Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
On this 100th anniversary year of the apparitions of Our Lady as Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima, we should become familiar with the major facts and put them into practice.
At the same time, there are many surprising and little-known Fatima facts that help us to understand better, see how others were affected by it, answer some questions, and maybe even give us a chuckle.
Fact #1: Healings were not uncommon. One Lucia describes in her memoirs began when a girl, about 20 years old, met the seers as they walked to pray a Rosary with people. Crying, she “knelt down and begged us to enter her house and say at least one Hail Mary for the recovery of her father, who for three years had been unable to take any rest, on account of continual hiccoughs. In such circumstances, it was impossible to resist.”
Lucia helped the girl to stand up and recalled, “As it was already late into the night, and we were finding our way along by the light of lanterns, I therefore told Jacinta to remain there, while I went on ahead to pray the Rosary with the people, promising to call for her on my return. She agreed.”
When Lucia returned to the house, she found Jacinta in a chair facing the girl’s father sitting opposite her. Although not very old, he looked emaciated and cried with emotion. Relatives were gathered around him. Seeing Lucia, Jacinta stood up, offered her goodbyes, and promised she wouldn’t forget the man in her prayers.
Next morning the children set out for a visit they planned to a Senhora Emilia’s house. Shortly after reaching the house, “we found the happy girl accompanied by her father,” Lucia recounted. “He now looked much better, and had lost all trace of nervous strain and extreme weakness. They came to thank us for the grace they had received for, they said, he was no longer troubled by the annoying hiccoughs.”
Fact #2: After the events of 9/11 a cardinal from the Vatican went to Coimbra to speak with Sister Lucia at the Carmel convent on November 17, 2001.
Both Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Bishops of both Leiria-Fatima and Coimbra agreed he should meet with her. Joining Cardinal Bertone and Lucia were the late Father Luis Kondor, the vice-postulator of the cause of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta, and the Prioress of the Carmelite Convent of St Teresa.
When Lucia was asked, “What effect did the vision of 13 July have on your life before it was written down and presented to the Church?” — this vision included not only the Third Secret but the vision of hell — she answered,
“I felt safe under the protection of Our Lady, who would watch carefully over the Church and the Pope,”
Then Lucia added a new detail about the famous prophetic vision:
“During the vision, Our Lady, shining bright, held a heart in her left hand, and in her right, a Rosary,” she said.
Asked what is the meaning of Mary’s heart in her hand, Lucia explained,
“It is a symbol of love that protects and saves. It is the Mother who sees her children suffering and suffers with them, even with those who do not love her. For she wants to save them all and not to lose any of those the Lord has entrusted to her. Her Heart is a safe refuge. The devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the means of salvation for these difficult times in the Church and in the world. Cardinal Ratzinger's reflection at the end of his comment on the third part of the "secret" is very relevant:
‘My Immaculate Heart will triumph’. What does this mean? The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world —because, thanks to her 'Yes', God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered man's freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time, this is the final word: In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world (John 16:33) is well founded. The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.”
Fact #3: Francisco — St. Francisco — did not see Our Lady at first during that initial apparition on May 13. He knew his cousin Lucia and his sister Jacinta — St. Jacinta — were seeing something extraordinary. How could he see what they saw?
“Our Lady then told Lucia to tell Francisco to say the Rosary and he would see the beautiful Lady from heaven,” recounted Fatima expert Father Robert J. Fox in “The Spirituality of Francisco Marto.”
Francisco listened. He held his rosary and after he said five or six Hail Marys, he could see “the beautiful heavenly Lady bathed in brilliant light, brighter than the sun. Was not Our Lady in this incident again leading Francisco to become more of the contemplative? He must think, inquire, pray.”
Lucia asked if Francisco would go to heaven too? Our Lady answered, "Yes, but first he must say many Rosaries.” Because he only saw Our Lady, he didn’t hear her, Lucia gave him her answer. Excitedly, he said, “Oh, Our Lady, I will say all the Rosaries you wish!"
Father Fox asked Francisco’s brother, Joao Marto, if he thought Francisco was holier than himself. John told him, “No. Not until I noticed he was always saying the Rosary. Then I would go and hide from him so that I didn't have to see him always praying that Rosary.”
Fact #4: Tables are turned. Even after the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, the enemies of religion and anticlerics so vocal and in positions of power in Portugal at the time didn’t let up attacks. In The True Story of Fatima, Father John de Marchi describes how in the general vicinity of Fatima, at their headquarters located at the Masonic Lodge at the nearby town of Santarem, the enemies planned to mock what had been happening at the Cova da Iria.
