August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and in her honor, I’d like to look at a one of the best-known Marian apparitions in modern times: the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three small shepherds in the remote Portuguese town of Fatima. In my next blog, I’ll explore a shrine here in the United States that is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the message of Fatima: The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington, New Jersey.
I mentioned Lucia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto in my last blog post on pilgrimage and redemptive suffering, and truth be told, they have been on my mind a lot lately.
Partly because I feel that the state of the world during the time of these apparitions in 1917 seems so similar to the state of our world today. But probably mostly because I have been invited to Portugal later this year to film some of the many amazing Catholic shrines and places of pilgrimage in that country, and Fatima is at the top of our list.
I’ve never been to Fatima, but have known the story of Mary and three pastorinhos all my life. The Fatima story has so much to teach us about prayer and sacrifice, but one thing I think Fatima teaches us very strongly is that we underestimate children. As a child, I loved knowing that God entrusted someone as young as Jacinta, who was six years old when the Angel of Portugal first appeared to her and had just turned seven when she first met Mary, with the heavy cross of a vision of Hell, the burden of redemptive sacrifice and suffering, and even the date, time, and manner of her own death.
But I am jumping ahead. First, let me say that if you aren’t familiar with Fatima, the one book you must read is Fatima in Lucia’s own Words. This book is a collection of letters, written by Lucia, the eldest of the three shepherds, in which she tells the story of the apparitions, and shares with us what her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, were like before and after the apparitions. If you’d rather watch a movie about Fatima, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima is probably best known, although is not entirely true to history and is pretty cheesy (in my opinion). The 13th Day, a more recent production, has similar issues in my opinion. Finding Fatima is a good documentary on the apparitions, which I do recommend.
The apparitions at Fatima are both complex and simple. They are complex because they occurred over a period of many months, during which a lot of things happened. They are simple, because the messages relayed to the children by the Angel of Portugal and the Virgin Mary were pretty much the same: pray, offer up sacrifices, and pray some more. Oh, and then there were some secrets… but we’ll get to those.
The Angel of Portugal
The miraculous events at Fatima began in Spring of 1916, in the middle of the “Great War” (World War I). Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were tending the sheep of their families, which was not unusual for 6, 7, and 9 year olds to do back when everybody worked to make ends meet. They had just finished praying a rosary when the wind began to blow and they saw coming toward them a light, “whiter than snow in the form of a young man … as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun.” (Sister Lucia’s words are taken from Fatima in Lucia’s Words, which can also be found online.)
“Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.”
He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground, and the children followed suit.
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.
Later that summer, the angel appeared to them as they played, saying,
What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.
“But how are we to sacrifice?” Lucia asked.
In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.
The Angel’s words had the intended effect on the children: they played less and prayed more, looking for any opportunity to offer up something in reparation for the sins of the world.
That fall, the Angel visited them for the last time. As the children were in the midst of praying, they saw a light and saw, as Lucia recounts, “The Angel was holding in his left hand a chalice and over it, in the air, was a host from which drops of blood fell into the chalice.”
Leaving the chalice in the air, the Angel knelt next to the children and told them to repeat three times:
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.
The Angel rose and gave Lucia the host and the contents of the chalice to Francisco and Jacinta, saying,
Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.
In this way, Lucia says, “catechized in prayer, reparative suffering, and the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, and strengthened by the Bread of Angels” the three little shepherds were prepared for what lie ahead.
The Virgin Mary
On May 13, 1917, Lucia, now 10, Francisco, almost 9, and Jacinta, newly turned 7, were out with the sheep on the Cova da Iria, a hilly plot of land owned by Lucia’s father. They had prayed a shortened rosary, shouting out the first few words of each prayer and letting the echoing hills take it from there, when they saw what they thought was lightning off in the distance. They had just started off for home when they saw a strange light above a holm oak on the hillside.
According to Lucia, they saw a lady, “dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light, just like a crystal goblet full of pure water when the fiery sun passes through it. … The Lady wore a pure white mantle, edged with gold and which fell to her feet. In her hands the beads of a rosary shone like stars, with its crucifix the most radiant gem of all.”
The Lady told the children not to be afraid, and when asked, said that she came from Heaven. She then told the children what she wanted of them:
I want you to return here on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months, and at the very same hour. Later I shall tell you who I am, and what it is that I most desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time.
