What the Children Saw
The Fatima Message began like many revelations in Sacred Scripture — with the appearance of an angel.
It was the spring of 1916. A sudden strong wind on a calm day startled three peasant children out of a game they were playing in the hill country of Portugal. Turning to the wind the children saw “a light whiter than snow in the shape of a transparent young man, who was more brilliant than a crystal struck by the rays of the sun.”
“As he approached,” Lucy, the oldest child, recalled, “we began to see his features. He was a young man of great beauty, about fourteen or fifteen years old. We were surprised and ecstatic. We did not utter a word.”
He stopped in front of the children and said, “Fear not. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel prostrated himself, his forehead touching the ground. Lucy and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, instinctively imitated him, and repeated the angel's prayer three times: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I beg Thee forgiveness for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee!”
He rose and said, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” Then he disappeared, leaving a “supernatural atmosphere” described by Lucy as:
“So intense that for a long time we were scarcely aware of our own existence, remaining in the same posture in which he had left us, and continually repeating the same prayer. The presence of God made itself felt so intimately and so intensely that we did not even venture to speak to one another. Next day, we were still immersed in this supernatural atmosphere, which only gradually began to disappear.”
The children told no one what they had seen.
The Angel Returns
It was mid-summer when the angel returned. The day was so hot that Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta returned early from the hills to shelter the sheep they tended in a barn. Then the children lounged in the shade of a fig tree. “Suddenly,” Lucy remembers, “we saw the angel right beside us.” He admonished them: “What are you doing? Pray, pray very much! The Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs concerning you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High!”
“How must we sacrifice?” Lucy asked. The angel replied:
“Offer God a sacrifice of anything you can as an act of reparation for the sins with which He is offended, and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners. Draw peace upon your country by doing this. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and endure with submission whatever suffering the Lord sends you.”
The angel disappeared, but his words “were impressed upon our souls like a light that made us understand who God is, how much He loves us and wishes to be loved, the value of sacrifice and how it pleases God, and how He converts sinners because of it,” Lucy wrote in her memoirs. Again, the children told no one what they had seen.
In the fall of 1916 the angel appeared to the children for the third and last time. He found them prostrate in a rocky hollow in the hills, praying the prayer he had taught them on his first visit.
“An extraordinary light shone upon us,” recalls Lucy. “We sprang up to see what was happening, and beheld the angel. He was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of blood fell into the chalice. Leaving the chalice suspended in the air, the angel knelt down beside us and made us repeat three times:
“‘Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly, and I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the earth, in reparation for the insults, sacrileges, and indifference with which He is offended. And through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart, and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg Thee for the conversion of poor sinners.'”
The angel rose and gave the Host to Lucy, which she consumed. He gave the chalice to Francisco and Jacinta, saying: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Who is horribly insulted by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
After Communion the angel and children prostrated themselves and repeated three times the “Most Holy Trinity” prayer. The angel disappeared, but the children remained prostrate in prayer for hours afterwards. At nightfall they returned home with the sheep.
“In the third apparition, the presence of the angel was still more intense ... It seemed to deprive us even of the use of our bodily senses for a long period of time. For several days afterward, we performed our physical actions as though sustained by that same supernatural being who compelled us to do them. The peace and happiness we felt were great, but intimate, as our souls were entirely concentrated on God.”
For some reason Francisco, who had been present at all three apparitions, had been unable to hear the angel's words. Lucy explained each angelic message to him. He said, “I love to see the Angel, but the trouble is that later on, we are incapable of doing anything. I could not even walk anymore, I didn't know what was the matter.” Lucy agreed: “The physical weariness that overwhelmed us was great.”
It is not surprising the children were exhausted. They had joined the ranks of a select group of saints who were granted the grace of receiving Holy Communion from an angel. And no ordinary angel, for Portuguese historians are convinced that the Angel of Peace who prepared the children to meet the Blessed Virgin was none other than the Guardian of Portugal, St. Michael the Archangel.
At the time of the angel's appearances Lucy was nine, Francisco was eight, and Jacinta was six years of age. Lucy's father, Antonio dos Santos, was the brother of Olimpia Marto, mother of Francisco and Jacinta. It was Lucy's mother, Maria Rosa, and Francisco and Jacinta's father, Manuel (“Ti Marto”), however, who provided the strongest Christian examples to their children.
