Written by Fr. Claude Perera
The Time of the Apparitions: May 13 – Oct 13, 1917
Ecclesiastical Approval: On Oct 13, 1930 by Bishop Jos Alves Correia da Silva, Diocese of Leiria, Portugal
Feast Day: May 13
In the early spring of 1916, three shepherd children named Lúcia dos Santos (nine years old) and her cousins Francisco (eight years old) and Jacinta Marto (six years old) from Cova da Iria in Fátima, Portugal reported a visit by an angel who identified himself as the Angel of Peace. For the first time, a glowing Angel appeared to the children above an olive grove at Cobeo when, they were taking shelter during a rain. As the children were frightened at the sight, the angel said to them, “Do not fear! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” Then the angel repeated the following prayer thrice which the children also muttered. ‘My God, trust in Thee, I adore Thee, I hope in Thee and I love Thee. I ask forgiveness for all those who do not believe in Thee, nor adore Thee, nor hope in Thee nor love Thee.” Then the angel told them also to continue to pray similarly and assured to them that the hearts of Jesus and Mary would be attentive to their prayers. Then he disappeared.
The Angel appeared a second time during the summer of 1916, as they were playing around their favorite well and he disclosed that he was the Angel of Portugal and its Guardian Angel. Then he reiterated the design the Hearts of Jesus and Mary have for them and they were asked to make big and small sacrifices constantly and bear up many sufferings in reparation for the sinners and for their conversion. So, they gave away their lunch packets to poor children and satisfied their own hunger with bitter fruits instead.
The third and last apparition took place in the autumn of that year, as they took their sheep to Cabeço, the place of the first apparition. During this apparition, they saw the angel, this time with a Chalice in the left hand over which there was a suspended Host, from which a few drops of blood fell into the Chalice. The angel gave them communion, the host to Lúcia and the precious blood to the other two saying, “Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which is very much irritated by ungrateful men and therefore, make reparation for their sins and console your God.”
During the apparitions Francisco could not hear the words of the angel and Lúciahad to tell him what the angel had said. The appearance of the Angel of Peace to the three children was to prepare them spiritually and emotionally for the privilege of the Marian apparition to come.
The Apparitions of The Blessed Virgin Mary
On the sunny day of May 13th of 1917, Lúcia , Jacinta and Francisco were grazing their sheep in a hollow ground at Cova da Iria, outside the town of Fátima. Suddenly, to their surprise, the children felt a flash and thought that a storm was coming up far away and they looked at the sky. A few meters away, a dazzling beautiful woman of unbearable brilliance stood. They felt the fragrance of roses there. Lúcia plucked up courage and broke the ice, “Where are you from?” The woman replied, “I am from Heaven.” Lúcia retorted, “What do you want of us?” Then the woman replied, “I came to ask you to come here on the thirteenth day of each of the coming six months at the same time, and then I will return for a seventh time.” She asked them to recite the rosary daily and disappeared in a cloud of light in the eastern sky. That was the first apparition. Lucia warned the other two not to speak about the apparition to the elders out of fear that no one would believe. But little Jacinta in her innocence told her parents about the Apparition. Parents did not believe, and they thought that the children were lying, and they were punished. Their fellow-children laughed and even spat at them. Jacinta’s mother took it as a joke before her neighbors, and within a day the whole village came to know about the apparition. However, as the children were asked to come back the following month, Lúcia’s mother consulted the parish priest, Father Ferreira, who suggested that she would permit them to go with the intention of questioning Lúcia afterwards.
The second appearance occurred on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua (13 June), during which the woman disclosed the early demise of the two younger children while Lúcia would live longer spreading the devotion to the Immaculate Heart and also that all three of them would go to heaven after death. They were exhorted to the daily recitation of the rosary in order that the First World War may end speedily. She revealed a vision of hell to the children and entrusted to them a secret.
On July 13, 1917, when the third Fátima apparition took place, Our Lady taught the children the following prayer to be recited after each mystery of the rosary, “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of mercy.” In fulfilling the desire of the Blessed Mother, this prayer is being recited when Catholics pray the rosary. During this third apparition, the Virgin Mother said that she would come to ask for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and to make reparation through the Five First Saturdays devotion.