The children asked a few questions, which she answered simply, telling them that they would all go to Heaven, although Francisco had to pray many Rosaries first. Then she asked,
Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?
“Oh, we will, we will!” the children replied.
Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.
The Lady opened her hands and bathed the children in a heavenly light, in which they saw God. They knelt and prayed, as the Lady said,
Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.
She rose to the East and disappeared in the distance.
As soon as the kids got home, the Lady’s words came true. Jacinta spilled the beans about the vision and Lucia’s mother angrily refused to believe that her daughter was not telling a lie. Jacinta and Francisco’s parents believed them from the get go. As the months progressed, Lucia’s sufferings increased, as her mother punished her for “telling lies” and her family had to stop farming the Cova da Iria due to the trampling of those hoping to share in the visions. Eventually, the dos Santos family had to sell their sheep, making it even more difficult for them to earn a living. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta all suffered as a result of the throngs of people who continually sought after them, begging them to tell the Lady this or that, and simply wanting to be in their presence.
In June, the lady taught the children a short prayer that she asked them to pray after every mystery of the Rosary:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.
She told them that while Jacinta and Francisco would go to Heaven soon, Lucia would remain on earth “a little longer” because Jesus wished that she would make the Lady known and loved, and that she would establish devotion in the world to her Immaculate Heart. (Lucia lived to be 97, which is a very insight into what God considers to be “a little while”!)
In July, the Lady taught them another prayer they should say when they made sacrifices:
O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
She then revealed what are known as the Three Secrets of Fatima. Francisco and Jacinta took them to their graves, leaving Lucia to reveal them more than 25 years after she first heard them.
The First Secret: The Vision of Hell
Mary stretched out her arms, and the children saw, as Lucia described, “a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now following back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. … The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellant likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.”
You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace.
The Second Secret: World War II
Engulfed in the midst of the Great War, no one could have imagined that the war would end the following year, and that another, greater war would follow within less than 25 years. But the Virgin Mary knew, and she then told the children:
This war will end, but if men do not refrain from offending God, another and more terrible war will begin during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night that is lit by a strange and unknown light, you will know it is the sign God gives you that He is about to punish the world with war and with hunger, and by the persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.
At that time, the Pope was Benedict XV, but on February 6, 1922, Pius XI would succeed him and would be Pope until February 10, 1939. On the evening of January 25, 1938, during his Pontificate, the skies of all of Europe, and parts of Australia, Bermuda, Africa, and the United States lit up with a shimmering curtain of fire. Brilliant arcs and beams of red, green, and blue light rose and pulsated in the night sky.
While many considered this light display to be the Aurora Borealis, a natural light display caused by the collision of solar winds and magnetospheric charged particles in a high altitude, this display was so widespread and intense, it was unlike any aurora ever recorded before or since. In March of that year, Germany announced the Anschluss, or union, with Austria which began the chain of events that led to the Holocaust and World War II.
To prevent this, I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month Communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins-of the world. If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred and the Holy Father will have much to suffer; certain nations will be annihilated. But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and the world will enjoy a period of peace. In Portugal the faith will always be preserved…
In February of that year, the Russian Revolution began, leading to the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. During its existence from that year until 1991, the Soviet Union overpowered fifteen countries, forcing its atheistic principles on them. Communism spread to China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, where religion was not—and in some places is still not—tolerated. Churches were destroyed and many faithful joined the ranks of the martyrs. In light of recent events, some might argue that Russia continues to spread her errors, bringing new wars and annihilating many countries.
On October 31, 1942, Pope Pius XII partially consecrated the world to Our Lady, but was lacking the union with all the bishops of the world. But on March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II, in union with the bishops of the world, successfully consecrated Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, as requested by Our Lady.
How do we know? Lucia confirmed it. (EWTN provides a very good Chronology of the attempted consecrations, as well as providing Sr. Lucia’s letter to Pope Pius XII in which she requests that the world and Russia be consecrated to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.) And almost exactly a year later, Gorbachev took the reigns of the Soviet Union and immediately began reforming the country. The Berlin Wall fell, heralding the beginning of the end of Communism in Europe. By Christmas 1991, the Soviet Union was a thing of the past.
Pope Francis again consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 13, 2013. I guess it can’t hurt to be thorough, can it?
