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Fatima: The Setting

On October 13, 1917, there were more than 70,000 people gathered in the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal. They had come to observe a miracle which had been foretold by the Blessed Virgin to three young visionaries: Lucia dos Santos, and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. 1 Shortly after noon, Our Lady appeared to the three visionaries:

As the Lady was about to leave, she pointed to the sun. Lucy excitedly repeated the gesture, and the people looked into the sky. The rain had ceased, the clouds parted, and the sun shone forth, but not in its usual brilliance. Instead, it appeared like a silver disc, pale as the moon, at which all could gaze without straining their eyes. Suddenly, impelled by some mysterious force, the disc began to whirl in the sky, casting off great shafts of multicolored light. Red, green, blue, yellow, violet--the enormous rays shot across the sky at all angles, lighting up the entire countryside for many miles around, but particularly the upturned faces of those 70,000 spellbound people.

After a few moments the wonder stopped, but resumed again a second and a third time--three times in all--within about 12 minutes. It seemed that the whole world was on fire, with the sun spinning at a greater speed each time.

Then a gasp of terror rose from the crowd, for the sun seemed to tear itself from the heavens and come crashing down upon the horrified multitude.... Just when it seemed that the ball of fire would fall upon and destroy them, the miracle ceased, and the sun resumed its normal place in the sky, shining forth as peacefully as ever.

When the people arose from the ground, cries of astonishment were heard on all sides. Their clothes, which had been soaking wet and muddy, now were clean and dry. Many of the sick and crippled had been cured of their afflictions. 2

The above describes the great miracle which brought to conclusion the series of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima which took place six times, from May to October 1917. The Miracle of the Sun was the sign God gave to the world in proof of the authenticity of the apparitions. The event was reported in newspapers around the world.

With one exception, Mary always appeared on the 13th of the month, above an holm oak tree in the valley named Cova da Iria. The only deviation from the 13th was the August apparition. During this particular month, Mary appeared to the children near the village of Valinhos on August 19. The children were in jail on the 13th of that particular month. The mayor, in an attempt to stop the events, had had the young visionaries kidnapped and imprisoned, but fearing violence on the part of the people, he soon released them.

Since the apparitions of 1917, millions of pilgrims have come to Fatima. Fatima is a small, rural town about 90 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal. It is situated within hilly terrain which is lined with numerous cedar trees. The Cova da Iria--grazing ground at the time of the apparitions--now appears as a huge, paved area which lies in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima. About 50 yards in front of the Basilica, and to the left as one faces the Basilica, is the Chapel of Apparitions. Here, within the sanctuary, is a glass-enclosed statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The statue is situated on the spot of the holm oak tree over which Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco.

In the middle of the great square, one sees a large statue of the Sacred Heart. The arms of Christ are outstretched, welcoming all to come to the refuge of His Heart. Above the entrance of the Basilica is a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two statues vividly remind us of the alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. As we shall soon see, this union of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart forms the very core of the Fatima message.

As is to be expected, the largest crowds of pilgrims gather on the 13th of the month from May through October.

I was privileged to be present at Fatima on a very special day, October 13, 1992. This date marked the 75th anniversary of the final apparition. It was, indeed, a most memorable occasion. On the evening of the 12th, there was the usual Rosary procession. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were present on this brisk October night. Pilgrims holding lighted candles, the praying of the Rosary, the procession with the Our Lady of Fatima statue--all this made for a very impressive and moving occasion.

The next day, the 13th, was obviously a very, very special time. The day was bright and sunny with an almost completely blue sky. It seemed no accident. It was a gift of Our Lady, the Woman Clothed with the Sun: Now a great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown (Rev. 12:1). We see, then, how fitting it was that the great miracle of Fatima described above was one involving the sun.

