In 1917, Portugal was verging on totalitarianism after the revolution of 1910. The revolution had decreed a sharp separation of Church and state, Church property had been confiscated, and religious congregations had been ordered dissolved. The intelligentsia and ruling classes were anti-religious and decisively anti-clerical. The ruling cognoscenti were contemptous of traditional religious beliefs often describing these beliefs as mere superstitions in the newspapers and journals they ran. Even rural areas normally immune to the intellectual fads of the cosmopolitan centers were affected by church closings and a cautious wariness about any outward expression of religious belief. Despite this, strong religious faith still took root in the simple peasants of the rural countryside. In this environment, a series of apparitions by the Blessed Virgin occurred to three small children from the rural village of Fatima over a six month period starting in May of 1917.
The apparitions had their roots in a series of mystical events that began in 1915. Three young children, Lucia dos Santos, age nine, and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were tending a flock of sheep in the fields outside Fatima when Lucia thought she saw a translucent cloud that seemed to be shaped in the form of a human body. It moved across a clear sky and finally hovered above a pine grove.
A year later, in the summer of 1916, the children were guiding their flocks of sheep to a meadow called Couza Velha when they were caught in a sudden rainstorm. Ducking into the shelter of a nearby cave, they decided to eat their lunch and wait until the rain stopped before collecting their herd. After completing an abbreviated Rosary, the rain stopped suddenly and, within moments of leaving the cave, they were greeted by a strong wind blowing across the pines. When they turned to discover what might be causing such a wind, they saw again the translucent cloud that Lucia had seen the previous year. This time the cloud moved toward them and finally became distinguishable as a transparent "young man" about fourteen years of age. The young man identified himself to the astonished children, "Don't be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me." He then knelt on the ground, bending forward until his forehead touched it, and prayed: "My God, I believe, I adore, 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!" He said this prayer three times. When he stood he then said to the children: "Pray thus. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications." Saying that, he vanished from sight. The children were overwhelmed and in a state of ecstasy. They repeated this prayer for a long time as the angel had done - on their knees.
The children decided not to tell anyone of their experiences fearing ridicule and censure by their parents and friends. Several weeks later, the angel appeared again and requested that they pray a great deal, offer sacrifices to the Most High and accept whatever sufferings which the Lord sent to them.
In his third and final appearance in October, the angel brought with him a Chalice and suspended above it, a Host. Before offering the Host to Lucia, the only one who had received First Communion, he prostrated himself on the ground and said: "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly and offer You the most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the earth, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners." He repeated this prayer three times and then rising up, lifted the Hostbefore his eyes and said: "Take and drink the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly insulted by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God." With this, he gave the Host to Lucia and let the other children drink from the Chalice. As all this was occurring in Portugal, World War I was raging across Europe. In the fall of 1914, Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the leaders of Europe to stop the bloodshed but to no avail. After a number of such pleas, on May 5, 1917, the Pope directed that the invocation Queen of Peace, pray for us be permanently included in the Church's litany of prayer to Mary. He also noted: To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth - from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut - from every place where a faithful soul finds shelter - from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart; that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.
In Fatima, the children continued to pray and offer whatever sacrifices they could as the angel had requested. On May 13th - eight days after the Pope directly asked for heaven's intervention - the little shephards were moving their flocks to the meadows of the Cova da Iria when they were startled by a very bright flash. Thinking it was lightning, they ran for the nearest cover they could find near a large oak tree. A second bright flash once again frightened them and they ran from the tree toward the east seeking better shelter. They were startled to see a bright globe of light hovering over a small evergreen that stood directly in their path. At the center of the light stood a Lady dressed in brilliant white, holding her hands against her breast in a prayerful repose; in her right hand she held a Rosary.
The Lady spoke to them in a soft, melodious voice, "Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you!" Lucia asked the Lady where she came from, to which she replied, "I am from heaven." Hearing this, Lucia asked the Lady what she wanted of her. The Lady replied, "I come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the thirteenth day at this same hour. Then I will tell you who I am, and what I want. And afterwards I will return here a seventh time." Lucia then asked if she would go to heaven, and the Lady responded, "Yes, you will." She then asked if Jacinta and Francisco would go to heaven also. The Lady responded, "Also. But Francisco will have to say many Rosaries!" After Lucia asked about the state of two girls who had died recently, the Lady spoke again, "Do you wish to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the suffering that He may please to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and to ask for the conversion of sinners?" The children replied, "Yes, we do." The Lady then told them that they would have much to suffer, but that God's grace would be their comfort. Jacinta, the youngest of the children, was struck by the gentleness and beauty of the Lady. When the apparition ended she kept on repeating, "Oh, such a pretty Lady".
