Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. 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 major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate 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 August 13, between 15,000 and 18,000 people were at the Cova da Iria anxiously awaiting Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco to arrive for the monthly apparition of Our Lady. Already in the morning, a large gathering formed outside the houses of the children as people wanted to give them their petitions for Our Lady.
At the time, one person knew that the young children would, before the apparition, be slapped in jail and subjected to hell-like threats of horrible punishment and death.
He soon revealed who he was when he also showed up that morning. Arturo dos Oliveira Santos, the civil administrator of the district, apostate Catholic and high Mason continuously hounding the children to tell him the secrets the Blessed Mother had given them. For such young children, they had remained firm and resolute in their silence. He now would bring them to the parish priest to interrogate them.
Nothing was able to convince them to reveals the secrets, so a frustrated dos Santos warned them again not to go to the Cova, then suddenly changed his mind and said he would drive them there himself so they could avoid the swelling crowds. Lucia’s biography reveals that the children were suspicious and didn’t want to go, but he forced them. As dos Santos sped away, Lucia told him he was heading in the wrong direction. For the Cova yes; for the jail in Ourem, no.
Dos Santos was so eager to squeeze the secrets out of them and would make sure they did not go back to the Cova for the apparition. But even in his office in the jail they firmly resisted.
Furious, he yelled in front of them, “They will be imprisoned until the give up the secret. And if they take too long, they will be boiled in oil.”
In the July apparition the children saw a vision of hell. Now they were experiencing a touch of the hell on earth from the secular authorities.
As it grew late, the children were given a meal and locked in a room overnight. Next day, the administrator ramped up death threats. The children were separated for questioning and threats, as if that would break down the resistance of at least one of them. When no threat or intimidation worked, dos Santos tossed them into a cell with a crew of criminals.
Another backfire. In her memoirs, Lucia describes what happened. Jacinta did suffer and cry some, but not from the death threats. It was because she thought their parents abandoned them and wouldn’t bother with them.
Her brother Francisco told her, “Don’t cry. We can offer this to Jesus for sinners.” He looked to heaven and prayed, “O my Jesus, this is for love of You, and for the conversion of sinners.”
Jacinta quickly added, “And also for the Holy Father, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
This prayer they learned from Our Lady during the July 13 apparition. The children were already solid as rocks with it.
Lucia also described how Francisco waiting his turn during the individual interrogations was full of joy and peace. He told her, “If they kill us as they say, we’ll soon be in
Heaven! How wonderful! Nothing else matters! — God grant that Jacinta won’t be afraid.
I’m going to say a Hail Mary for her!”
The prisoners turned to trying to console the children. When they told the three shepherds to tell the administrator to the secret to get out because what did it matter anyway — “Never! I’d rather die,” was Jacinta’s quick reply.
She had one of the prisoner to hang her religious medal on a nail on the wall, then the children knelt before it to say the Rosary.
Certainly to the chagrin of the guards, the prisoners soon knelt and joined along in the Rosary.
After it, Lucia described how prisoners wanted to get the children’s attention off the ordeal for awhile. One played a concertina and the others began singing. Jacinta, who loved to dance, got to do so with, as Lucia described, “a poor thief who, finding her so tiny, picked her up and went on dancing with her in his arms. We only hope that Our Lady has had pity on his soul and converted him!”
Next day, because the children were already immovable as the staunchest of saints, and his death threats got him nowhere, dos Santos drove them back and left them on the steps of the rectory.
It was August 15, the Feast of the Assumption.
Our Lady Appears
The anti-religious civil authorities might have delayed Our Lady’s appearance to the children but they couldn’t cancel it. The chdilren heroically survived the hellish attack. Our Lady would appear to the children on Sunday, August 19.
Later that afternoon Lucia, Francisco, and his brother Joao (John) were grazing the sheep at Valinhos near where the angel appeared to them twice in 1916.
Lucia wrote how they felt something “supernatural approaching and enveloping us. Suspecting that Our Lady was about to appear to us, and feeling sorry lest Jacinta might miss seeing her, we asked her brother to go and call her.”
“Meanwhile, Francisco and I saw the flash of light, which we called lightning. Jacinta arrived, and a moment later, we saw Our Lady on a holm oak tree.”
Our Lady’s Message
Our Lady told the children she wanted them to continue coming to the Cova da Iria on the 13th of the month and continue praying the Rosary every day. In the last month I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.
The first message was simple and clear, as always. Again, Our Blessed Mother highlighted the Rosary and implied its great importance.
And again, she repeated her promise of performing a great miracle during the last apparition.
Then Lucia asked what they should do with the money people were leaving as offerings in the Cova da Iria.
Our Lady directed them. Have two litters [to carry statues] made. One is to be carried by you and Jacinta and two other girls dressed in white; the other one is to be carried by Francisco and three other boys. The money from the litters is for the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and what is left over will help towards the construction of a chapel that is to be built here.
Our Lady highlighted the importance of the Rosary again by mentioning the celebration of this particular feast and also seemed to prepare the children to hear her chosen title at Fatima when she would reveal it on October 13.
Then Our Lady again instructed them specifically in what she had taught them before. Lucia said, “looking very sad, Our Lady said: Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”
With that, Our Lady took her leave and rose toward the east.
As it was time for Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco to leave for home, before they did they cut off the branches of the holm oak tree on which Our Lady placed her feet.
In the ordeal of August 13-15, the children had come through with unshakeable Christian heroism and put into practice everything Our Lady told them to do. In a few minutes they were to face, momentarily, another act of unbelief or upset on the way home.
A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary, Lucia’s biography, continues the story. When an overjoyed Jacinta told her aunt they had seen Our Lady again, her aunt called her a great liar. But Our Lady came to the rescue. Unshaken, Jacinta showed her aunt the branches and pointed out: “She had one foot here and one here.”
When the skeptical aunt looked at them, “she was surprised with the wonderful scent the branches exuded. She did not know what to say.”
That day the branches disappeared. No one knew when became of them.
Decades later, not long before Jacinta and Francisco were beatified, their postulator Father Luis Kondor gave Lucia a few cases containing relics. In them were particles of those branches from the holm oak tree.
He revealed what had happened to those branches right after Jacinta brought them home. Jacinta’s father, Ti Marto, took them from under the mattress where she had put them. He held on to them until many years later when gave them to Father Kondor, this vice postulator of his children’s canonization causes.
When Sister Lucia found out what happened to the branches, she exclaimed with a sigh: “Well, that was very competent of Ti Marto!”
If the sight of the particles from those blessed branches made Sister Lucia so happy, think how much happiness we can bring our Blessed Mother during this 100th Anniversary Year if we listen to her requests in 1917 and begin, renew, or continue fulfilling her instructions again she gave again during the August apparition to pray the Rosary daily and pray and save from hell the souls of sinners who need our help.