Now more and more crowds were drawing to the place of the apparition and people believed that the woman appearing was the Blessed Virgin Mary. At this time, the government of Portugal was atheistic and on 13 August 1917, the Provincial Administrator Arturo dos Santos said that the apparitions were politically disruptive and therefore, put the children in custody so that they could no longer reach the Cova da Iria. He interrogated and threatened them to reveal the secrets. Lúcia told him what had happened, but not the secrets, and she said that next time she would ask the woman for permission to reveal the secrets. So, the children saw the Blessed Virgin Mary for the fourth time on 19 August at Valinhos who exhorted them to make sacrifices, recite the daily rosary, and pray for the conversion sinners as well as for the souls in purgatory.
The secular, atheistic press ridiculed the apparitions. But still on 13 September, about 20,000 people gathered in the Cova da Iria for the fifth apparition. Some may have come because they were believers, but others out of curiosity. But they all prayed the rosary awaiting the visionaries and the vision. When the children had arrived, the people heard Lúcia asking, “What do you want from me?” The Blessed Mother responded, “Continue to pray the Rosary, my children. Recite it every day so that the war would end. In October, Our Lord. Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel will come. Saint Joseph too will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is happy with your sacrifices, but He does not want you to wear the cords in bed. Wear them only during the day.” Then, Lúcia asked for a favour to heal a little girl who was deaf, to which Our Lady replied that she would improve within the year. To her request about more cures, the Blessed Mother said that only some will be cured. Further, she said that there would be a miracle in October so that many will come to believe.
Newspapers reported that the Virgin Mary had promised a miracle during the last of Her apparitions on 13 October. Thus, on that day, an anxious populace of possibly between 30,000 and 100,000, including reporters and photographers, gathered at Cova da Iria. What happened there is called the “Miracle of the Sun.” Reports of the event are varied and multiple. It had been a rainy day. In the afternoon sun appeared through the clouds and began to emit multicolored rays like those of the rainbow across the sky, the clouds, and the people. The children cried out, “Look at the sun.” Then the sun started to spin like a disc and was coming down towards the earth and soon went back to its normal position in a zig zag movement. As the sun was coming towards the children, there was a huge outcry of fear mixed with repentance. They thought that the end of the world had come. Some started confessing their sins loud as there was no priest around. Others were praying and removing their headcovers. Since people were drenched by rain which kept falling from morning, their clothes were wet. But with the strange occurrence of this event, their found their clothes as well as the wet and muddy ground had become dry. Some people saw only bright and radiant colors, while some did not see the Sun Dance and others among whom were believers saw nothing at all. Still others claimed that they saw Jesus, O. L. of Sorrows, O. L. of Mount Carmel or St. Joseph. The only picture of the Sun taken during the event showed nothing unusual. Astronomers said that there was nothing unusual in the sun that afternoon. Sceptics gave various explanations like autosuggestion, temporary retinal distortion caused by trauma on the eyes due to gazing on the sky long or optical effects resulting from natural meteorological phenomena.
Soon the sky cleared up and the sun took its normal course as if nothing had happened. Still people dreaded to look at the sky. Lúcia being carried shoulder-high by a man said that the war would end, and the soldiers would return. Most people were in joyful jubilation. The crowd dispersed soberly, without rushing that there was no need of the police to discipline them. The first arrivals were the first to leave. They walked back on foot and shared with all the marvel they had seen. Even in the sceptics who witnessed the events a lasting impression had been created. But they hid their emotions out of embarrassment. The celestial phenomenon of “the Sun Dance” had been seen over an area of about 640 square miles.
The three children had the privilege of seeing the Blessed Mother during a total of six apparitions between 13 May and 13 October 1917. Lúcia had reported a seventh Marian apparition at Cova da Iria. The 100th anniversary of the apparitions was celebrated in 2017. Fulfilling the prediction of the Blessed Mother, Francisco and Jacinta died during the influenza epidemic. Francisco died at his home on 4th April 1919, at the age of ten. Jacinta died at the age of nine at Queen Stephanie’s Hospital, Lisbon on 20th February 1920. Both were buried at the Sanctuary of Fátima and were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 13 May 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis I on 13 May 2017.
As a child of fourteen, Lúcia was sent to the school of the Dorothean Sisters at Vilar, near Porto in Portugal. She continued to receive private revelations all through her life. In 1925, the Blessed Mother told her to spread the devotion of First Saturday. In 1928 she was initiated to religious life as a Dorothean nun at Tui in Spain. In 1929, Lúcia reported that Mother Mary repeated her request to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. In 1931, she had an apparition of Jesus at Rianxo in Galicia in Spain, taught her two prayers and gave a message to the Church hierarchy. In 1947, Sister Lúcia left the Congregation of the Dorotheans and became a Discalced Carmelite nun at the convent of Coimbra, Portugal.