Even though they had agreed not to talk to anyone about her appearance at the Cova, Jacinta could not resist telling her mother about the "pretty Lady" she had seen. Her mother was at first skeptical of her story but her father's response, after hearing both his children describe the events at the Cova, was succinct, "Well, if the youngsters did see a lady dressed in white...who could it be but Our Lady?" The following morning, Lucia met one of her sisters, Maria, who greeted her, "Oh Lucia, I hear you have seen Our Lady at Cova da Iria! Is it true?" Lucia could only respond, "Who told you?" Maria didn't believe the story nor did the rest of Lucia's family. Her mother, Maria Rosa, was particularly hard on Lucia thinking the young girl was lying about the whole affair. As promised, Mary appeared to the children on the 13th day of each month for six months. The children did have much to suffer. In her July apparition, the Blessed Mother promised to perform a miracle in October so that all those coming to the Cova would truly believe that she was present there. She also asked them to pray: "Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and repeat often, especially whenevr you make a sacrifice for them: 'O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary"
In her appearances at Fatima, Mary told the children to ask people to pray, convert their lives to God and honor her appearances there. During the July apparition, Mary gave the children three Secrets which were not to be revealed until she authorized their disclosure. She also promised a miracle at the end of her appearance in October that would assist everyone in believing in her visits to Fatima. After giving them the Secrets, she said: "When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: 'O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.'" The apparitions were beginning to draw unwelcome attention to this rural part of Portugal which the mayor did not like, so in August, just before the next scheduled apparition, he kidnapped them, interrogated them, had them thrown in the local jail, and threatened them with execution. All this in response to their refusal to change their story about the beautiful Lady in white and their refusal to reveal the Secrets entrusted to them by her several weeks earlier. The local townfolk who had gone to the Cova unaware that the children had been kidnapped reported that at noon they heard a clap of thunder which appeared to come from underground, saw the sun lose its brilliance, witnessed the atmosphere become hazy and observed a small white cloud form around the trunk of the tree where the apparitions had occurred. Once this happened, they saw the clouds near the sun turn crimson in color and then rapidly change through all the colors of the rainbow. After several minutes of witnessing this, everything in the Cova returned to normal.
During the last apparition, on October 13, 1917, the Lady of light revealed herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary. The 70,000 rain-soaked pilgrims who came to witness Mary's final appearance saw the sun spin out of its orbit, emitting a rainbow of color as it gyrated; finally, when this display ceased, the sun was seen plunging toward the earth causing the pilgrims to scream in terror. When the sun eventually resumed its normal behavior about twelve minutes after it began this inexplicable display, many of these rain-soaked people found their clothing completely dry. Further, a number of pilgrims who came with medical problems found their ailments either completely healed or significantly alleviated. In addition, the more than ten thousand people in the surrounding villages who chose not to go to the apparition site also saw the sun dance in the sky. One of the principal anti-clerical publications of the day was O Dia, a major Lisbon newspaper. On October 17th, O Dia reported the following: At one o'clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly gray in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The gray mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy gray light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground. The light turned a beautiful blue as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of women. They were reported on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads in the presence of the miracle they had awaited. The other major Lisbon newspaper, O Seculo, sent its editor, Avelino de Almeida to the scene. He had been quite dismissive of the entire story of Fatima and its predicted miracle in an article he wrote on the morning of the 13th. However, now as a witness to the events of Fatima, he noted the following: From the road, where the vehicles were parked and where hundred of people who had not dared to brave the mud were congregated, one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: " A miracle! A miracle!" Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was Biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside any cosmic laws - the sun "danced" according to the typical expression of the people. Another observer who witnessed these events was Joseph Garrett, a natural sciences professor at Coimbra University. Dr. Garrett described the events in a similar manner: This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmamant and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during these moments was terrible. A condensed version of the events at Fatima was reported in a number of newspapers around the world despite the fact that astronomers reported nothing unusual had happened to the sun.
After nearly thirteen years of examination by a commission comprised of clergy, physicians and scientists, the Catholic Church pronounced the Fatima apparitions as worthy of belief on October 13,1930 with the declaration by the Bishop of Leiria: "We deem well: 1. to declare worthy of credence the visions of the shepherds at the Cova da Iria, in the parish of Fatima of this diocese, on the thirteenth day of the months from May to October 1917; 2. to give official permission for the cult of Our Lady of Fatima."
