Miracles of the sun witnessed by tens of thousands. Little children in a remote hamlet claiming apparitions of Mary. Three mysterious ‘secrets' revealed — or not — over the course of the 20th century. A pope who claimed that Our Lady of Fatima had saved his life from an assassin's bullet.
What actually happened outside this tiny farming village in the rolling hills of central Portugal 99 years ago? What significance does this event have for the church of the 21st century, rocked by scandal and beset by apostasy?
Mysterious Fact #1: The Timing
On 13 May 1917, three shepherd children — Jacinta, 7, Lucia, 10 and Francisco, 9 –saw a lady “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”. The woman wore a white mantle edged with gold and held a rosary in her hand.
Jacinta divulged the sightings despite Lúcia's admonition not to; Jacinta's disbelieving mother joked with neighbors about it that evening. The children insisted that they had been bidden to return to the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth of the following month. The parish priest, Father Ferreira, suggested they be allowed to go and to bring Lúcia to him afterward for questioning.
The second appearance occurred on 13 June and the lady revealed that Francisco and Jacinta would be taken to Heaven soon but Lúcia would live longer in order to spread her message and devotion to the Immaculate Heart. At this same visit, the lady told them to ‘say the Rosary daily to obtain peace and the end of the war.'
Though WWI had been raging for two years elsewhere at this point, Portugal was very new to the war. (It had not been involved until March of that year when Germany and Austria-Hungaria declared war on the country.) News traveled very slowly in these days, especially to remote hamlets reachable only on horseback.
Absent a real apparition, how could simple peasant children have known about and articulated this response to the threat of war — as well as the foreknowledge of their own deaths?
Mysterious Fact #2: The Threats
Father Ferreira turned out to be unsympathetic, however. He decided the apparitions were Satanic in origin and reportedly threatened Lucia. Too, most local residents believed the children had imagined the appearances, and a few accused them of lying. Meanwhile, thousands of people were starting to flock to Fátima and Aljustrel, drawn by reports of visions and miracles. On 13 August 1917, the provincial administrator intercepted and jailed the children. They were interrogated and threatened with torture to persuade them to divulge the contents of the secrets.
The three children had little family support. In fact, Jacinta's mother publicly stated that she was in support of the officials and hoped they could persuade the children to end the affair and admit that they had lied.
How could such small children withstand the threats and imprecations of everyone around them — including authority figures and their own parents?
Mysterious Fact #3: The Deaths
The lady's predictions came true with devastating accuracy. In October 1918, Francisco fell gravely ill, seemingly with the foreknowledge of his own death. In the course of his illness, he continued to offer constant sacrifices to console Jesus offended by so many sins. “Only a little time remains to me before going to Heaven,” he told Lucy one day. “There above, I am going to console Our Lord and Our Lady a great deal; Jacinta is going to pray a great deal for sinners, for the Holy Father and for you. You are going to stay here because Our Lady wishes it. Listen, do everything She tells you.” His death in April of the next year was extraordinary; describing the death of her young cousin in her Memoirs, Sister Lucy wrote: “He flew away to Heaven in the arms of our Heavenly Mother.”
A year later, Jacinta's illness began. First came bronchial pneumonia, then an abscess on the lung, then an open and ulcerous sore was discovered on her chest. Soon thereafter she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. “Will Jesus be content with the offering of my sufferings?,” she asked Lucy. In February of 1920, she was rushed to Lisbon. Wasting away to a virtual skeleton and dying without the presence of her beloved parents or Lucy, her caretakers reported that the little girl seemingly had three visions of the Mother of God before finally expiring.
Both children were robustly healthy at the time of the apparitions. Both reported that the lady had predicted their early deaths. Both died within three years, maintaining on their death beds the truth of what they had seen and heard.
Mysterious Fact #4: The Miracle of the Sun
The pressure on the children was intense, so it was Lucy who spoke with the Queen of Heaven, requesting a miracle so that all would believe the apparitions. What happened on the 13th of October, 1917 became known as the “Miracle of the Sun”. A huge crowd, variously estimated between 30,000 and 100,000 — including outspokenly anti-clerical newspaper reporters and photographers — gathered at the Cova da Iria. The incessant rain had ceased and there was a thin layer of cloud.
Witnesses later spoke of the sun appearing to change colors and rotate like a wheel, giving widely varying descriptions of the “sun's dance”. Poet Afonso Lopes Vieira and schoolteacher Delfina Lopes with other witnesses in the town of Alburita forty kilometers away reported that the solar phenomenon was visible to them.
Later critics have dismissed this event as a ‘mass optical illusion' caused by people staring directly at the sun, but this admittedly tepid argument offers no explanation for the witnesses many kilometers away who saw the same thing.
Mysterious Fact #5: Lucy the Inconvenient
Lucy was inconvenient. It was ten year old Lucy, who, when the children were placed in prison on the 13th August 1917, organized their resistance to the threats of the authorities. In the ensuing years, Lucy had much to contend with. The Church believed that her presence at Fatima could obstruct the impartiality of the investigations then being undertaken to determine the validity of the apparitions. She was the subject of almost continuous harassment and interrogation.