Lucy was the sixth and last child born of Antonio and Maria dos Santos. She came into the world on March 22, 1907. Like Lucy, Francisco was the sixth child of Ti and Olimpia Marto, born June 11, 1908. Jacinta, born March 11, 1910 was the Martos' last child.
The two families lived in a hamlet called Aljustrel, minutes away from the village of Fatima, which is located about eighty miles north of Lisbon, in a range of rocky hill country called Aire. There is a legend that Fatima was a Moslem princess captured by Crusaders during the reconquest of Spain. She married a Crusader named Goncalo, converted, and was baptized. Fatima died young, however, and the widowed Goncalo joined a monastery. He took his wife's remains with him, and the town that developed around the monastery adopted the name of the converted Moslem princess.
Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta lived lives typical of peasant children in rural Portugal. They learned to work and pray very early on. In her memoirs Lucy writes, “The first thing I learned was the Hail Mary because my mother had the habit of taking me in her arms while she would teach (the prayer to) my sister Caroline ...”
Life in rural Portugal did not turn on political events, or even newspaper reports on the Great War in Europe. Of greater import were the agricultural seasons (animals and crops were primary sources of income), and the liturgical calendar. There was a tendency to blend the two calendars together, which occasionally caused confusion. For instance, near the feast of Pentecost Lucy overheard her mother asking Antonio what crops were ready to eat. He replied: “The fruits of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the fruits that will be ready for Pentecost) are broad beans, peas and cherries.” On Sunday Lucy attended a catechism class, and when the priest asked the children, “What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit?”, Lucy confidently replied, “Broad beans, peas, and cherries,” to the amusement of all present.
Feast days were village events nearly everyone participated in. On Easter Sunday the parish priest visited each house to give every family a blessing “in the name of the Risen Lord Jesus.” Lucy remembered binding the legs of a small lamb, tying a bow and silk ribbon around its neck, and placing it in a wicker basket full of flowers, to present to the priest on his Easter visit. In return the priest let Lucy fill up her dress pockets with sugared almonds before blessing her entire family.
The Rosary, Scripture, and catechetics were the basis of education. In this classroom the stars, as Lucy explained to another girl, were “the candles that Our Lady and the angels light and place at the windows of Heaven to light us on our way.” The Portuguese hills helped preserve a way of Christian life that may sound quaint and outdated to modern ears. In 1916 Fatima was a remnant of a fast disappearing Christian civilization, one of the few places left in the world with enough living faith to hear and respond to the intentions of God, as expressed by the Queen of Heaven Herself.
Lucy was a social girl. Affectionate and generous, she liked to entertain by singing and dancing. Thanks to her mother Maria, one of the few women in Fatima who could read, Lucy was precocious in her religious education. She was permitted to receive First Communion at age six, which was unusual for the time. Equally unusual was her loud first Confession: “When my turn came round, I went and knelt at the feet of our dear Lord, represented there in the person of His minister, imploring forgiveness for my sins. When I had finished I noticed that everyone was laughing. My mother called me to her and said, ‘My child, don't you know that confession is a secret matter and that it is made in a low voice? Everybody heard you!'”
Her First Communion was quieter. Upon receiving Our Lord Lucy felt herself “bathed in such a supernatural atmosphere that the presence of Our Dear Lord became as clearly perceptible to me as if I had seen and heard Him with my bodily senses”:
“I then addressed my prayer to Him: ‘O Lord make me a saint. Keep my heart always pure, for You alone.' Then it seemed that in the depths of my heart Our Lord distinctly spoke these words to me: ‘The grace granted to you this day will remain living in your soul, producing fruits of eternal life.' I felt as though transformed in God ... After this I lost the taste and attraction for the things of the world, and only felt at home in some solitary place where, all alone, I could recall the delights of my First Communion.”
Francisco and Jacinta Marto loved Lucy, but otherwise they were as unlike each other as any brother and sister could be. Calm and quiet like his father, Francisco tended to avoid the noisy games and dancing of his companions by retiring to high places in the rocky hills to play the flute. He had an indiscriminate love of animals. Ti Marto said his son “played with lizards, and when he came across any snakes he got them to entwine themselves around a stick, and even poured sheep's milk into the holes in the rocks for them to drink.” He often brought his reptile companions home with him, a habit that must have delighted his mother.