There were about a million people gathered in the huge square for this 75th anniversary occasion. The center of attraction was the Mass at the outdoor altar situated on the Basilica steps. Before and after the Mass, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was marched in procession. The pilgrims waved their white handkerchiefs at the statue, a time-honored custom at Fatima. The entire ceremony took over three hours, yet there was a pervasive silence throughout the gathering of pilgrims, which numbered about one million. Their deep devotion was obvious. It was one of the most impressive and moving scenes I have ever witnessed.

During a stay at Fatima, one can always observe pilgrims visiting the Apparitions Chapel for Masses and adoration visits. Leading down to the Chapel is a special walkway which stretches back about 100 yards into the great square. This path is used by many pilgrims who, in an act of sacrifice, walk on their knees the length of the walkway, ending their journey at the Chapel itself. The atmosphere at the Chapel is one of deep peace and devotion, a common trait at Marian shrines.

Pilgrims are also constantly entering the Basilica for Masses and visits. At the front of the Basilica lie the remains of two of the Fatima visionaries. Jacinta's crypt is to the left, and Francisco's is to the right. Pilgrims stop briefly and pray at the crypts in a spirit of deep devotion. As one prays at these crypts, it is easy to recall the words of Jesus: I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children (Matt. 11:25).

Central to the pilgrimage activities at Fatima are the many Masses which take place at the Chapel of Apparitions and the Basilica church. This, again, is a common occurrence at Marian shrines. Mary always leads to the Eucharistic Christ.


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Fatima: The Message

Before receiving the six apparitions of Our Lady, May through October of 1917, the three Fatima visionaries were visited by an angel on three different occasions during the preceding year. He appeared to them in the spring, summer, and fall. Lucia (now Sr. Lucia) describes the springtime apparition of the angel:

On reaching us, he said: "Do not be afraid! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me."

Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground and made us repeat these words three times: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You."

Then, rising he said: "Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications."

His words engraved themselves so deeply on our minds that we could never forget them. 3

During the summer of 1916, the angel again appeared to the three visionaries. He said to them:

Pray! Pray a great deal. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices continually to the Most High. Make everything you do a sacrifice, and offer it as an act of reparation for the sins by which God is offended, and as a petition for the conversion of sinners. Bring peace to our country in this way.... I am the Guardian Angel of Portugal Accept and bear with submission all the sufferings the Lord will send you. 4

In the fall of the same year, the angel visited the visionaries a final time:

The angel came...bearing a golden chalice in one hand and a Host above it in the other. The amazed children noticed that drops of blood were falling from the Host into the chalice. Presently, the angel left both suspended in mid-air and prostrated himself on the ground, saying this beautiful prayer: "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and [the intercession of] the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners." 5

Sr. Lucia relates how the angel gave them Communion:

Then, rising, he took the chalice and the Host in his hand. He gave the Sacred Host to me and shared the Blood from the chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:

"Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God." 6

Reflecting upon these messages of the angel, we see how much they contain for our spiritual instruction.

First of all, we notice the distinctive Trinitarian nature of the messages. We are instructed that, in our Christian existence, we must express the greatest reverence for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we serve them through the virtues of faith, hope, and love. These three virtues are at the heart of our life of grace.

We are reminded of the ugly reality of sin and of our duty to make reparation for it. We are reminded that reparation is due Christ in His Eucharistic presence. And, as we shall soon see, Our Lady calls for a specific act of reparation--the five first Saturdays. Reparation is a foundation of the Fatima messages.

The angel also tells us that we must not only love God; we must also love our neighbor. We are to pray and make sacrifices for others.

In telling us to "Pray a great deal," and "Make everything you do a sacrifice," the angel reminds us that we are to live a deep spirituality. We are to be united with God throughout the day in as conscious a manner as possible. Regarding the angel's call to prayer, we shall soon hear of Mary's special request concerning the daily Rosary. It is a request that reminds us that God has sent Our Blessed Mother to call us back to Jesus, and to a closer union with Him. The Fatima message indeed reminds us that Mary is our spiritual Mother, that she is our mediatrix with Christ.