The Secrets communicated in this apparition were only disclosed in 1942, well after they were committed to writing in four separate memoirs between 1935 and 1941, by the surviving seeress - Lucia. The Secrets revealed by the Blessed Virgin in 1917 were: A vision of the reality of hell, previously described, which so horrified the visionaries that they willingly took on every penance and mortification they could imagine, if it could only prevent souls from going there. Mary said to them, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart." "World War I will end soon. However, if humanity does not stop offending God, another and worse war will break out in the reign of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign that God gives you, that He is going to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, hunger, persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father. To forestall this, I shall come to ask consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparation on the FirstSaturdays. If my request is heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, Russia shall spread her errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated; in the end my Immaculate Heart shall triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me which will be converted, and some time of peace will be given to the world." The third Secret has never been publicly disclosed. Lucia said it could be opened "not before 1960". Three Popes are reported to have read it in the years since 1960, but have decided not to publicize the contents.
With the establishment of devotion to her Immaculate Heart, Mary states that her intercession can obtain from her Son the salvation of souls who otherwise would be condemned. Devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart increased dramatically following World War II after the Secrets became more well known. However, these devotions have been declining during the last twenty years. The principal elements of the second Secret have since come to pass. World War I ended one year after the last of the Fatima apparitions. Most historians would agree that World War II actually began in 1938, the last year in the reign of Pius XI, with the German annexation of Austria. Two months prior to this event a very unusual auroral display, an eerie light show in the northern sky occasionally visible at night in high latitudes, was seen all over Europe and reported widely by the press since it was observed as far south as Rome. Astonished observers reported forest fires and building fires apparently associated with these strange lights. Shortly after the apparitions started, the Bolshevik revolution erupted which lead Russia down the path toward communism. More than 35 million Catholic peasants were killed by Stalin alone either in the Gulag or by the firing squad. Russia absorbed a number of its neighboring countries into the USSR and communism became the dogma that replaced fascism as the major global threat to personal freedom and dignity.
Pope John Paul II finally completed the dedication of the world, including Russia, to Mary's Immaculate Heart in 1984....and shortly thereafter, the USSR collapsed and Soviet communism faded as the major ideology of eastern Europe and the former USSR countries. Unfortunately, communism still exists as a viable political force in Russia and as the dominant state ideology in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. The last of the Secrets has never been revealed. The most informed speculation, by Fr. Joaquin Alonzo, points toward a crisis of faith overtaking the Christianity after 1960 leading to an apostasy similar in nature to the one predicted by St. Paul. Since Lucia's letter containing the Secrets starts the section containing the third Secret with, "In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved; etc..(secret portion of text)..", the unstated remainder of this sentence seems to imply that the dogma of Faith will not be preserved in other nations. With this observation, we have been given a means to ascertain which dogma are acceptable to Heaven - look to what is practiced in Portugal. In any event, the Secret's contents were forwarded by Lucia in a sealed envelope to the local Bishop in 1944. Eventually, the local Bishop's successor forwarded the Secret, still sealed, to the Vatican in 1957.
Not as well known as the Third Secret of Fatima is an interior locution reported in a letter written by Sister Lucia in 1943. In this letter, Sister Lucia stated that Our Lord had asked her to convey His concerns to the Bishops of Spain. Her letter states, in part: "Because of the act of consecration made by His Holiness (on October 31, 1942), He (our Lord) promises that the war will end shortly. Bit since it (the consecration) was incomplete, the conversion of Russia will be postponed. If the bishops of Spain do not heed His wishes, it (Russia) will once again be the scourge with which God will punish them." Unfortunately, the response to this request was tepid and the world had to suffer through 45 more years of Soviet terror and sabre-rattling. In 1984, the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima gave a speech in Vienna in which he said, "The Secret of Fatima speaks not about atomic bombs, nor about nuclear warheads, nor about SS-20 missiles. Its contents concerns but our faith. To identify the Secret with catastrophic announcements or with a nuclear holocaust is to distort the meaning of the message. The loss of faith of a continent is worse than the annihilation of a nation; and it is true that Faith is continually diminishing in Europe." In writing to a priest who was concerned about the confusion in the Church after Vatican II, Lucia (who became Sister Lucia) noted, "It is sad indeed that so many persons should let themselves be dominated by the diabolical wave that is sweeping the world and that they should be blinded to the point of being incapable of perceiving error! Their chief fault is that they have abandoned prayer; they have thus distanced themselves from God, and without God, everything fails them...The devil is very cunning and seeks our weak points in order to attack us. If we are not industrious and careful to find strength from God, we will fall, for our times are very bad and we are weak. Only strength from God can keep us standing."