Despite his peaceful exterior, at times Francisco “could lose his patience and fuss like a young calf.” He would tease Jacinta, and she learned how to get even. Their father remembers, “When the two were quarreling and I couldn't tell where the right lay I gave them both a box on the ear for their pains. To put sense into them I had to be a bit strict.” Yet Ti Marto admitted Jacinta was his favorite: “She was always so gentle! In this respect she was really remarkable. From the time her mother nursed her she was always like that. She never got angry at anything. We never raised another child like that! It was a natural gift with her.”
Jacinta felt things deeply. She wept when Lucy told her of Christ's crucifixion. Lucy wrote, “Many times later she would come and ask me to tell the story again. She would weep and grieve, saying, ‘Our poor dear Lord! I'll never sin again. I don't want Our Lord to suffer more.'”
It was Jacinta who pestered her mother into allowing her and Francisco to accompany Lucy's sheep tending duties. Jacinta named the sheep (“Dove”, “Star”, “Beauty”, and “Snow” were some of them). “She used to sit with them,” Lucy recalled, “holding and kissing them on her lap. At night she would attempt to carry a little one home on her shoulders, to save it from tiredness, as in pictures of the Good Shepherd she had seen.”
Jacinta didn't always wear a halo, however. She could be moody and unpredictable, and as selfish as any other child. The smallest disagreement “was enough to put her into a fit of the sulks”, and she tried to shorten the Rosary by saying just the first two words of the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers. Although Jacinta was possessive of Lucy's time, Lucy was less than overjoyed with her company. In her memoirs she recalls, “I sometimes found Jacinta's company quite disagreeable on account of her oversensitive temperament.” As for Francisco, Lucy's affection “was just one of kinship ... I myself did not always feel too kindly disposed towards him.”
They were, then, normal children, related by blood but with distinct personalities. Although each child accepted without question the faith of their parents to be as right and natural as the air they breathed, it was the Angel of Peace that cemented the friendship between Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta. Their shared experience, and the profound impression it left on them made the three cousins inseparable companions. There were no more shortcut Rosaries. The children prayed and sacrificed almost continually, and regularly practiced physical mortifications that would have been difficult for healthy, willing adults.
The Lady of Light
While the children practiced a piety beyond their years Europe was changing too, but not in the direction of Heaven. The non-Christian rulers of Portugal involved their country in the Great War. As the killing continued into the spring of 1917, Lucy's brother, Manuel, enlisted in the army and left Aljustrel. Lucy's two older sisters married and also moved out. Lucy's father Antonio had a reputation for liking his wine, a reputation Lucy disputed in her fifth Memoir. In any event, Maria Rosa dos Santos missed her children deeply, and her health failed. Lucy helped as best she could. Saddened by her family's turn of fortune, she often wept and prayed alone. Francisco and Jacinta consoled her. So did the words of the angel: “Above all, accept and endure with submission the suffering the Lord will send you.”
Pope Benedict XV was suffering too. On May 5, 1917, he lamented “the cruel war, the suicide of Europe.” He invoked “the most holy Virgin” for peace, and added the invocation “Queen of Peace, pray for us” to the Litany of Loreto. He concluded, “We wish the petitions of Her most afflicted children to be directed with lively confidence, more than ever in this awful hour, to the great Mother of God ... that Her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.”
The Pope's letter was as yet unpublished on Sunday, May 13, when Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta attended morning Mass at St. Anthony's parish in Fatima. Afterwards they herded their sheep towards the hills. It was a beautiful, cloudless spring day spotted with blooming wildflowers. The children drove the sheep about a mile and a half outside Fatima, to a small property owned by Lucy's parents, called Cova da Iria.
As the sheep grazed, the children ate lunch and prayed the Rosary, accompanied by the bells of St. Anthony's. Then they decided to “make a house” out of a small thicket by closing its opening. As Lucy and Jacinta lugged stones for Francisco to pile at the opening, they were all startled by a brilliant flash of light. The stones dropped, and the children ran to a large oak tree for protection against what they thought was a sudden storm. Under the tree they saw a second brilliant flash of light. The children realized now that there were no clouds in the sky. Confused and frightened, they wandered from their shelter. They hadn't gone far when they saw something that stopped them dead in their tracks.
Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta were standing in front of a holm oak tree, a small evergreen with glossy, sharp foliage that stood about three feet high. On top of the tree, as if resting upon it, was a ball of light. In the center of the ball of light stood a Lady.