The angel specified a need to help others by our sacrifices, and to accept the sufferings God sends. It is a confirmation of Christ's paschal mystery of death-resurrection. The cross leads to life. We live the cross for the purpose of growing in grace ourselves, and in order to help channel grace to others.

The Angel also reminded us that the Eucharist is at the center of the Church's life. And, very importantly, in each of his three messages, the Angel drew attention to the critical role which the Hearts of Jesus and Mary play in our Christian lives:

Another remarkable fact is that in each of the three apparitions, the Angel already mentions the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as though linked to one another by an indissoluble union. The account of the first apparition even presents a striking phrase which seems to have been hardly noticed. After having taught this completely God-centered prayer, "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you," the Angel added: "Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications." We pray to God, and it is the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary that hear and answer our prayers! How could it better express the truth that we can only go to God and please Him by this unique and universal mediation?

Similarly, in the summer of 1916, when the Angel announces to the three seers their future vocations, it is the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary that appear in the foreground as the inseparable mediators of the "Father of Mercies." "The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary," he tells them, "have designs of mercy on you."

Finally, the third time, in the prayer of Eucharistic offering, it is by "the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and [the intercession of] the Immaculate Heart of Mary," that the Angel begs "the conversion of poor sinners" of the Trinity.

With this constant thought of the mediation of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, we are already at the very center of the Message of Fatima. 7

The Angel's three messages contain an amazing spiritual doctrine. The Angel gives the outline of the spiritual life within the framework of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Behold, the spirituality of Fatima!

The Angel's instruction to the three children admirably prepared them for Our Lady's apparitions. Mary's messages presume, and build upon, the spiritual doctrine which the Angel gave to the three young visionaries--and to us.

May 13, 1917, marks the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. On this occasion, she said to the visionaries:

Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm..... I am from Heaven.

I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at the same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want

Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners?

Pray the Rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war. 8

To the end of each decade of the Rosary, she added the Fatima prayer, "0 my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of Thy mercy. " 9

In Mary's first message, we immediately see two aspects of the Fatima message--prayer (especially the Rosary) and reparation.

On June 13, the Blessed Virgin again appeared to the three children:

There were about 70 people present, though only the children could see the apparition. She told the youngsters that many souls go to Hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them. She said Francisco and Jacinta would soon leave the world for Heaven. Holding out her heart, surrounded by thorns which pierced it from all sides, Our Lady told Lucy: "God wishes you to remain in the world for some time because He wants to use you to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and their souls will be loved by God as flowers placed by myself to adorn His throne." 10

This shows how devotion to the Immaculate Heart is central to the Fatima message. Subsequent events reemphasize the importance of Our Lady teaching this devotion at Fatima.

In her July apparition, Our Lady further revealed her plan to the children and to the world:

During her appearance in July, Our Lady, in answer to Lucia's plea, promised that in October she would work a great miracle so that all might believe and know who she was. Again, the Mother of God told the children to sacrifice themselves for sinners and to say many times, especially when making a sacrifice, this prayer: "0 my Jesus, I offer this for love of Thee, for the conversion of poor sinners, and in reparation for all the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary." 11

During this same July apparition, Mary showed the three children a vision of Hell. She told 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. If people do what I tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.

The war (World War I, then raging) is going to end. But if people do not stop offending God, another and worse one will begin in the reign of Pius XI. When you shall see a night illuminated by an unknown light [January 2, 1938], know that this is the great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its many crimes by means of war, hunger, and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father. 12

To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the five first Saturdays. If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. if not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be destroyed....

But in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph, the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, Russia will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world. 13

In the above, Mary speaks of the five first Saturdays. Here is what the practice involves:

  1. Go to confession, which may be done from eight days before to eight days after the first Saturday. Of course, if a person is in the state of serious sin, the confession must be made before receiving communion.
  2. Receive Holy Communion.
  3. Recite five decades of the Rosary.
  4. Meditate for 15 minutes on the mysteries of the Rosary.