The Third Secret: The Bishop Dressed in White
The Third Secret of Fatima is a favorite among conspiracy theorists, because many of them like to argue that it has yet to be revealed. But let me just say up front that it has been revealed: Lucia said so herself, and Lucia doesn’t tell lies. The secret was revealed by Lucia in a letter written on January 3, 1944 at the request of the Bishop of Leiria. As Lucia herself states in the letter, “What is the secret? It seems to me that I can reveal it, since I already have permission from Heaven to do so.” (You can see her original letter on the Vatican website.) She goes on to describe what the Blessed Mother showed the three children on that day:
“…we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’ And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
The letter was sent to the Bishop of Leiria who kept it in his archives until 1957, when he sent it to the Vatican. It is believed that Pope Pius XII never read the letter, as it was unsealed when Pope John XXIII read it on August 17, 1959. He returned the letter to the Vatican’s archives. On March 27, 1965, Pope Paul VI read the letter and did the same.
But the meaning of the letter wasn’t understood until Pope John Paul II read the letter in May of 1981 as he lay in the hospital, recovering from an attempt on his life. Then, it clicked. He knew that he had been the Bishop dressed in white, but, as he later said, it was “a motherly hand which guided the bullet’s path”, enabling the “dying Pope” that the pastorinhos saw to halt “at the threshold of death”. (Pope John Paul II. Meditation with the Italian Bishops from the Policlinico Gemelli, Insegnamenti, vol XVII/1, 1994, p. 1061.) The Third Secret was revealed to the world on May 13, 2000, when Pope John Paul II beatified Jacinta and Francisco. Lucia was in the audience.
The Miracle of the Sun
In August, the children’s meeting with Mary was postponed by two days due to the local government’s decision to kidnap the children and put them in jail to scare them into telling the “truth”. (It didn’t work.) When they met her on August 19th, the Lady continued to ask them to return to the Cova and to keep praying the Rosary, and she promised that in the last month, she would perform a miracle so that “all may believe.” In September, she was even more specific, saying,
In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world.
On October 13th, the Lady was true to her word.
It had been raining for two days, and the crowd of around 70,000 people were wet, soggy, and cold. The children were there, as promised, and the Lady made her appearance as the sun hit its highest point in the sky.
“What do you want of me?” Lucia asked.
I want a chapel built here in my honor. I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day. The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes.
“Yes. Yes. Will you tell me your name?”
I am the Lady of the Rosary.
“I have many petitions from many people. Will you grant them?”
Some I shall grant, and others I must deny. People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!
“And is that all you have to ask?”
There is nothing more.
Our Lady then raised her hands to the cloud-covered sky. The rain had stopped, and suddenly the sun burst through the dark clouds.
“Look at the sun!” one of the children shouted. And that’s when they saw it—believers and non believers alike. According to the thousands of witnesses, including reporters from secular and anti-clerical newspapers and some people from many miles away, the sun, which they could look at without their eyes hurting, began spinning like a top and emitting a rainbow of lights. It lefts its place in the skies and came closer and closer to the earth, causing many to think they were about to die. And just as suddenly as it came closer, it moved back into its proper place.
And just like that—everything was dry, as if it had never rained. (Read eye-witness accounts.)
While the spectators saw the Miracle of the Sun, the three pastorinhos saw something completely different, which Lucia describes in her letters:
After our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus seemed to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me to that it was Our Lady of Sorrows (Dolours). Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Carmel.
The Aftermath and Tuy
As Our Lady promised, Jacinta and Francisco went to Heaven sooner than later. Francisco contracted the flu, an epidemic of which was killing people around the world. He died on April 4, 1919, excited to finally be able to console God, whom he had always seen as being so sad because of the sins of the world. The Blessed Mother told Jacinta when and how she would die: on February 20, 1920, alone in Lisbon from the flu. She suffered greatly from this knowledge, but up to the last, she offered up her suffering for the conversion of sinners.
In 1921, at 14 years of age, Lucia went to a school in Porto, run by the religious Order of St. Dorothea. Despite her desire to become a Carmelite, she joined the Sisters of St Dorothea out of obedience in Tuy, Spain.
On June 13, 1929, as she prayed in the chapel at Tuy, Lucia received the last vision promised by Our Lady (“I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia….”).
Suddenly the whole chapel was illumined by a supernatural light, and above the altar appeared a cross of light, reaching to the ceiling. In a brighter light on the upper part of the cross, could be seen the face of a man and His body as far as the waist; upon His breast was a dove of light; nailed to the cross was the body of another man. A little below the waist, I could see a chalice and a large Host suspended in the air, onto which drops of Blood were falling from the face of Jesus Crucified and from the wound in His side.