She was, said Lucy, “all dressed in white, more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” She wore a white tunic. A white veil edged with gold covered Her head, hiding Her hair and ears, and descending to Her feet. Her hands were pressed together over Her breast in prayer, and a rosary hung from Her right hand. Standing a yard away from Her, the children were also bathed in the light of the Lady. So dazzling was She that it was difficult to gaze at Her face, which Lucy remembers looking “neither sad nor happy, but serious.”
“Do not be afraid. I will not harm you,” the Lady said in greeting. Lucy and Jacinta heard Her, Francisco did not. Jacinta did not speak to the Lady, but Lucy did. “Where does Your Grace come from?” she asked. “From Heaven,” the Lady replied. “What does Your Grace want from me?” Lucy asked. The Lady answered: “I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the thirteenth day, at this same hour. Later I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.”
Lucy asked if the children would go to Heaven too. The Lady said she and Jacinta would; Francisco “will go there too, but he will have to say many Rosaries.” Lucy asked about two older girls she knew who had recently died. The Lady said one was in Heaven, the other “will be in Purgatory until the end of the world.” Then the Lady asked: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings He may be pleased to send you, as both an act of reparation for the sins with which He is offended, and an act of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”
“Yes, we are willing,” answered Lucy. “Well then,” said the Lady, “you will have much to suffer. But the grace of God will be your comfort.” At these last words the Lady opened Her hands for the first time. From them came “a most intense light that penetrated our breasts reaching the innermost part of our souls, and making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light,” Lucy said later. Moved by an inward impulse, the three children spontaneously knelt and prayed: “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee! My God, my God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament.”
The Lady waited for them to finish the prayer, then said, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” Then rising in the air and moving eastward, “She disappeared in the immensity of space,” said Lucy, adding, “the light that surrounded Her seemed to open up a path before Her in the firmament.” The children were alone again.
They spent the rest of the afternoon reliving the Lady's appearance. Francisco asked again and again for details of the conversation, and became more and more thoughtful. Unlike the apparitions of the angel, the children were not exhausted after the Lady's visit. As Lucy describes it, “Instead of bodily exhaustion we felt a certain physical strength. In place of annihilation before the Divine Presence, we felt exultation and joy; in place of difficulty of speaking we felt a certain communicative enthusiasm.”
Lucy thought it best to keep things a secret, and the other children agreed. On the way home Lucy pressed Jacinta on this point, and her little cousin solemnly assured her she would tell no one about the Lady, not even her own mother. Jacinta's resolve lasted until she saw Ti Marto and Olimpia returning from market. She raced towards them, and her “communicative enthusiasm” eclipsed her promise to Lucy. “Mother!” she burst out, “I saw Our Lady at the Cova da Iria!”
Olimpia laughed. “I believe you, child! Oh, yes, you are such a good saint that you see Our Lady!” Jacinta persisted, breathlessly relating the events of the afternoon. Olimpia questioned Francisco, who confirmed Jacinta's story. After supper Jacinta was questioned again, with occasional interruptions of high humor by her older brothers. Olimpia became annoyed when Jacinta stuck to her story. Ti Marto sat silently by the fireplace, sipping cabbage soup and listening. He knew his children and studied them carefully. He thought to himself, “From the beginning of the world Our Lady has appeared many times in various ways. It was certainly possible She would do so again.” He thought about his children: “I always found Francisco truthful, and Jacinta even more so.” Moreover, neither child could read or write. How could they repeat such big words they had probably never heard before? How could they dream up, even as a prank, the theological concepts expressed by the Lady? They had received no instruction on these matters. “Why should they lie so outrageously now, when they had always been truthful children?” he asked himself. At the end of the evening of May 13, 1917, Ti Marto quietly made up his mind. Nobody's fool, he was the first to believe the Blessed Virgin Mary had actually come to Cova da Iria.
Lucy awoke the next day to find her secret the talk of the village. She was teased by her older sister, and scolded by Maria Rosa for being such a liar. “She was determined to make me confess that I was telling lies,” Lucy wrote, “and to this end she spared neither caresses, nor threats, nor even the broomstick. To all this she received nothing but a mute silence, or the confirmation of all that I had already said.”
Maria Rosa proved as stubborn as her daughter. She went to the parish priest, Father Ferreira, who interrogated the children. He was unimpressed by their story. Jacinta didn't help matters. She was so mortified over the trouble Lucy was in because of her own broken promise that she tearfully swore: “I won't ever tell anyone anymore!” This included Father Ferreira, before whom Jacinta was mute.
