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.
The apparition of Our Lady in Fatima on September 13, 1917, held surprises for more than 20,000 people who flocked to the Cova da Iria. There were heavenly phenomena that were like a tiny preview of what was coming on October 13. Let’s start at the beginning.
Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco — now Servant of God Lucia and Sts. Jacinta and Francisco — had difficulty reaching the holmoak tree where Our Lady would appear to them around noon. In her Memoirs, Lucia explained, “The roads were packed with people, and everyone wanted to see us and speak to us.”
Once they knew the children were coming, many tried to push through the crowds to get close to the children. It was not a case of curiosity to get a glimpse of them. Lucia recalled how “they threw themselves on their knees before us, begging us to place their petitions before Our Lady. Others who could not get close to us shouted from a distance: ‘For the love of God, ask Our Lady to cure my son who is a cripple!...And to cure mine who is blind…To cure mine who is deaf…To bring back my husband, my son, who has gone to the war…To convert a sinner…To give me back my health as I have tuberculosis!’ and so on. All the afflictions of poor humanity were assembled there.”
As some men kindly opened the way for the children, the three shepherd seers listened to the petitions even shouted to them from people who had climbed trees and stood atop walls. The children even helped people kneeling on the dusty ground to stand up.
When she was older, Lucia reflected, “If these people so humbled themselves before three poor children, just because they were mercifully granted the grace to speak to the Mother of God, what would they not do if they saw Our Lord Himself in person before them?”
Marvel Announcing Our Lady
At the holmoak, the three children knelt as usual and started praying the Rosary. All those gathered at the site also knelt down to pray along with the children and implore Our Lady. Then Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco saw the flash of light that announced Our Lady.
There was also a surprise for the people. In Father Alphonse Cappa’s well-researched book Fatima: Cove of Wonders with its primary sources including a priest who worked directly with the bishop of Leiria and with Sister Lucia herself (who had final correction of his manuscripts), Father Cappa described what the people also saw:
“The sun suddenly lost its splendor. The hue of the surrounding atmosphere changed to a yellowish gold. Then a delightful cry went up from the multitude: ‘She comes! Look! There!! There! How beautiful!’”
“A small luminous global cloud was recognized immediately as the footstool of the invisible Lady. It moved in from the East toward the West slowly and majestically. Slowly it descended to rest, hovering above the holmoak, the tree of wonders.”
Something similar happened on August 13 when the children were whisked off to jail while up to 18,000 people waited in the Cova for them. Learning the children were imprisoned, the crowd grew angry but were quickly calmed by heaven. Many described hearing what they thought was an explosion or thunder coming from the cloudless blue sky, and after it, a flash of brilliant light. Then the “sun paled,” the atmosphere turned “a yellowish gold, and a small cloud, most beautiful in its ethereal form, came and hovered over the forlorn looking holmaok…’Look! Look! It is a sign from Our Lady’” the August crowd shouted. Now they again saw the phenomenon.
On September 13, present again, “The kneeling, ecstatic figures of the children were transfigured in a light that seemed to change the spot into a Holy of Holies, filled with the majesty of God.”
Of course, only the three children saw Our Lady.
Our Lady’s Message
“Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war,” were the first words of Our Lady.
For the fifth apparition in a row, she gave this instruction not only to the children but to everyone there and to us down through the years. “Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war.”
Then for the third time in a row, Our Lady prepared the children for her appearance the following month, on October 13, and what they would see. She said:
“In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Dolors [Sorrows] and Our Lady of Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world.”
When she said Our Lady of Mount Carmel would be there, it was a signpost about the importance of the brown scapular. This preview would become unmistakably clear the next month.
Then came encouragement for the children, and a reminder to us, when Our Lady said, “God is pleased with your sacrifices.”
At the same time, she added something that pertained to the three children and their sacrifice of wearing a rough rope around their waists as a penance for the reparation of sin and the conversion of sinners. The rope often hurt.
When Our Lady told them, “God is pleased with your sacrifices,” she continued, “He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only to wear it during the daytime.”
Lucia then remembered the petitions of the people. “I was told to ask you many things, the cure of some sick people, of a deaf-mute...”
“Yes, I will cure some, but not others,” Our Lady answered.
Then for the third time, as she did in July and August, Our Lady repeated, “In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.”
After this conversation, Our Lady began to rise. Lucia called out, “She is going away now!”
Father Cappa described how the ball of light rose toward the sun and slowly disappeared.
First-time Miraculous Extra
During the apparition there was a heavenly sign which happened for the first time, and which is rarely mentioned although it was surely spectacular sign and tiny preview of whatever the promised miracle of October might be.
Father Cappa gives a splendid description in his book deserving of being fully quoted:
“[T]here occurred a most singular phenomenon, never before witnessed by the assembled people in the Cova.
“From the pale but cloudless sky there came a shower of white petals, resembling snowflakes, but melting before they touched the ground, or the bodies of the astounding people.”
“Later on, in various pilgrimages, and on the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin, this phenomenon was repeated, as attested and confirmed by reliable witnesses, including the bishop of the diocese to which Fatima belongs.”
“Furthermore, as proof of the incontrovertible evidence, on May 13, 1924, Antonio Rebelo Martins, vice-consul in the United states, produced a photographic plate of the supernatural prodigy, verified by legal testimony...”
As Our Lady appeared, heaven smiled and got people to look up and be ready for the great miracle of October 13.