July 13, 1917 – one hundred years ago today – was an important day in the life of the Church. On that day in the Cova da Iria near Fatima, an insignificant rural community in the countryside in Ourém in western Portugal (about 110 miles north of Lisbon), Mary the Mother of God appeared to three shepherd children.

Actually, it was not Our Lady's first appearance there. Twice before – on May 13 and June 13 – she'd surprised the children by appearing, bathed in light, over a holm oak tree in the Cova. She would come again each month until, on October 13 of that year, the “Miracle of the Sun” proved to a skeptical world that her message was true. But her third message, delivered to the children on July 13 before about 4,000 devoted pilgrims, was the most frightening; for it was on this day that she permitted Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta to experience a vision of hell. Also on this day, the Lady revealed to the children three “secrets.”

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, in her excellent new book Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions, explains the Secrets:


The First Secret – The Existence of Hell.

As young as they were, the children were extremely frightened by the view they were granted of the damned, screaming in the fires of hell. Lucia – at ten years old, the oldest of the children – later described the vision in her Memoirs. On August 31, 1941, Lucia described the image which was revealed to them:

The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear... The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent burning coals.


The Second Secret: War, Peace, and the Immaculate Heart.

In her kindness, Mary explained to the children that while hell was a terrible place, there was a way to save souls from falling into the burning pit. Our Lady said:

You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.

The war is going to end; but if people do not cease in offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.

She continued, asking that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and calling for the faithful to attend Mass and receive Communion on the five consecutive First Saturdays of the month. “If my requests are heeded,” Mary said,

“...Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.”


The Third Secret: “Penance, Penance, Penance!”

The children were told to keep the Third Secret in confidence. When Lucia, then living as a Dorothean Sister and the only living visionary, became ill in 1943, it was feared she might die and take the Secret with her to her grave. For this reason, the Bishop of Leiria in Spain requested that she write it down. Although she was very ill and in pain, Sister Lucia wrote the Secret on a single sheet of paper, placed it in an envelope, and sealed it. For many years, the Secret was kept unrevealed. Here is an excerpt from that Third Secret, which was finally revealed by Pope John Paul II on May 13, 2000, at the Beatification Mass of Francisco and Jacinta Marto.

“...[A]t the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice, “Penance, Penance, Penance!”

And we saw in an immense light that is God: “something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it” a Bishop dressed in White “we had the impression that it was the Holy Father”. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses she met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”

Pope John Paul II believed that he was the “Bishop in White” to whom the message applied – that when he was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, on the 64th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition (and at the very moment that his message to pilgrims gathered at Fatima was being read), he was miraculously saved by the Blessed Mother. When some argued that he couldn't be the “Bishop in White” seen by the children because he didn't die, St. John Paul II responded that he should have died, but that the Blessed Mother brought him back from the brink of death. One hand, the hand of Mehmet Ali Ağca, fired the gun; but another hand, that of the Virgin Mary, deflected the bullet, causing it to bypass all vital organs.

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In this centennial year, there is much to learn about the apparitions at Fatima, about the children who were granted the grace to see the Lady at the Cova, about the messages and their significance for the modern world. Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, in her popularly written book Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions, describes each of the apparitions, as well as the final evidence of veracity, the Miracle of the Sun which occurred on October 13, 1917. Donna-Marie recounts stories of the visionaries themselves: Francisco's and Jacinta's early deaths while still in childhood, and Lucia's long life as a religious Sister. She explains the importance of the First Saturday Devotion, and shows how the timeless messages of Our Lady of Fatima are still important in the world today.

In helpful Appendices, Donna-Marie includes Fatima prayers, devotions, shrines, and other resources. She explains Our Lady's message on the Rosary – that familiar short prayer which you probably pray at the conclusion of each decade.

As Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR said in the Foreword to the book, Our Lady told the three shepherd children that many souls are lost from God because there is no one to pray and offer sacrifices for their conversion. We must all respond to Our Lady's request if there is to be world peace. Donna-Marie has given us a wonderful resource for those who know little about Fatima, as well as a renewal of inspiration for those who already know much.