All of the above (except confession) must be done on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart. For those who make the five first Saturdays, Our Lady of Fatima has promised to assist them at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation. 14

Because of the excitement caused by the apparitions, the civil authorities were so alarmed that they kidnapped the three young visionaries and put them in jail. The incarceration period included the day of August 13. Consequently, Our Lady did not appear to the children on this particular 13th.

The authorities, fearing reaction on the part of the people, quickly released the children. Mary appeared to them on August 19 near Valinhos:

She told them she was greatly displeased by the action of the mayor. As a result, the miracle promised for October would not be as impressive as originally planned. 15

Next came the September appearance of Our Lady:

More than 30,000 people were present in September, and saw a shower of mysterious white petals fall to within 10 feet of the ground before dissolving into the air. Many also saw the globe of light bearing the Lady come to rest atop the tree, and the branches bend as though someone were standing on them. Later, they saw the cloud depart into the east, from whence it had come.16

The October 13 vision was accompanied by the great Miracle of the Sun described in the previous chapter. In her message that day, Our Blessed Mother told the children:

I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend Our Lord any more, for He is already too grievously offended by the sins of men. People must say the Rosary. Let them continue saying it every day.17

While the people in attendance were beholding the great Miracle of the Sun, the three young visionaries, and they alone, were privileged to see striking visions in the heavens:

As Our Lady had promised, St. Joseph had come with the Holy Family and had blessed the world. Then, Our Lady appeared as the Mother of Sorrows, accompanied by her Divine Son, Who also blessed the world. Finally, Lucy had seen the Blessed Virgin, dressed in the brown robes of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth, holding a brown Scapular in her hand, with her infant Son upon her knee. However, in none of these visions had any of the figures spoken to the children.18

Besides the messages associated with the major Fatima apparitions, there were other revelations given by Our Lady. Before Jacinta died, she told of other messages given her (during her illness) by Mary:

More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.

Many marriages are not good; they do not please Our Lord and are not of God.

Priests must be pure, very pure. They should not busy themselves with anything except what concerns the Church and souls. The disobedience of priests, to their superiors and to the Holy Father, is very displeasing to Our Lord.

I can no longer restrain the hand of my Divine Son from striking the world with just punishments for its many crimes.

If the government of a country leaves the Church in peace and gives liberty to our Holy Religion, it will be blessed by God.

Tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Tell them to ask grace from her, and that the Heart of Jesus wishes to be venerated together with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Ask them to plead for peace from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the Lord has confided the peace of the world to her. 19

This last message offers us an excellent opportunity to summarize the Fatima message. It tells us "that the Heart of Jesus wishes to be venerated together with the Immaculate Heart of Mary."

At the center of the veneration for which Our Lord calls is the act of consecration to His Sacred Heart and to Mary's Immaculate Heart. As we shall see in Part II of this book, this consecration calls for a total gift of ourselves to Jesus and Mary. Such a gift, obviously, includes a willingness to incorporate into our lives the other Fatima teachings and requests. As such, consecration to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary summarizes the Fatima message.

Some seem to think the message of Fatima is no longer relevant to today's world. The words of Pope John Paul II tell us how wrong they are. Referring to a pilgrimage he made in 1982, he says:

Last week, I myself went on pilgrimage to Portugal, especially to Fatima, in order to give thanks that the mercy of God and the protection of the Mother of Christ had saved my life last year. The message of Fatima is a call to conversion and penance, the first and most basic call of the Gospel. Today, it is more urgent than ever, when evil is threatening us through errors based on denial of God. The message of Fatima puts us on our guard. It also invites us to approach anew the Fountain of Mercy by an act of consecration. Mary wishes us to draw near it: each one of us, each nation, and the whole world. 20


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First Printing: November, 1998