How the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ in Fátima Helped to End an Atheist Regime

Oct. 13, 1917, marked the last Marian apparition in Fátima.

Crowds look at the ‘Miracle of the Sun,’ occurring during the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions in 1917.
Crowds look at the ‘Miracle of the Sun,’ occurring during the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions in 1917. (photo: Public domain)

Oct. 13, 1917, marked the last Marian apparition in Fátima and the day on which thousands of people bore witness to the miracle of the dancing sun — a miracle that shattered the prevalent belief at the time that God was no longer relevant.

Marco Daniel Duarte, a theologian and director of the Fátima Shrine museums, shared with CNA the impact that the miracle made during those days in Portugal.

If one were to open philosophy books during that period, he or she would likely read something akin to the concept conceived by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who boldly asserted in the late 1800s that “God is dead.”

Also, in 1917 Portugal, the majority of the world was embroiled in war. As World War I raged throughout Europe, Portugal found itself unable to maintain its initial neutrality and joined forces with the Allies. More than 220,000 Portuguese civilians died during the war, thousands due to food shortages and thousands more from the Spanish flu.

A few years before, a revolution had led to the establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910 and a new liberal constitution was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to suppress the faith from public life. Catholic churches and schools were seized by the government, and the wearing of clerics in public, the ringing of church bells, and the celebration of public religious festivals were banned. Between 1911 and 1916, nearly 2,000 priests, monks and nuns were killed by anti-Christian groups.

This was the backdrop against which, in 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children — Venerable Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 — in a field in Fátima, Portugal, bringing with her requests for the recitation of the Rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world.

To prove that the apparitions were true, the Lady promised the children that during the last of her six appearances, she would provide a sign so people would believe in the apparitions and in her message. What happened on that day — Oct. 13, 1917 — has come to be known as the “Miracle of the Sun,” or “the day the sun danced.”

According to various accounts, a crowd of some 70,000 people — believers and skeptics alike — gathered to see the miracle that was promised: The rainy sky cleared up, the clouds dispersed, and the ground, which had been wet and muddy from the rain, dried up. A transparent veil came over the sun, making it easy to look at, and multicolored lights were strewn across the landscape. The sun then began to spin, twirling in the sky, and at one point appeared to veer toward the earth before jumping back to its place in the sky.

The stunning event was a direct and very convincing contradiction to the atheistic regimes at the time, which is evidenced by the fact that the first newspaper to report on the miracle on a full front page was an anti-Catholic, Masonic newspaper in Lisbon called O Seculo.

The miracle was understood by the people to be “the seal, the guarantee, that in fact those three children were telling the truth,” Duarte said.

Even today, “Fátima makes people change their perception of God,” since “one of the most important messages of the apparitions is that even if someone has separated from God, God is present in human history and doesn’t abandon humanity.”

This article was originally published on CNA on Oct. 12, 2017, and was updated Oct. 12, 2023.

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