THE HISTORY OF FATIMA
Continued From Issue No. 21
In 1917, like today, the devil and his followers try to silence Our Lady of Fatima and prevent Her Message from being heard and obeyed. On August 13, 1917, Artur Santos, the Masonic Administrator of nearby Ourem had kidnaped and put in the Ourem jail, the three children of Fatima. Our Lady therefore did not appear to them on that scheduled day. On August 19, 1917, Our Lady did appear to them as we saw in our last issue. Our Lady's visit left them very happy and they returned home after seeing the Blessed Virgin.
New Crowds in the Cova
Maria Rosa dos Santos made little comment when the afternoon's great adventure was told to her. Nor did she have any comforting words for young John Marto, who had neither seen nor heard the heavenly one and so was bitterly disappointed. But she did admit that the holm oak branch which the children had brought home gave forth a wonderfully sweet fragrance. Friends and neighbors bore witness to this also, and soon everyone in Fatima had heard about the Lady's visit at Valinhos.
"You knew all along that She was going to be there," said one old woman in a disappointed voice. "Oh, children! Why didn't you tell us? We could have gone to Valinhos, too."
"But we didn't know anything special was going to happen!" Lucia hastened to insist. "The lady's visit at Valinhos was truly a surprise."
"She'll be coming here next month, though, won't She?"
The little girl shook her head. "Oh, no! In September the Lady will be at the Cova as usual."
As August passed and the thirteenth day of September approached, interest in the apparitions increased throughout all Portugal. Articles, for and against the strange happenings in the Cova da Iria, appeared in newspapers and magazines. Fatima, hitherto an almost unknown mountain village, became the most talked-about spot in the country. Devout men and women discussed ways and means of reaching it. Others, not so devout, asked one another if it would not be a good idea to go to this little village, some sixty miles north of Lisbon, a nd engage in a business there. Perhaps a hotel could be built or a shop opened.
"We ought to act quickly," they said. "Fatima may turn out to be a second Lourdes."
But the children knew and cared little about such talk. Indeed, their sole interest lay in doing what the Lady had told them to do - to pray and to make sacrifices for sinners, so that fewer of them would go to hell. Thus, they continued to give away their lunches to various poor children, to go without a drink of water even in the hottest weather - satisfying their hunger during the long hours in the sheep pasture with the weeds and bitter acorns to be found there. Then presently Lucia discovered a piece of rope lying on the highway, and their heroism reached even greater heights.
"It's rough rope, and it scratches," announced the little girl in satisfied tones. "Let's cut it into three parts and each wear a part about our waists. That way there'll be a new sacrifice to offer for sinners."
"Yes, and no one will know about it, or ask questions," said Francisco.
So day and night the little ones wore the rough and prickling rope next to their skin, although sometimes Jacinta could hardly keep back the tears because of the suffering which it caused - especially in the summer heat.
"Take off the rope,'' advised Lucia finally. "You'll make yourself sick if you keep on wearing it.''
But the seven-year-old child shook her head. "What about the sinners? The only way to save them is by prayer and sacrifice, isn't it?"
So the days passed, and the children entered more deeply into the work of praying and suffering for others. Upheld by grace, which constantly flooded their hearts because they did not forget to ask the Blessed Mother for courage to do all that God desired of them, they became true victim souls. But no one, not even the parish priest, realized the wonderful fact.
"You don't suppose we should tell anyone how we are praying and suffering for sinners, do you?" asked Jacinta one day.
Francisco shook his head. "Oh, no! They'd never understand."
"Mother would worry still more about me,'' sighed Lucia. "I just know she would."
As September 13 drew near, all roads leading to Fatima were blocked with pilgrims. They came in wagons and on foot - thousands and thousands of them - eager to be present for the Lady's fifth visit. Even twenty-four hours before the great day a huge throng had packed itself into the Cova, while hundreds milled about the children's homes in Aljustrel, eager to see and speak with the little ones.
"Jacinta dear, I've a little girl just your age who's a deaf mute. Will you ask the lady to cure her'?"
"Lucia, please give the Lady these two letters . . . "
"Look here's a gift for Her - a bottle of the best cologne . . . ''
"Francisco, I want you to ask the Lady to bring my husband back from the war...''
"Yes, and I want to sell my farm for a good price ..."
"Children, I'm dying of cancer. In God's Name, tell the Lady to cure me . . . ''
On the morning of the thirteenth, still surrounded by the eager crowds, the little shepherds set out on their two-and-one-half-mile walk to the Cova. But with what difficulty! On every hand men and women fell before them on their knees, begging for this and that favor. Dozens of others ran ahead to climb trees and walls and shout their petitions from these vantage points. Nor were they all barefoot peasants. No, great numbers of the pilgrims hailed from Lisbon, Santarem, and other large cities - their fashionable attire in striking contrast to the simple homespun of the country folk.
Although a few men forced open a path for them, the children could move at little better than a snail's pace - doing their best to answer the torrent of questions and to withstand the eager hands which pulled them this way and that, imploring a remembrance when the Lady should come. But at certain places in the road, the crush was so great that the little ones could scarcely breathe.
"Let's offer it all up for sinners," whispered Jacinta. So over and over again the three quietly recited the prayer which the Lady had taught them to say whenever they made a sacrifice:
"O Jesus, it is for Your love, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
When the three finally arrived at the Cova, there was a mighty rumbling as the assembled people rose to their feet. But the children scarcely noticed the respect paid them - the whisperings, the admiring glances. Their minds were full of but one thought: in a few minutes they would see their heavenly friend again!
Our Lady Comes
''Let's say the Rosary while we're waiting," suggested Lucia.
The child's voice carried clearly, and at once the thousands of people who had risen to greet the little shepherds were falling to their knees. Huge numbers were weeping, for few had come to the Cova out of idle curiosity. Many had brought hearts laden with grief, burdens which only the Queen of Heaven could lighten or remove. Now, how wonderful if it were really true that She was about to manifest Herself to these three children! If this were so, surely She loved them very much. Surely She planned to do great things for them, and for their friends who believed in her and who came on this and other pilgrimages to the Cova."I'm sure it's this way!" whispered a young woman from Lisbon to her husband. "Just look at those children's faces! They're not the faces of liars."
The man agreed, and began to finger his beads with more than usual devotion. But he had not finished even the first decade before the real excitement broke out. The sun, a few seconds before a great fiery ball in the cloudless sky, had grown strangely dim. Indeed, before the astonished eyes of the thousands of people it had suddenly become little more than a pale yellow disc. And the air was wonderfully cool and fresh . . .
"They say this happens just before the Lady appears to the children," explained the young wife in awed tones. "She's so bright and beautiful that the sun becomes as nothing in Her presence. Why, look - it's so pale now that you can see the stars!"
Before the husband could reply, a great shout went up throughout the Cova. "The Lady's coming! Look over there!"
The young couple turned, then gasped. A small shining cloud - like a globe of light - was gliding majestically across the sky from east to west. Slowly it moved earthwards, then settled about the little holm oak. As it did so, the faces of the three children grew radiantly happy. And though the crowd could not see any vision, it felt confident that the Lady had come to her young friends again. For the fifth time She was visible to them, standing atop the little tree, clothed in Her garments of dazzling light.
CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE