The Story of Fatima
We continue below the account of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima which took place on July 13, 1917.
Press Reports on the Apparition
After July 13th, Catholic diocesan newspapers in Portugal began to publish short articles on the event, in which they showed an attitude of prudent reserve. They left any final judgment about the truth and the source of the apparitions to the Church authorities.
But a secular press which was the voice of the anti-Catholic revolution in that country accused the clergy of having invented the story to regain the prestige they had lost in the Revolution of 1910. The openly anti-clerical journal O Seculo printed a sarcastic and distorted account on July 21, under the heading “A Message from Heaven — Commercial Speculation?” More moderate freethinkers wrote suavely of psychosis, epilepsy and collective suggestion as possible explanations of the incredible tale from the Serra de Aire. A casual reader of the daily newspaper might have concluded that the result so far had been to provoke a new and bitter attack against the Church.
The peace and privacy of the homes of the three children who saw Our Lady, began to be disturbed by numerous visitors. There were those who enthusiastically believed in the apparitions, there were poor people coming to ask some favor or cure from the Mother of God, there were priests who were interested in finding out the truth and the significance of the apparitions. There were also skeptics and curiosity-seekers, and wealthy people who came to amuse themselves by laughing at these illiterate peasants who believed that the Mother of God would appear to their children. Ti Marto in his account to Father De Marchi recalls: “Ladies kept coming to our house all dressed up in their fancy clothes, and Heaven only knows from where. They invaded our house and our privacy in such a way as would make you ashamed. They were so curious. All they wanted to know was the secret. They would take Jacinta on their knees and keep bothering her with questions, tormenting her, never giving her any rest. A fine chance they had … they tried bribing her with presents when their pleading failed. All they really did was waste their time and our time too, since we had work to get done. Even our meals were disturbed.”
One day the children saw a group of fine ladies and gentlemen getting out of a car on the road from Aljustrel to Fatima. There was no doubt what they were looking for, but they saw the children before they could escape. The ladies approached them with familiar smiles.
“Where do the little shepherds live? The ones that saw Our Lady?” The children gave precise directions to their homes. The visitors thanked them, and went on down the hill. The three children, giggling with triumph, climbed over the little stone wall and ran to hide among the olive trees.
“We must always do this!” said Jacinta.
Of the priests who came to see the children at this time, despite the accusations of the anti-clerical press, many were skeptical and some even hostile. Priests trained in theology were aware of the harm that fraud or delusion might do the Church, and they would ask many detailed questions that would never occur to one of the unbelieving skeptics. Also a number of priests noticed that the public manifestation of faith and piety by the pilgrims at Fatima was attracting further attacks by the anti-Catholic element against the Church.
“When we saw ourselves in the presence of a priest,” Lucia wrote, “we prepared ourselves to offer to God one of our greatest sacrifices.”
Fortunately there were exceptions. One of these they liked to remember was the visit of the Jesuit Father Cruz, who came from Lisbon to investigate what he had heard. After questioning the children at length, he persuaded them to take him to the exact spot where they had seen Our Lady and to re-enact for him all they had done and said. He came away convinced that they had told the truth. He taught them many prayers that they found useful and consoling. From that day on, he was their friend and defender.
One day Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta spent their siesta down by the well belonging to Lucia’s parents. Jacinta sat on the stone slabs on top of the well. Francisco and Lucia had climbed up a steep bank in search of wild honey among the brambles in a nearby thicket. After a little while, Jacinta called out to Lucia:
“Didn’t you see the Holy Father?”
“I don’t know how it was, but I saw the Holy Father in a very big house, kneeling by a table, with his head buried in his hands, and he was weeping. Outside the house, there were many people, some of them were throwing stones, others were cursing him and using bad language. Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.”
Another time the children went to the field called the Cabeco, where they had seen the Angel. They liked to go there to be by themselves, away from the endless intrusions of curious people. On that day the three children were prostrated on the ground, repeating the prayers the angel had taught them: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for all the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.” After some time, Jacinta stood up and called to Lucia:
“Can’t you see all those highways and roads and fields full of people who are crying with hunger and have nothing to eat? And the Holy Father in a church praying before the Immaculate Heart of Mary? And so many people praying with him?”
Some days later, she asked Lucia: “Can I say that I saw the Holy Father and all those people?”
“No. Don’t you see that that’s part of the secret? If you do, they’ll find out right away.”
“All right! Then I’ll say nothing at all.”
