Why Did Mary Appear to Children at Fatima?

Mary looks for childlike hearts because she knows that in their innocence they will accept her and her Son.

From left: Jacinta Marto (age 7), Lúcia Santos (age 10) and Francisco Marto (age 9)
From left: Jacinta Marto (age 7), Lúcia Santos (age 10) and Francisco Marto (age 9) (photo: Screenshot)

Most of us, I think, are familiar with the Marian apparitions at Fatima, the 100th anniversary of which we celebrate this year.

If you’re not familiar with them, here’s a (very) brief synopsis:

In 1916, an angel appeared three times to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, our Lady herself appeared to them six times. The children, Lucia Dos Santos. Francesco Marto, and Jacinta Marto, were taught special prayers, truths about the Faith, heaven, hell and the final judgment, the Rosary and frequent reception of the sacraments, the need for conversion and consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. The three were entrusted with what became known as the Fatima Secret, of which there were three parts to be revealed at specific times.

The Fatima story is incredible – beautiful, engaging, miraculous, and at times unsettling when you consider the gravity of the messages given to the children about judgment, the urgency of penance, mortification and conversion, and impending wars and destruction. Mary even made known to them that Francesco and Jacinta would soon die, but Lucia must stay to pray, sacrifice, and pass on the Fatima messages and secret. The demands she placed on the children would be difficult for an adult to handle. The truths disclosed to them were of a magnitude far beyond their tender years.

So, I’m asking myself, Why did Mary appear to children at Fatima?

The Blessed Mother could have appeared to any number of people, from poor peasants to rich monarchs or learned professors, from consecrated religious to priests, bishops, cardinals, or even the Pope himself. But she didn’t. Instead, she chose three poor, uneducated, children who were just 9, 8, and 6 years old when the Angel of Peace first appeared to them.

Granted, there are a number of times our Lady has appeared to adults, but there are just as many (perhaps more) times she appeared to children. Each time, Mary presents herself as a beautiful Lady who first touches the hearts of the children and then develops a relationship with them before revealing the truths and delivering the messages she has in store for them.

It was this way at Fatima.

You could go about theorizing and examining all the details matching times with places with circumstance with people in order to come up with a complicated reason as to why Mary chose to appear to children at Fatima rather than adults. However, I believe the reason is quite simple.

Mary was seeking childlike hearts.

She looks for childlike hearts because she knows that in their innocence they will accept her and her Son. In their unpretentiousness, they can be entrusted with her crucial messages. They’re receptive to what she has to say and will not twist or contort it with their own willfulness because they have no willfulness. When given an important task, a child will carry it out with care and immediacy and not relegate it to a to-do list. A childlike heart is open, uncomplicated, loving, and trustworthy. Children are genuine and sincere.

What’s more, she wants all her children – that includes you and me – to have childlike hearts that will both receive and reciprocate her motherly love. And so, she appears to children as example for all of us.

Do you remember our Lord’s attitude toward children? He esteemed them and upheld them as the standard for entry into heaven.

He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:2-3)

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:13-14)

Our Lady echoes the words and actions of her Son.

That fact that Mary appeared to children at Fatima is uppermost in my mind these days and I intend to spend a good deal of time meditating on that in the coming months. I want to spiritually put myself in the place of one of the little shepherds, imagining what it might have been like, how I might have responded, and praying for the gift of a childlike heart like those of Lucia, Francesco, and Jacinta.

For me, to whom Mary appeared is an integral, albeit non-verbal part of the Fatima message – one that we absolutely must take seriously.