A Fortune Found in Fatima

The summer before I started fourth grade, I won $25 playing Bars and Bells at the St. Luke Parish pig roast. I was thrilled. The money lasted three whole days. It would be nearly two decades before I won anything so exciting again. But the wait was worth it. My next stroke of luck brought a reward that just might last all the way through eternity.

Sixteen years had passed since the day I stood on top of that white sea of losing tickets with a winner in my hand. The phone rang. A voice announced that I had won a scholarship to go to Fatima, Portugal. I expressed my gratitude, hung up and then jumped around my apartment for at least 10 minutes. I had submitted an essay to win the trip. I was a bit skeptical about Marian apparitions but figured I’d be happy to go for free.

Without much thought beyond how cool it would be to see Europe, I packed my bags to travel to a place where Mary had supposedly appeared to three shepherd children. Two days later, I was standing in Fatima. I didn’t experience any miraculous impression of the after-effects of Mary’s presence but, over the next few days, my skepticism began to fade. The element that impressed me most was the courage of the little children to whom Mary had first appeared on May 13, 1917: Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.

Authorities had threatened the youngsters with such tortures as boiling in oil if they didn’t say they’d made their whole story up. Yet the children remained steadfast. I can’t imagine a 7-year-old not doing whatever it takes to avoid an oil boil, especially one described by snarling adult authorities. Something had given these children supernatural courage.

The other virtues of the three young visionaries also impressed me. Clearly, their devotion to God and their desire for holiness was radically superior to my own. But for all this, I had to honestly admit that people who are successful, beautiful and popular in the eyes of the world captivated me more than Blessed Jacinta, Blessed Francisco and Sister Lucia did. I was more interested in worldly glamor than in holiness. Sanctity didn’t excite me.

As I sat in a chapel at Fatima praying about this fact, a thought crossed my mind. I realized that Mary was as successful, beautiful and popular as they come. She’s the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven, for starters. Not many of us can compete with credentials like that. Her beauty has captured the imagination of artists, poets, writers and musicians for nearly 2,000 years. And there is no woman in history that more people have wanted to imitate or to whom more people have been devoted. And it was all because of her immaculate heart.

Until that day, I never understood devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I always dismissed it as something too pious for my taste. But suddenly I realized what it really meant. Mary was pure, inside and out. Nothing tainted her, nothing got in the way. She had no spots, no blotches, no blemishes. No obstacles kept her from flourishing. She was like a flawless diamond, reflecting the Light of Christ, which radiated straight through her. She was, and is, perfectly “successful,” beautiful and popular because she was, and is, perfectly holy.

Now, whenever the feast of Our Lady of Fatima rolls around on May 13, I offer a special prayer of thanks for that stroke of “good fortune” that took me to Portugal. On that trip, I began to want to grow in holiness. That’s a start.

Gina Giambrone writes from

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.