In her memoirs, Lucia says of Jacinta: “… she was most deeply impressed by some of the things revealed to us in the secret. Such was the case with the vision of hell and the ruin of the many souls who go there, or again, the future war with all its horrors, which seemed to be always present to her mind. These made her tremble with fear. When I saw her deep in thought, and asked her: ‘Jacinta, what are you thinking about?’ she frequently replied:
‘About the war which is coming, and all the people who are going to die and go to hell! How dreadful! If they would only stop offending God, then there wouldn't be any war and they wouldn't go to hell!’”
Francisco Thinks of God
And of Francisco, Lucia writes: “In the third Apparition, Francisco seemed to be the one on whom the vision of hell made the least impression, though it did indeed have quite a considerable effect on him. What made the most powerful impression on him and what wholly absorbed him, was God, the Most Holy Trinity, perceived in that light which penetrated our inmost souls.”
Francisco said that the three children seemed to be on fire in that light which comes from God, and yet they were not burned. Francisco said, “What is God? … We could never put it into words. Yes, that is something indeed which we could never express! But what a pity it is that He is so sad! If only I could console Him!…”
Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart
and the Five First Saturdays
Our Lady told the children that She would come to ask (as She did in a later apparition) for the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.
Regarding the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, has explained that, as she was told in a later apparition, Our Lord wants the Pope and all the bishops of the world to do this on one special day. If this is done, Our Lady said She will convert Russia and there will be peace. According to Sister Lucia, God will only permit the grace of the Collegial Consecration “when a sufficient number are complying with the Message of Fatima.”
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady also mentioned the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. In a subsequent apparition, more details were given. This devotion consists in:
• going to Confession;
• receiving Holy Communion;
• reciting five decades of the Rosary; and
• spending 15 minutes with Our Lady meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary performed with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart for all the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart.
Our Blessed Mother, the Mediatrix of all graces, has promised all graces necessary for salvation at the hour of death to those who faithfully practice this devotion for the First Saturday of any five consecutive months.
(Note: Jesus explained to Lucia that the Confession may be made under the usual conditions of 8 days before or after the First Saturday Holy Communion, provided the person is not in the state of mortal sin when he receives Holy Communion.)
After the first apparition of Our Lady on May 13th, two priests had visited and asked the children to pray for the Holy Father. The children did not know who the Holy Father was, and one of the priests explained. And from then on, the children added three extra Hail Marys to their daily Rosary for the Holy Father.
The Portuguese have always shown special loyalty to the Holy Father. It was the Pope who freed them from being a vassal state to Castile, and it was to him that the new little country of Portugal was entrusted at its birth. It is interesting to note in relation to this, that Our Lady said, when She appeared to the children in July 1917, “In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be kept.”
One day when Jacinta was reflecting on the war that was to come, and recalling that in the June apparition Our Lady had promised to take her and Francisco to Heaven soon, she said to Lucia, “Look, I am going to Heaven. When you see that light at night which the Lady said would come before the war, run up there too.”
“Don’t you know that no one can run to Heaven?”
“That’s true, you cannot; but don’t be afraid. In Heaven I shall pray hard for you, for the Holy Father, for Portugal, so that the war may not come here, and for all priests.”
In interpreting the sentiments of Jacinta, Sister Lucia pleads fervently: “May her appeal for prayers for the Holy Father and for priests be heard and put into practice everywhere on earth.”
In her memoirs Lucia answers a question about little Jacinta: “How is it that Jacinta, small as she was, let herself be possessed by such a spirit of mortification and penance, and understood it so well? I think the reason is: first, God willed to bestow on her a special grace, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and secondly, it was because she had looked upon hell, and had seen the ruin of souls who fall into it.”
Lucia, commenting on the fact that the three children saw the vision of hell, noted that many people today don’t like anyone to mention hell to children because it would frighten them. “Some people, even the most devout, refuse to speak to children about hell, in case it would frighten them. Yet God did not hesitate to show hell to the three children, one of whom was only six years old, knowing well that they would be horrified to the point of, I would almost dare to say, withering away with fear.” But in fact, instead of frightening the youngest child, the vision of hell made her wish to pray and make sacrifices to help save souls of sinners. Reflecting on the vision of hell, little Jacinta urged Lucia to tell everyone what hell is like so that people would not commit any more sins and so they would save their souls.
Jacinta took seriously the apostolate that had come to her. Persons who spoke with her found themselves turning more to prayer. Jacinta’s parents had neglected their custom of saying the Rosary every day. Jacinta told them Our Lady wanted every family to say it every day. And Jacinta persuaded them to resume their former custom of saying the family Rosary daily, and the family found that they began to like it.
Jacinta’s example encourages Christians today, especially those engaged in the front lines of the apostolate helping to win souls for Christ. The apparitions of Our Blessed Mother changed the life of this seven-year-old child to a life of growing love for and absorption in God, for Whose glory she sacrificed herself.