heat and light without pain in the eyes or blinding of the retina. The sun’s disc spun around on itself in a mad whirl, then whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth, as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. There were changes of color in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed everything else around us was becoming darkened.”
Professor Garrett ends his testimony with these words: “All the phenomena, which I have described, were observed by me. It is for others to interpret and explain them.”
As the sun appeared to hurl itself upon the crowd in a zigzag fashion, the people in the crowd cried out in terror, believing they were going to die. Some begged for mercy; others said the act of contrition. One lady confessed her sins aloud. Eventually the sun stopped its sudden dive and returned to its place in the sky. Everything then appeared to return to normal, with some notable exceptions.
The crowd noticed that everything had suddenly dried from the earlier heavy rains — their clothes, the ground, everything. One would have never guessed that it had just rained very hard. As the multitude sighed in relief, when they realized that their perceived danger had passed, they realized that the miracle predicted by the children had come to pass.
Not only did the immediate crowd witness the miracle, but also so did those in adjoining villages. Although there were some variations in what they saw, they all reported having seen something miraculous.
The crowd observing the phenomena
An observer, who was present during the appearance of the apparitions, took the above photograph. Some of the crowd, which numbered some 70,000, can be seen looking upward as the sun went through its wild gyrations. Of course, the people did not see the apparitions themselves, however the actions of the sun were enough to convince almost all of them that a miracle had taken place.
The next day the secular Portuguese newspaper, O Dia reported:
” …..The sky had a certain grayish tint of pearl and a strange clearness filled the gloomy landscape, every moment getting gloomier. The sun seemed to be veiled with transparent gauze to enable us to look at it without difficulty. The grayish tint of mother of pearl began changing as if into a shining silver disc, that was growing slowly until it broke through the clouds. And the silvery sun, still shrouded in the same grayish lightness of gauze, was seen to rotate and wander within the circle of receded clouds. The people cried out with one voice, the thousands of the creatures of God whom faith raised up to heaven, fell to their knees upon the muddy ground. Then as if it were shining through the stained glass windows of a great cathedral, the light became a rare blue, spreading its rays upon the gigantic nave. Slowly the blue faded away and now the light seemed to be filtered through yellow stained glass. Yellow spots were falling now upon the white kerchiefs and the dark poor skirts of coarse wool. They were spots that repeated themselves indefinitely over the trees, rocks and the hills. All the people were weeping and praying, weighed down by the greatness of the miracle expected. These were seconds, moments, that seemed hours; they were so fully lived.”
Incio Lourenco was a boy of nine when he witnessed the miracle of Fatima. He later became a priest. Here is how he described it: “It was like a globe of snow revolving on itself. Then suddenly, it seemed to come down in a zigzag, threatening to fall on the earth. Terrified, I ran to shelter myself in the midst of the people. All were weeping, expecting from one moment to the next, the end of the world. Near us was an unbeliever without religion, who had spent the morning mocking the blockheads who had made that entire journey to Fatima, to go and stare at the children. I looked at him. He stood as if paralyzed, thunderstruck; his eyes fixed on the sun. Then I saw him tremble from head to foot, and raising his hands to heaven, he fell on his knees in the mud shouting “Our Lady! Our Lady!”
Many reporters, who had came to scoff, gave long and detailed accounts. Although these were released to the world, few people outside of Portugal paid any attention to these events.
After this final vision, the excitement over the events, which had taken place in Fatima, quickly passed away. The First World War was still ongoing in Europe and the news media quickly lost interest.
The children and their families soon resumed their lives. The youngest children, however, did not live very long after the events. The Blessed Mother had foretold that the younger girl, Jacinta and also the boy Francisco would join her very soon in Heaven. The boy died during a flu epidemic in April 1919 and his sister died from pleurisy in February 1920.
In 1921, upon the advice of the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima, the older girl, Lucia, entered a convent boarding school to learn to read and write. When she was old enough, she became a nun in the order that had educated her, the Sisters of St. Dorothy.
Sister Lucia has said that she experienced further apparitions of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord. On December 10, 1925, they both appeared to Sister Lucia. The first to speak was Our Lord who appeared as the Christ Child. He said: “Have pity on the heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with thorns with which ungrateful people pierce at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.”
Our Lady, who was holding in her hand a heart encircled with sharp thorns, imparted the following message to Lucia: “My child, behold my heart surrounded with the thorns which ungrateful people place by their blasphemies and ingratitude towards God. You, my child, at least try to console me.”
Our Lady went on to say: “I want you to announce in my name that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to Confession and receive Holy Communion, recite the Rosary and keep me company for a quarter of an hour while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.” Thus the devotion of The Five First Saturdays was begun.
In 1930, the Bishop of Leira-Fatima, after 13 years of thorough and careful investigation, released his pastoral letter stating that the revelations at Fatima were worthy of belief by the faithful. Today, in the place where the Blessed Mother appeared to the children, as they pastured their sheep, there is now a magnificent shrine, where thousands of people come on pilgrimage each year.
On October 31 1942, Pope Pius XII personally consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shortly after this he instituted, throughout the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is celebrated on the Saturday after the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1964, Pope Paul VI consecrated the world to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. On May 13 1982, 65 years to the day since the first apparition of Our Lady, Pope John Paul II, uniting himself in intention with the world’s bishops, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. His words on that occasion were “In a particular way, we entrust and consecrate to thee those individuals and nations which particularly need to be entrusted and consecrated”.
The point that Pope John Paul II was making is that everyone and every nation of the world needs Our Lady’s intercessions. This was made substantially clear to the Pope, since exactly one year earlier, on May 13 1981 (the 64th anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition at Fatima); he survived an assassination attempt. The Pope attributed his survival to the intercession of Our Lady and shortly after his recovery made a trip to Fatima to visit the shrine.
Our Lady, in her monthly visits to the children, told the children several secret things as well as made a number of requests for the children to pass on to the world.
These requests are: 1) penance and reparation, 2) the daily recital of the Rosary, 3) the devotion of the Five First Saturdays and 4) consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These things form Our Lady’s peace plan from Heaven.
Our Lady explained to the children, that penance means people must amend their lives and turn their back on sin, ask pardon for their sin and make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By reparation, Our Lady means offering sacrifices to atone for our sins, fulfilling our daily duties, accepting the responsibilities of our life and obeying the Commandments of God.
Our Lady’s second request of saying the Rosary has, in the past, been a very powerful weapon in the defense of Christianity. Several centuries ago, the Turks were on the verge overrunning parts of Europe and it seemed that they could wipe out Christianity. Pope Pius V organized a great Rosary Crusade as a defense to these threats. It has been said that the Christian soldiers went into battle with swords in one hand and rosaries in the other. Whether or not this actually happened can never be known for sure, however, a greatly outnumbered Christian fleet defeated the Turks in a great military upset at Lepanto in October of 1571.
Yet another story, concerning the power of the Rosary, took place in 1964, in Brazil. The country was on the verge of falling under the power of communism. The Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro did a number of radio broadcasts for prayer and penance in keeping with Our Lady of Fatima’s requests. The response of the Brazilian people increasingly grew and culminated in a vast march of over six hundred thousand Rosary-praying women in Sao Paulo on March 19, 1964. Additional marches were planned for the following month, but the communist factors within the country backed away and freedom was preserved.
In addition to winning wars and peoples’ freedom, the Rosary can be a powerful tool in securing a peaceful and happy family life.