Things Old and New
By Ruth Powers
This year Oct. 13 is the 106th anniversary of the final apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima, Portugal. Our Lady of Fatima is possibly one of the best-known titles of Our Lady in the modern era because of the urgency of her message and the signs that accompanied her final appearance on Oct. 13, 1917 during the fury of World War I.
Beginning on May 13, 1917, and continuing for six months, Lucia de los Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Martos were visited by the Blessed Mother as they watched their sheep at the Cova de Iria in Fatima. At first the children did not understand who she was. They described her as “a Lady more brilliant than the sun” wearing a white mantle edged in gold, a gold crown and holding a rosary. At her first appearance, she asked the children to return on the thirteenth of each month for six months and to pray the rosary every day for peace.
Lucia told the other children to keep the Lady a secret, but Jacinta told her mother, who did not believe, but who spread the story to the neighbors; word soon spread throughout the village and into nearby towns. Lucia’s mother, also doubting what the children reported, consulted the parish priest. This priest questioned Lucia after the second apparition in June but could not get her to retract her story. It was at this apparition that Our Lady asked that the Fatima Prayer be added to the Rosary.
As the months went by, more and more pilgrims came to the Cova de Iria in the hope of experiencing the apparition. Local civil authorities became alarmed that the children were being used in a plot to incite the poor people of the country to topple the newly formed Republican government of Portugal. It got so bad that the local provincial administrator took the children into custody and used threats to try to get them to admit that they had been lying. The children, however, refused to take back their story. Even in the face of disbelief by their family and friends and persecution by the secular authorities, they held firm.
Perhaps the most widely discussed aspect of the apparitions are the revelations that have become known as the Three Secrets of Fatima. The secrets were given to the children during the third apparition. First, they were given a vision of Hell and told that many people were going there because of lack of prayer and acts of reparation for sins. Second, Our Lady of Fatima predicted the end of World War I but predicted the Second World War “if people do not stop offending God.” At this point the Bolshevik Revolution was coming to a boil in Russia, and she requested prayers for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart or else Russia will “scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the church.” The final secret involved a vision of the Pope, along with many bishops, priests, and lay people, being killed by soldiers.
On Oct. 13, as Our Lady promised, she revealed her identity as “Our Lady of the Rosary.” She said, “I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and ask for pardon for their sins. They must not offend Our Lord anymore for He is already too grievously offended by the sins of men. People must say the Rosary. Let them continue saying it every day. I would like a chapel built here in my honor.”
After this, the apparition ended with a spectacular sign which has come to be known as “The Miracle of the Sun.” According to eyewitness accounts reported in The Sun Danced at Fatima by Joseph Pelletier, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape and the people. The sun was then reported to have dropped suddenly towards the Earth before zig-zagging back to its normal position. Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes and the sodden ground suddenly became completely dry. This was witnessed by believers and non-believers alike, and by some as far away as 10 miles from the Cova de Iria.
Francisco and Jacinta died soon after these events during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Lucia, however, later entered religious life first as a Dorothean Sister and later as a Discalced Carmelite. She lived until 2005. Over the course of the 1920’s, Our Lady appeared to Lucia several times. In December of 1925 she established the First Saturday Devotions, and in February 1926 requested that the devotion be spread throughout the world. In June 1929 she once again requested that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. Between 1976 and 1993 Sister Lucia published a series of memoires describing the events of Fatima in her own words.
There has been some controversy over whether the so-called “Third Secret” has been completely disclosed and whether the Consecration to Russia has been performed correctly. Sister Lucia verified both before her death. The main message of Fatima, however, has been consistent with the messages from every other Marian apparition: repent and turn toward Christ; and pray always. For two excellent resources on the events of 1917 at Fatima you can read The Sun Danced at Fatima or watch the 2009 film “The 13th Day.”
(Ruth Powers is the program coordinator for The Basilica of St. Mary in Natchez.)