The reaction of the majority of townsfolk was to dwell on the entertainment value of the story. “Hey, Lucia, is Our Lady going to walk over the roofs today?” laughed the other children. Such remarks drove Maria dos Santos to the brink. She saw Lucy's story as a blow to the family honor. “If you don't say it was a lie,” she threatened Lucy, “I will lock you up in a dark room where you will never see the light of the sun again!” She seemed to mean it.
Under these circumstances it is understandable that the children preferred their own company, where they quietly made heroic sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Only the mysterious vision of God granted the children when the Lady opened Her hands can explain their subsequent love of suffering. Every day they gave their lunch away and ate pine cones and bitter berries instead. They gave up drinking water, even on hot days when their throats were parched. These and other severe penances were practiced every day, and when one of the children weakened, the other two were there for encouragement. Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta responded to the Lady's question — would they suffer in reparation to God and for sinners? — as if it were the most important question in the world.
The Lady Comes Again
June 13, the day the Lady said She would come again, was also the feast day of St. Anthony of Lisbon (better known as St. Anthony, the wonder worker of Padua). Aside from Christmas and Easter, it was the biggest feast day in Fatima. St. Anthony was one of their own, born in Portugal's capital, Lisbon, Patron Saint of Portugal, and patron of the Fatima parish. Second only to the Blessed Virgin in veneration, St. Anthony's feast day was routinely accompanied by a day-long festival the children of Fatima particularly enjoyed.
Lucy remembers, “My mother and my sisters, who knew how much I loved a festival, kept saying to me: ‘We'll see if you leave the festival just to go to the Cova da Iria and talk to that Lady!” Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta never wavered. With all due respect to St. Anthony, they were going to see the Lady. After attending morning Mass they set out for Cova da Iria in their best clothes. Their departure was not ignored. Lucy's brother came along to bribe Lucy not to go to Cova da Iria. This hurt her more than the taunts and gibes of passersby. Angry and tearful, she refused the money. Jacinta was also sad; she begged her mother to come to Cova da Iria, and Olimpia refused. When they reached the Cova, the children were dismayed to find about fifty people waiting for them. Expecting more mockery, the children cautiously approached the small holm oak tree.
The adults waiting for them were not believers or unbelievers. They lived in various villages around Fatima, had heard of the Lady's visit, and decided to see for themselves whether anything was really happening at the Cova da Iria. One of them, Maria Carreira, gave the children food, which they took but did not eat. After praying the Rosary the Litany of Loreto was begun, but was interrupted by Lucy, who said there was no time for it. Then Lucy stood and exclaimed: “Jacinta, Our Lady must be coming. There's the lightning!” Only the children saw the lightning, which was actually a reflection of the approaching light. Everyone gathered around the holm oak tree.
Remembers Lucy, “The next moment Our Lady was there on the holm oak, exactly the same as in May.” She asked, “What does Your Grace wish of me?” The Lady answered: “I wish you to come here on the thirteenth of next month, to pray the Rosary each day, and to learn to read. Later, I will tell you what I want.”
The onlookers saw Lucy kneel at the holm oak tree, and heard her question. They did not see the Lady, and most did not hear her. Maria Carreira was one of the few who, as the Lady spoke to Lucy, heard “the sound of a very faint voice; but we could not understand what it was saying; it was like the buzzing of a bee.”
Other witnesses noticed the branches of the holm oak tree were bent down, as if pressed upon by a greater weight. Everyone heard Lucy say: “I would like to ask You to take us to Heaven.” The Lady replied: “Yes, I will take Jacinta and Francisco soon. But you are to stay here some time longer. Jesus wishes to make use of you to make Me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. To whoever embraces this devotion I promise salvation; these souls shall be dear to God, as flowers placed by Me to adorn His throne.”
These remarkable statements were not immediately welcomed by Lucy, for her own nine-year-old heart was broken. She could not go to Heaven with Jacinta and Francisco! What would she do without the only people who understood her? “Am I to stay here alone?” she asked sadly. “No, My daughter,” the Lady said. “Do you suffer a great deal? Don't lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
Lucy recalls, “As Our Lady spoke these words, She opened Her hands, and for the second time She communicated to us the rays of that immense light. We saw ourselves in this light, as it were, immersed in God. Jacinta and Francisco seemed to be in that part of the light that rose to Heaven, and I in that which was poured out on the earth.”
The final thing Lucy saw was the Immaculate Heart itself: “In front of the palm of Our Lady's right hand was a heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation.”