In 1921, on the decision of the Bishop of Leiria (the Diocese of Fatima), fourteen year old Lucy was sent away from her village to the school of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Vilar; seven years later she became a postulant. She continued, however, to report private visions periodically throughout her life in 1925, 1929 and 1931. In 1947, Sister Lúcia left the Dorothean order and joined the Discalced Carmelites, a strictly cloistered Order.
Prelates and popes consulted this humble cloistered nun over the years, many seeking the famous Secrets revealed to her at Fatima. The first was the vision of hell which the children saw at Fatima. The second was the lady's prediction of the rise of Communist Russia. Both were publicly revealed with the publication of Sister Lucy’s Memoirs in the 1940's.
Lucy asked her bishop to read her letter describing the third secret upon her death or in 1960, whichever came first. As it happened, Pope John XXIII read Lucy's letter at that time, and decided not to disclose its contents. Instead, he called the Second Vatican Council.
Lucy did not remain silent. In the wake of Vatican II, in a series of letters written between 1969 and 1972, she reacted vigorously against modernists and others in the Church, in particular those who sought to minimize the importance of the Rosary. “This disorientation is diabolical,” she wrote, and “it is sad that so many people let themselves be dominated by the diabolical wave sweeping over the world! And they are blinded to the point where they are incapable of seeing error! Their principal fault is that they have abandoned prayer.”
The saddest part of all was that so many priests, religious and bishops were swept away in the confusion. “The devil has succeeded in bringing in evil (to the Church) under the guise of good and the blind are beginning to lead others, as the Lord tells us in His Gospel.”
Would-be debunkers of Lucy and her Fatima visions have to contend with the fact that she lucidly articulated and defended these experiences for 87 long years against authorities familial, secular and religious.
Mysterious Fact #6: The Pope and the Bullet ‘Stayed By a Mother's Hand'
In 1980 in Fulda, Germany, St John Paul II was asked, “What about the Third Secret of Fatima? Should it not have already been published by 1960?”
“Given the seriousness of the contents, my predecessors in the Petrine office diplomatically preferred to postpone publication so as not to encourage the world power of Communism to make certain moves,” he replied, as published in Stimme Des Glaubens (“Voice of Faith”) magazine. “On the other hand, it should be sufficient for all Christians to know this: if there is a message in which it is written that the oceans will flood whole areas of the earth, and that from one moment to the next millions of people will perish, truly the publication of such a message is no longer something to be so much desired. Many wish to know simply from curiosity and a taste for the sensational, but they forget that knowledge also implies responsibility. They only seek the satisfaction of their curiosity, and that is dangerous if at the same time they are not disposed to do something, and if they are convinced that it is impossible to do anything against evil.”
At this point the Pope grasped a Rosary and said: “Here is the remedy against this evil. Pray, pray, and ask for nothing more. Leave everything else to the Mother of God.”
The Holy Father was then asked: “What is going to happen to the Church?”
He answered: “We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ … With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time, too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.”
A year later, on the Feast of Our Lady of Fátima,Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca took aim at the Pope with a handgun. Four bullets hit John Paul II, two of them lodging in his lower intestine, the others hitting his left hand and right arm. The bullet missed his central aorta by a few millimetres — had it not missed this, the Holy Father would have been killed instantly. The Pope, who lost nearly three-quarters of his blood and suffered shock from blood loss, underwent five hours of emergency intestinal surgery at the hospital.
While he was in the hospital, Pope John Paul reviewed the Church’s documentation of Fatima and the Third Secret of Fatima. Over the next decade, he visited Fatima often, crediting Our Lady of Fátima with saving his life.
In 1994, in a published Meditation from Gemelli Hospital, the pontiff said, “it was a mother's hand which stayed the bullet in its path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death.” He donated the bullet that wounded him to the sanctuary at Fatima, where it was placed in the crown of the Virgin's statue.
Mysterious Fact #7: The Third Secret in These Latter Days
With an introduction by Pope Benedict XVI and including information previously suppressed, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in 2013 published a book which claimed to ‘definitively reveal and explain one of the most controversial events in twentieth-century Catholicism.' In Bertone's analysis, the Third Secret did not predict Armageddon; instead, it prophesied the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Improbably, Bertone argued that the apparition at Fatima was a call to renewal for the Church.
Shortly afterwards, Bertone, 79, who had been heavily criticized, was relieved of his position by the new Pope Francis. Since then, speculation about the Third Secret and its interpretation has swirled around the new Pope, who at the outset of his papacy seemed to make strong Marian statements, including consecrating his papacy to Our Lady of Fatima.
Many point to alarming trends, posing questions as to their meaning and their potential connection with the Third Secret. That the Church is in a period of decline in the West –especially Europe — is patently obvious. The last two European generations have contracepted the continent into a demographic winter. Europe's hapless politicians have responded by importing large numbers of Muslims, a segment which is steadily growing and becoming more militant. Policymakers in Europe and North America seem unaccountably obsessed with the agenda of the Sexual Left, a toxic brew of libertinism and politics which advances decadence under the banner of inclusivity. While media pundits spin the latest news to suit their particular interpretation of events, terrorists hover, poised to strike.
Oddly, Catholics are talking about Fatima again. The growing sense of foreboding among Westerners is not allayed by corporate support for the Sexual Left's agenda, by politicians now occupying the pinnacles of power, or by the antics of the media's favorite pope. This climate of widespread concern fuels speculation about the Third Secret and mistrust of the integrity of the Vatican in its handling of the Secret.