A major Lisbon paper, Diario de Noticias, reported what these men and followers did on the night of October 23, 1917, at the Cova da Iria.
They cut down the tree which they identified as the one where the children experienced the apparitions of Our Lady on the 13th of the month — especially on October 13. They carted it away along with a wooden arch, lanterns on it, and some other religious articles left in the area, then displayed them to discredit the children and apparitions.
They got a surprise when even critics of the Church saw their actions as disgraceful.
But the biggest backfire and surprise for them? In her memoirs Lucia revealed how the men got orders “to pull down these poles (on which people hung lanterns to watch over the site), and also cut down the holmoak on which the Apparitions had taken place, and drag it away with them behind a car. In the morning, news of what had happened spread like wildfire. I ran to the place to see if it were true. But what was my delight to find that the poor men had made a mistake, and that instead of cutting down the holmoak, they had carried off one of the others growing nearby!”
Lucia then did something else. “I then asked Our Lady to forgive these poor men and I prayed for their conversion.”
Fact # 5: For someone so young, Francisco became quite a contemplative. He had two main goals.
Lucia described how he preferred to pray by himself so he could “think and console Our Lord,” he said. She asked him what he liked best — to console Our Lord or to convert sinners to prevent more souls from going to hell. Francisco did not have to hesitate to answer that question.
"I prefer to console Our Lord,” he said. “Don't you remember last month how Our Lady became so sad when she asked us not to offend Our Lord who was already so offended? I want to console Our Lord, and then to convert sinners so that they won't offend Him anymore.”
Fact #6: Dr. Branca Paul, Sister Lucia's personal physician for the last 15 years of the nun's life, saw her patient daily.
Lucia often talked to Dr. Paul about her days as a young child, usually spent with her cousins and fellow visionaries Jacinta, 7 years old in 1917, and Francisco, 9, at the time. One time, when speaking with Dr. Paul about the apparitions, Lucia began laughing.
"In speaking about Our Lady's warnings about the 'errors of Russia,' " Dr. Paul said, "Lucia would tell me that she and Jacinta thought 'Russia' was an evil woman.” Another proof right away that the apparitions were genuine.
Fact #7: Quite an incident began on September 8, 1917, that started out in fear and soon turned to something else.
It began when a young man visited Lucia’s home to speak with her. Lucia described her first reaction: “He was of such tall stature that I trembled with fear. When I saw that he had to bend down in order to come through the doorway in search of me, I thought I must be in the presence of a German. At that time we were at war, and grown-ups would try to frighten children by saying: ‘Here comes a German to kill you.’”
“I thought, therefore, that my last hour had come. My fright did not pass unnoticed by the young man, who sought to calm me; he made me sit on his knee and questioned me with great kindness.”
He then asked Lucia’s mother if the child could show him the apparition site and pray there with him. She agreed. All along the way Lucia was fearful but, she said, “Then I began to feel tranquil again at the thought that if he killed me, I would go to see Our Lord and Our Lady.”
At the site he knelt down and asked Lucia to pray the Rosary with him to receive a special grace from Our Lady for his great desire that a young lady he knew would consent to become his wife in the sacrament of matrimony.
Lucia recalled she thought, “‘If she has as much fear of him as I, she will never say Yes!’”
After the Rosary, walking Lucia home and after saying goodbye, the young man asked her to pray for his request.
A month later, exactly on October 13 at the site of the last apparition, Lucia got two great surprises.
She described the first: “…I suddenly found myself, after the apparitions, in the arms of this same person, sailing along over the heads of the people. It actually served to satisfy the curiosity of everybody who wanted to see me!”
Maneuvering through the crowd he stumbled and fell. But Lucia was caught in the crush of people pressing around her. “Right away, others took hold of me, and this gentleman disappeared,” she said.
Then came the second surprise when “he appeared again, this time accompanied by the aforesaid girl, who was now his wife! He came to thank the Blessed Virgin for the grace received, and to ask her copious blessings on their future. This young man is today Dr. Carlos Mendes of Torres Novas.”
Fact #8: Exceptionally ill, about to go the hospital, St. Jacinta told Lucia she would be going to heaven in a short while. Jacinta charged her, “You will remain here to make known that God wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you are to say this, don’t go and hide. Tell everybody that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace since God has entrusted it to her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”
What instruction from a 10-year-old!