The onlookers saw none of this, but they saw Lucy stand very quickly, and heard her shout, “Look, there She goes, there She goes!” Maria Carreira heard a sound “somewhat like a rocket, a long way off, as it goes up”. And she saw “a little cloud” that “went up gently in the east, until it finally disappeared completely.” Only a few others saw this, but everyone observed that after Lucy said the Lady had left, the branches of the holm oak tree “picked up and leaned in the same direction, as if Our Lady, as She left, had let Her dress rest upon the boughs.” It was several hours before the branches returned to their original position.
Years later Lucy believed the purpose of Our Lady's second visit was “to infuse within us a special knowledge and love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as on the other two occasions (with the Angel of Peace, and the Lady's first appearance) it was intended to do, as it seems to me, with regard to God and the mystery of the Holy Trinity.”
The infusion occurred when the Lady opened Her hands and divine light flooded the children's senses. “From that day onwards,” Lucy wrote, “our hearts were filled with a more ardent love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The Next Visit
On the way back home Lucy told Francisco what the Lady had said, for once again he had seen but not heard the Lady. All three agreed that the vision of the Immaculate Heart would be kept secret, and this time Jacinta, her little heart overflowing with love for the beautiful, serious Lady, was as good as her word.
This didn't keep Lucy out of trouble, however. Maria Rosa was very annoyed she had gone to Cova da Iria again, and furious that many of the onlookers believed the Blessed Virgin had appeared. When Lucy timidly asked to learn to read, her good mother blew a gasket. “A lot it matters to Our Lady whether the likes of you can read and write,” she huffed. The next day Maria Rosa strode to St. Anthony's rectory. Lucy labored behind her, struggling to keep up. When they arrived Maria Rosa ordered Lucy to tell Father Ferreira she had lied about the Blessed Virgin appearing at Cova da Iria.
Once more Father Ferreira listened to Lucy's account of the apparitions. He concluded that Lucy was sincere, but suggested the apparitions might be “a deceit of the devil.” Lucy was terrified, and Maria Rosa was appalled: not only had her youngest child become a pathological liar, she was consorting with demons as well. The long walk home was made even longer for Lucy by her mother's blows, kicks, and hard words.
Later she was consoled and encouraged by Francisco and Jacinta. The two younger children had received their own cross to bear from Father Ferreira, who reluctantly heard their First Confessions, but told them they would have to wait a year to receive First Communion. But Francisco and Jacinta's parents, particularly Ti Marto, were kinder to them than Lucy's family were to her. And unlike Lucy, the two younger children were not having nightmares of the devil grabbing them and dragging them down to hell. After a month of anguish Lucy, on the evening of July 12, told Francisco and Jacinta she was not going to Cova da Iria the next day as the Lady had requested. Lucy's two cousins wept, and Maria Rosa, after calling Lucy “a fine little plaster saint”, heaved a sigh of relief.
On the morning of July 13, “when it was nearly time to leave”, Lucy recalls, “I suddenly felt I had to go, impelled by a strange force that I could hardly resist.” She ran to the Marto house, and found her cousins weeping and praying in their room. Francisco and Jacinta had prayed through the night that Lucy would change her mind, and on seeing her implored her to come with them to Cova da Iria. “Yes, I'm going,” Lucy said. They sped out of the house and into the Portuguese summer heat.
Olimpia saw them leave and told Maria Rosa, who sagged at the news. Neither mother believed the Blessed Virgin was appearing at Cova da Iria, but they resolved to follow the children there. To guard against “deceits of the devil” Maria Rosa and Olimpia took, as weapons, blessed candles and matches, intending perhaps to give the devil a hot foot if he appeared. Within the hour, they had joined a surprisingly large crowd (about five thousand) on Cova da Iria.
Ti Marto was there too; he had seen the crowds and wanted to protect the children. He fought through the crush of people to position himself near Jacinta. Lucy led the Rosary and some of the crowd answered. When it ended Ti Marto saw Lucy rise “so quickly that it seemed as if she were pulled up.” Lucy looked to the east and Ti Marto heard her call: “Our Lady is coming!” “I looked as hard as I could,” he remembers, “but could see nothing.”
As the apparition began, however, Ti Marto saw “what looked like a little grayish cloud resting on the oak tree, and the sun's heat lessened, and there was a delicious fresh breeze. It hardly seemed like the height of summer.” Others close to the three children also saw the cloud on the tree, and felt the temperature cool. Still others noticed the sun seem to decrease in brightness, and the atmosphere appear to turn golden yellow.