Pilgrimages to Portugal
A small chapel was put up by the local people at the site of the apparitions. The Church authorities had to tolerate it. Despite the objections of the army, pilgrims erected a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary there. For the first time, Holy Eucharist was celebrated there in January 1924. A hostel for the sick was also initiated that same year. The foundation stone for the present basilica was laid in 1928. The place attracted such vast crowds exceeding thousands and thousands. In this manner, Fátima was quickly becoming a pilgrimage of great repute. It was in 1930 that the Catholic Church officially recognised the legitimacy of the apparitions as “worthy of belief” and a papal indulgence was granted to pilgrims visiting the same. The bodies of Francisco and Jacinta were reinterred in the basilica in 1935. Pope Pius XII permitted the coronation of the statue of O. L. of Fátima and on 13 May 1946, Cardinal Benedict Aloisi Masella, Pontifical Legate, formally crowned the statue of O. L. of Fátima in the presence of a humongous crowd.
Now pilgrimage to the site are possible year-round. Additional chapels, hospitals, and other facilities to accommodate the pilgrims have been constructed at the site. The principal pilgrimage festivals are held on the thirteenth day of each month, from May to October. The largest of the crowds gather on 13 May and 13 October. These pilgrimages are characterized by various liturgical and pious activities attended by millions, among which the colourful processions, specially the evening candlelight processions, are gorgeous.
The Content of Fátima Apparitions
The content of Fátima revelations are found in two parts: Firstly, what was reported then and there in 1917 related to world peace and the need to recite the daily rosary and to make sacrifices which were subjected to Church’s scrutiny, and Secondly, the information found in the memoirs of Sr. Lúcia which were not subject to such rigorous scrutiny. Fátima revelations were not widely known outside Portugal and Spain before the publication of the Memoirs of Sr. Lúcia in late 1930s. She wrote the first four memoirs between 1935 and 1941 during the World War II. These were named, Fátima in Lucia’s Own Words I (1976), while the fifth and six memoirs, written in 1989 and 1993, form its second part, entitled Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words II. Even after these two publications, she had endless questions asked by devotees that she asked permission from the Vatican to write a book containing the replies to all the queries posed. The Vatican did permit her to do so and that third work was entitled, Calls from the Message of Fatima.
The Three Secrets of Fátima
Sister Lúcia wrote about the three secrets of Fátima revealed during the apparition of July 13 of 1917 in her third memoir of 1941.
First Secret was about a vision of hell.
Second Secret was a request to spread the devotion to the Immaculate Heart to save souls and bring about world peace in the context of the World War I. The Blessed Mother predicted to end the war, but if people continued to live godless lives, there would be a second one, the signal for which would be the appearance of a bright luminary in the sky. It was to prevent this that Russia was asked to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Five First Saturday’s devotion be promoted. The vision ended with a happy promise that in the end, her Immaculate Heart would triumph.
After 229 years, on 25 January 1938, the bright light of an Aurora Borealis appeared over a wider area of the northern hemisphere. Barely a month later, Hitler invaded Austria and after eight months set his hand on Czechoslovakia. Sr. Lúcia affirmed that to be the sign foretold by Our Lady for the beginning of the Second World War. By his Apostolic Letter Sacro Vergente issued on 07.07.1952, Pope Pius XII consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The pope reiterated that the Virgin Mother will always be victorious over the forces of evil that promote error and atheism. Pope John Paul II re-consecrated the entire world to the Virgin Mary in 1984, however, without any specific mention of Russia, over which there was dissatisfaction in some. Nonetheless, in Sr. Lúcia’s letter of 29 August 1989 as well as in her reply of 3 July 1990 to Fr. Robert J. Fox, she wrote that the consecration had been already accomplished. Furthermore, when Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith met with Sr. Lúcia at the Convent of Coimbra, Portugal on 17 November 2001, she has admitted that the consecration requested by Our Lady had been made in 1984 and has won the approval of Heaven. Sr. Lúcia died on 13 February 2005. The much venerated 18th century Russian Orthodox icon Theotokos Derzhavnaya (Sovereign Mother of God) is considered the actual Tsarina of Russia by the religious appeal of Nicholas II. She has already been regarded as the Heavenly Queen of Russia. When the pope Pius XII consecrated Russia to her Immaculate Heart in 1952, She was rightfully reinstated as the Heavenly Queen of Russia. This icon together with the other famous Russian icon of Theotokos of Port Arthur was brought to Fátima in 2003 and 2014.
