Ninety years ago, this Oct. 13, heaven touched earth in Portugal’s Cova da Iria. For the three children who experienced the visions at Fatima, their lives would never be the same.
Neither would ours.
Sadly, the message of Fatima, which was meant not only for the children, but also for the world, seems to have been lost amid the sensation, misinformation and events that followed the Church-approved apparitions. It’s a message the violence-ravaged world sorely needed then — and still needs today, perhaps now more than ever.
To understand the message of Fatima, it’s important to understand the string of supernatural visitors leading up to the sign that concluded the message — the Miracle of the Sun, reported by secular newspaper writers and witnessed by more than 70,000 pilgrims.
One of the key things forgotten by some Fatima adherents is that Mary did not appear alone at Fatima. She was preceded and accompanied by others who reinforced the apparition’s message.
Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and Lucia de Santos’ first heavenly visitor was a snowy, brilliant and transparent figure who identified himself as the Guardian Angel of Portugal. The Catholic Church teaches that angels are a reality and that we are surrounded by their presence. In the hierarchy of angels, certain angels have been given the task of guarding cities, principalities and, it would seem, nations.
On the angel’s first visit in the spring of 1916, the angel taught the children to pray:
“My God, I believe,
I adore, I hope, and I love you.
I ask pardon for those who do not believe,
Do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”
On his second visit, during the summer, he encouraged the children to pray and offer sacrifices for reparation for sins. On his third and final visit, in the fall, he brought the children holy Communion.
Thus catechized in prayer, reparative suffering and having received the holy Eucharist, the children were spiritually prepared for the visitation from Our Lady.
Not surprisingly, there is tremendous consistency between the message of the angel and the message of Mary.
When Mary first appeared to the children, on May 13 of the following year, and for the successive five months, her messages echoed those of the angel.
On May 13, she asked the children if they were willing to offer themselves to God and bear all the sufferings he willed to send as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners.
On June 13, she said that her son Jesus wanted to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart.
On July 13, the children were given the three secrets — a vision of hell, the prediction of the end of the war, and a vision of an assassination of the pope.
On Aug. 13, the vision was prevented by a city official who kidnapped the children, threatened them, tried to get them to recant, and held them in jail for 24 hours.
As a result of the Santos’ actions, interest in the apparitions only grew.
Thwarted by the kidnapping, Mary appeared to the children six days later saying that many souls go to hell because they have no one to sacrifice or pray for them.
In September, Mary encouraged the children to pray the Rosary for the end of the war, and on Oct. 13 — the day of the Miracle of the Sun — she identified herself as the Lady of the Rosary and asked the children to continue to pray the Rosary daily.
The message was simple: prayer, repentance, reparation, and self-sacrifice — a very Gospel-oriented message indeed.
Mary was not alone at the Oct. 13 apparition. Lucia stated that on Mary’s final visit, there were three visions of Mary. In the first, she appeared with the Holy Family. She appeared to the right of the sun. Joseph appeared to the left of the sun, the Christ Child in his arms, both tracing the Sign of the Cross with their hands.
She also appeared as Our Lady of Sorrows and as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In St. Joseph, Fatima and Fatherhood: Reflections on the Miracle of the Sun, Msgr. Joseph Cirrincione states that the three visions correspond with the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary — an appropriate apparition given Mary’s description of herself at that appearance as well as her admonition for the children to pray the Rosary, a devotion that St. Padre Pio and Pope John Paul II have described as a “weapon of peace.”
Of the Church’s nine major approved Marian apparitions, Joseph appears only twice — in Knock, Ireland and Fatima, Portugal.
It’s interesting to note the consistency of the vision with Scripture. Just as the earthly father of Christ utters no words in Scripture, neither does he do so at Fatima. Rather, he is shown silently holding the Christ Child. Christ doesn’t appear as fully-grown, suffering or resurrected. Rather, he comes much as he came the first time, as a child being held in the strong arms of his father.
Does the 90-year-old message from Fatima still have relevance for us today?
Pope Benedict XVI certainly thinks so. He has encouraged the faithful to learn, live and spread the message of Fatima.
In some ways that’s difficult, given the many who have discounted the message, complicated it, fought and debated over the Miracle of the Sun, engaged in endless speculation on the “Third Secret,” which has not ceased to this day, about whether or not it had been fully revealed or who have said that Pope John Paul II and Sister Lucia herself were wrong to say that Russia and the world had ever truly been consecrated to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
With her message so misconstrued, fought over and misinterpreted, one can see why the “Lady of the Rosary” might be hesitant to make a return visit.
Yet, despite our human failings to grasp that message, the supernatural message of Fatima obtained some startling corroboration from major subsequent world events.
World War I did end. The assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, on May 13, 1981, did fail. Both the Berlin Wall and communist Soviet Union did collapse without fighting, and the children not only spread their message — they lived it.
It led Francisco and Jacinta to embrace the sufferings that led to their early death. In the Jubilee Year 2000, the Church canonized both children as saints.
Has the message been lost amid the events?
As so often happens with miracles, we are tempted to grasp at far less than what we’ve been given. All miracles do is reveal what was there before our eyes all the time. The message of Fatima differs little from the messages of any of the other Church-approved apparitions.
Everything that happened at Fatima points to two truths.
The first is the role of Mary in salvation history: “Let it be done unto me according to thy Word.”
The second is the value placed on devotion to her Immaculate Heart as expressed through prayer, self-sacrifice, repentance and reparation: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
We should expect no heavenly visitors, no visions, no miracles of the sun this October.
Yet, we would do well to immerse ourselves in the message. It’s a message almost entirely opposed to the messages we hear from our radios, televisions, iPods, cell phones and computers each day.
Prayer, repentance, self-sacrifice, reparation.
Tim Drake is the Register’s senior staff writer. He writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
- October 7-13, 2007