After Lucy asked, “What does Your Grace want of me?”, Ti Marto heard a “buzzing” sound. What Lucy and Jacinta (but again, not Francisco) heard was the Lady's response: “I want you to come here on the thirteenth of next month, and to continue praying the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only She can help you.”
Lucy asked the Lady Her name, and requested She work a miracle so everyone would believe the Lady was really there. She replied, “Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.”
Then the Lady instructed the children: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
After She spoke these words the Lady opened Her hands as She had done on Her previous visits. Today, however, there was no divine light revealing the love of God and His sorrow for sin (the first apparition), or the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wounded by thorns of sin (the second apparition). Instead the children saw the rays of light from the Lady's hand penetrate the earth to reveal a sea of fire. It was hell.
Lucy remembers the vision vividly. “Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers” floating, rising, and falling “without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and filled us with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.”
Years later Lucy said the terrible vision lasted only an instant, “thanks to our Good Mother in Heaven, Who in the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Were it not for that I believe we would have died out of fright and fear.”
The vision ended, and the Lady, in tones serious and tender, told Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta what has become known as the Secret of Fatima.
“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 what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end, but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the reign of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes by means of wars, famine, and persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father.
“To prevent this I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated ...
(It is likely that the Third Secret appears at this point in the Blessed Virgin's prophecy. It begins “In Portugal the dogma of the faith will always be preserved etc.” and was first revealed in Sister Lucy's memoirs, tacked discreetly onto the end of the Blessed Virgin's message.) “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.”
After revealing the Secret the Lady concluded Her instructions to the children: “Do not tell this to anybody. Francisco, yes, you may tell him. When you say 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 most in need.”
The Lady ascended toward the east, and the crowd heard what Ti Marto called “a large clap of thunder.” The onlookers, who were remarkably silent during the apparition, considering they couldn't see or hear the Lady, now threatened to overwhelm the children. Ti Marto grabbed Jacinta and elbowed his way roughly through the crowd, his youngest daughter clinging to his neck. Lucy and Francisco escaped by and by, and were reunited with Jacinta at the bottom of the hill. Here they were offered their first ride in a mysterious new invention called the automobile. They accepted, and a kind and curious out-of-towner drove the exhausted children (and Ti Marto) back to Aljustrel.
There is little disagreement among Fatima scholars and researchers about the central facts of the Fatima apparitions. The primary source is, of course, Sister Lucy's Memoirs. The other sources listed below were also used for Chapters 1-4 of this work, but to avoid repetition will only be listed once, here.
Barthas, Canon, Our Lady of Light, World Wide Message of Fatima, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1947.
Borelli, Antonio A., John R. Spann, Plinio Correa de Oliveira, Our Lady at Fatima: Prophecies of Tragedy or Hope for America and the World? The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, 1985.
Haffert, John, Meet The Witnesses, Ave Maria Institute, 1961.
Johnston, Francis, Fatima: The Great Sign, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1980.
Kondor, Father Louis, Editor. Fatima In Lucia's Own Words (Sister Lucia's Memoirs), 9th Edition, Ravengate Press, 1995. In this edition Father Kondor asserts that the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been successfully performed by Pope John Paul II. Fatima experts dispute this claim. For what it's worth, so do I.
De Marchi, John, The Immaculate Heart, The True Story of Our Lady of Fatima, Farrar, Straus, and Young, New York, 1952.
De Marchi, John, The Crusade of Fatima, The Lady More Brilliant Than The Sun, English translation by Fathers Branco and Kelly, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1948.
Thomas McGlynn, O.P., Vision of Fatima, Little, Brown And Company, Boston, 1950.
Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume I, Science and the Facts, CRC 1984, English translation published by Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989. (Hereinafter referred to as TWTAF, Vol. I).
Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume II, The Secret and the Church, CRC 1984, English translation published by Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989. (Hereinafter referred to as TWTAF, Vol. II).
Joseph Pelletier, A.A., The Sun Danced at Fatima, A Critical Story of the Apparitions, The Caron Press, Worcester, Mass., 1951.
Monsignor Finbar Ryan, O.P., Our Lady of Fatima, Browne and Nolan Limited, 1940.
Walsh, William Thomas, Our Lady of Fatima, The MacMillan Company, 1947.