The Third Secret from the Virgin Mary received by the three children on July 13, 1917 is described in a letter written in Portuguese by Sr. Lúcia, in January 1944, transcribed by Bishop of Leiria, and released by the Vatican. It reads:
“I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine. After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’ And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, Religious men and women going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, Religious men and women, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”
Referring to the Third Secret, Sr. Lúcia said that it could be released to the public after 1960. But that did not happen, since in 1960 the Vatican issued an official press release which declared that most probably the Secret would remain, forever, under absolute seal. This announcement triggered off all kinds of speculations about the Secret, ranging from the nuclear destruction of the world to the assassination of the pope as well as a schism in the Church. However, in December 2001, the Vatican published the third secret in a four-paged hand-written document. But writers such as Father Paul Kramer, Christopher Ferrara, Antonio Socci, and Marco Tosatti said that this was not the full text of the secret and alleged that there was another one-page document, which spoke of the Apocalypse and a great apostasy. Accordingly, Sr. Lúcia affirmed to then-Archbishop Bertone in an interview that the secret had been completely revealed and made public. Furthermore, during his apostolic visit to Portugal from 11–14 May 2010 on the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Pope Benedict XVI told the reporters that the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II is not the exclusive fulfilment of the 3rd secret. The implications of the 3rd secret are multiple forms of ongoing sufferings in the ecclesial body
Some Relevant Questions from the Message of Fátima
01. The first secret of Fátima was about hell after death. Whether we like or not, hell is part of our Catholic belief. Sending someone to hell is God’s prerogative in his eternal mercy and not ours. But we ought to live in such a way that we do note deserve hell. That means being faithful followers of our Catholic teachings pertaining to faith and morals. Are we doing that ourselves or have we become lapsed or indifferent? Do we teach that to our children and assure that they follow them?
02. The second secret of Fátima was about consecrating Communist Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and observing the Five First Saturday’s devotion. The communist regime in Russia has already fallen. But materialism, consumerism, secularism, atheism, rationalism, empiricism as well as merciless dictatorial regimes thrive, not only in the Leftist countries, but even more so in Rightist countries. Can we become true Christian prophets to denounce such evil ideologies? Can we exercise our free franchise to throw away such inhuman and oppressive political machineries?
03. The third secret of Fátima was about the challenges the Church faces. The Church suffers persecution in some lands still. Christians are objects of hatred among followers of certain religions. Clericalism, secularism, unkind destructive criticism, sexual scandals, loss of financial stability, lack of vocations to priesthood and religious life, ultra-radical movements within, Christian fundamentalism are ravaging the Church. Even 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, some of its directives have not reached grassroots. The sacred deposit of faith needs to be preserved, while expanding our theological horizons in the modern world. That needs to be done keeping in mind what Jesus said, “Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old.” (Mt 13:52)
04. Fátima began with children. The apparitions changed the lives of the three children radically. The technological revolution and the value system of a modern care-free civilization have put our children at humongous risk. They are the future of the world. Our children need to be educated not only in worldly wisdom, but also with the wisdom of God enshrined in the Word of God and spelled out in our Catholic way of life, intertwined with local Church structures. They need to be fed with Christian values. We need more vocations for the Church. Can our families be seed-beds that produce a new generation of children who have a profound sense of God, prayerful, ready to make sacrifices (like the three visionaries), obedient, and who can go beyond accidental man-made labels, and build up a new humanity and a vibrant Church, heading towards a new civilization of love?
Sister Lúcia, Fatima in Sister Lucia’s Own Words, Orig, Tit. Memórias da Irmã Lúcia, Ed. Louis Condor, Trans. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos (Ravengate Press, Fátima, Portugal: 1976).
Sister Lúcia, Fatima in Sister Lucia’s Own Words II, Orig, Tit. Memórias da Irmã Lúcia II, Ed. Louis Condor, Trans. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos (Ravengate Press, Fátima, Portugal: 2000).
“Our Lady of Fátima,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_F%C3%A1tima (Access: 13.05.2020)