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.
Miracles of healings multiplied after the last Fatima apparitions. What astounded more than a few people and broke down scoffers and atheists, turning them into believers, were the simple instruments used in bringing them about.
Along the last 100 years of Fatima most of the early ones have been forgotten. But Father John de Marchi recounts some of them in his classic mid-20th century book, The True Story of Fatima.
Before we look at a few, it’s good to realize Father de Marchi lived in Fatima from 1943 until 1950, researching and writing. Later he founded a seminary there. He was able to spend long hours and days speaking with the most important eyewitnesses about what they saw and experienced during and after the supernatural events of 1917.
Naturally, he spent lots of time with Sts. Jacinta and Francisco’s parents, Manuel Pedro Marto — better known as Ti Marto — and his wife, Olimpia. With Lucia’s sisters. With so many Fatima people. And with Maria Carreira, better known as Maria da Capelinha, or Mary of the Chapel, who was custodian of the apparition chapel and of the first statue of Our Lady of Fatima placed there. Father de Marchi calls her “among my most indispensable assistants.” Then there was her son John, the sacristan of the Chapel of the Apparitions.
To top this all off, Father de Marchi insures us that everything “has been checked for truth and exact detail by Lucia” who at the time was already a Carmelite nun. Lucia and Father de Marchi were friends and knew each other well from the time she was a Dorothean Sister.
Put all these impeccable witnesses together and there’s not the slightest question concerning the miracles they saw and described.
Dirt is the Miracle Medium
Father de Marchi begins by recounting some incidents told by Maria da Capelinha. In one case, a poor women traveled from her home in Tomar to Fatima, a distance of about 24 miles, to get some earth from close by the apparition site. She wanted to use it to cure sick people. She was among others who came to dig up earth near the holm oak tree then take it to rub on the sick. Some people even consumed this earth and did get better right afterward.
It may sound rather unusual, but check out this example.
Maria gave the specifics. “In Alqueidao (45 miles away) there was a girl who had been paralyzed for seven months. Her parents did not have her treated, and she was very poor. One day Our Lady of Fatima appeared to her and told her that she would cure her if her mother would go to the Cova and take some earth from under the oak tree and eat some of it during a novena. It all happened as our Lady had said, and the girl was perfectly cured.”
Another time Maria approached a man from Torres Novas (23 miles away) who was near one of the oak trees. He was crying. She asked what was troubling him. He then spoke to her about the open wound he had on his leg for 24 years “which was always full of pus and prevented him from working or even moving because it would never heal.” The man told her:
"My wife came to Fatima and took away some earth to make an infusion to wash my wound with. I did not want her to do this because the wound needed cleanliness and the mud would certainly make it worse. But my wife, who had great faith, said that many people had been cured with the earth, and although I had no faith at all in God nor any religion, she insisted so much, that at last I let her have her way. Every day for nine days she washed the wound with that mud and each day it healed a little more, until at the end of the novena it was perfectly cured. I burst into tears, took off the bandages and came here on foot although I couldn't move before!"
Not only was this man healed physically, but also spiritually.
Maria related another similar story about a man from Tomar who was both an unbeliever and suffering from tuberculosis. He explained how his wife told him they would travel to Fatima or “make a novena and drink an infusion of the earth under the tree where our Lady had appeared. But he wouldn't hear of anything of the kind.” When his wife would not accept that answer from him, he gave in and “consented to drink the infusion, though without faith or devotion. In spite of this, Our Lady cured him, and in a few days he was strong and healthy again.” He, too, had come to his spiritual senses.
Remember in all this that Our Lord also used mud which he made and put on the eyes of a blind man. John tells of this miracle in (9:5-7): “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
After the healings started in Fatima, people arrived every day to get some of the earth from the Cova near the spot of the apparitions. They came to find healings of sicknesses and cures of all sorts of other problems. Many arrived during the 1918 influenza pandemic that was sweeping the world. Either they were already sick, or they were frightened about catching this deadly flu.
Maria related how the people were processing with images of Our Lady of the Rosary plus some particular favorite saints. A priest named Friar David from nearby, who Maria called a wise and good man, came and gave the first sermon at the Cova in which he stressed the important thing was “amendment of life.”
Already very sick, Jacinta was also present at the Cova on that day. The “people were weeping in sorrow over this epidemic. Our Lady heard the prayers they offered,” Maria told Father de Marchi, “because from that day on, we had no more cases of influenza in our district.” From then on, as you might expect, devotion grew even greater at Fatima, and after the chapel was built, thousands and thousands more came, even though there was not one drop of water in the place for them to drink and refresh themselves.
Water Becomes Miracle Vehicle
Spoonfuls of earth the people took away in handkerchiefs or paper were later joined by another vehicle for healing — water found in the Cova.
It was reminiscent of Jesus telling the blind man to “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” And a reminder of the healing waters of Lourdes. But it did not begin immediately. In fact, the lack of water remained until after Jacinta and Francisco died. Then on the first visit the Bishop of Leiria made to the Cova, he saw how dry the whole place was and told Maria da Capelinha’s husband to dig a well. Pilgrims coming there in increasing numbers would need water.
Before digging on the first day was out, the workers hit rock. But when they blasted the rock, water started flowing generously. So what did the people do?
Daily people filled their bottles and pitchers with the water and took it home to those that were ill so that they could drink it or wash their wounds with it. Father de Marchi repeats this testimony given by resident Jose Alves: “Everyone had the greatest faith in our Lady's water, and she used it to cure their wounds and their pains. Never did our Lady perform so many miracles as at that time. I saw people with terrible legs that were running with pus, but when they washed themselves with the water they were able to leave their bandages behind, because our Lady had cured them. Other people knelt down and drank that earthy water, and were cured of serious internal diseases.”
Bountiful Miracles, Spiritual Perspective
Because he lived in Fatima from 1943 until 1950, Father de Marchi made clear that he was personally present at just about any kind of physical cure that occurred there.
“We who have had the privilege of living close beside the Cova da Iria do not face the problem of merely believing in Mary's powers of intercession,” he said of eye witnessing them himself. He believed that he was able to do this because it was God’s gift.
Father de Marchi explained: “There is clinical certainty that at Fatima the blind have had sight restored, while men and women stretcher-borne have risen from their litters to cry hosannas to the Power that can in one moment banish cancer, loosen the fist of the tightest paralysis, or render whole and clean the shrunken lungs of abandoned tuberculars. More than a hundred contradictions of the natural physical law have been registered at Fatima, and held to be valid only after the most exhaustive and scrupulous examination of all available evidence.” He repeated how he has been “present at many miraculous cures, but to those who do not require the spangles of visible prodigy to know that God is in His heaven, the spiritual message of Fatima remains of infinitely greater importance.”
Most significant, he reminded us, all these physical cures, as phenomenal as they were, looked minor compared to the great number of souls Our Lady was harvesting for Jesus her Son. We only have to listen to her for the great healings. Why?
“At Fatima,” he said, “the world has received, through Mary, God's own prescription for peace.”
Then the biggest miracles will then happen when we put into practice what Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Rosary told us and asked us to do.