These drops ran down onto the Host and dropped into the chalice. Beneath the right arm of the cross was Our Lady, and in Her hand was Her Immaculate Heart. (It was Our Lady of Fatima, with the Immaculate Heart in Her left hand, without sword or roses, but with a crown of thorns and flames). Under the left arm of the cross, large letters, as if of crystal clear water which ran down upon the altar, formed these words: ‘Grace and Mercy.’
I understood that it was the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity which was shown to me, and I received lights about this mystery which I am not permitted to reveal.
Our Lady then said to me: ‘The moment has come in which God asks of the Holy Father to make, and to order that in union with him, and at the same time, all the bishops of the world make the Consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart’ promising to convert it because of this day of prayer and worldwide reparation.
Lucia’s desire to become a Carmelite was constant and strong, and while she prayed about it and even wrote to Pope Pius XII about it, who intervened on her behalf, there was great opposition for her to leave the Dorotheans. Since Lucia never seemed to be a willful person, her desire to enter Carmel must have been God’s will, as well. And eventually, on March 25, 1948, the Feast of the Annunciation and Holy Thursday, Lucia entered the Carmelite Order in Coimbra, Portugal, taking the name Lucia Maria do Imaculado Coração (Lucia Maria of the Immaculate Conception).
As promised, Lucia stuck around “a little longer”, living for another 87 years after the Virgin Mary’s apparitions. She died at Carmel in Coimbra on February 13, 2005. Three years later, Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period necessary before opening her cause for beatification.
In my next post, I’ll explore The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington, New Jersey, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to spreading the story and message of Fatima.
A Novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Immaculate Heart of Mary, full of love for God and mankind, and of compassion for sinners, I consecrate myself entirely to you. I entrust to you the salvation of my soul. May my heart be ever united with yours, so that I may hate sin, love God and my neighbor, and reach eternal life together with those whom I love.
Mediatrix of All Graces and Mother of Mercy, remember the infinite treasure which your Divine Son has merited by His suffering and which he has confided to you for us, your children. Filled with confidence in your motherly heart, and for the sake of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, obtain for me the favor I ask: [Mention your request here].
Dearest Mother, if what I ask for should not be according to God’s will, pray that I may receive that which will be of greater benefit to my soul. May I experience the kindness of your intercession with Jesus during life and at the hour of my death? Amen.
Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
O Mary, Virgin most powerful and Mother of mercy, Queen of Heaven and Refuge of sinners, we consecrate ourselves to thine immaculate heart.
We consecrate to thee our very being and our whole life; all that we have, all that we love, all that we are. To thee we give our bodies, our hearts, and our souls; to thee we give our homes, our families, our country. We desire that all that is in us and around us may belong to thee, and may share in the benefits of thy motherly benediction. And that this act of consecration may be truly efficacious and lasting, we renew this day at thy feet the promises of our Baptism and our first Holy Communion. We pledge ourselves to profess courageously and at all times the truths of our holy Faith, and to live as befits Catholics who are duly submissive to all the directions of the Pope and the Bishops in communions with him. We pledge ourselves to keep the commandments of God and His Church, in particular to keep holy the Lord’s Day. We likewise pledge ourselves to make the consoling practices of the Christian religion, and above all, Holy Communion, an integral part of our lives, insofar as we shall be able so to do. Finally, we promise thee, O glorious Mother of God and loving Mother of men, to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the service of thy blessed cult, in order to hasten and assure, through the sovereignty of thine immaculate heart, the coming of the kingdom of the Sacred Heart of thine adorable Son, in our own hearts and in those of all men, in our country and in all the world, as in heaven, so on earth. Amen.
Diana von Glahn is the co-producer (along with husband, David), writer, editor, and host of The Faithful Traveler, a travel series on EWTN, that explores the art, architecture, history and doctrine behind Catholic churches, shrines and places of pilgrimage throughout the world. She is the author of The Mini Book of Saints. She blogs here twice a month, at SpiritualDirection.com, and on her own website, and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. Her first series, The Faithful Traveler in the US: East Coast Shrines, and her second series, The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land, can both be seen on EWTN (check listings) and on her website, where she also sells DVDs of both programs. She has begun offering pilgrimage tours to sites where The Faithful Traveler has travelled.