In the dark days of war the world needed the hope brought by the Fatima apparitions. Over the course of six months public opinion went from ridicule to all-out religious fervour
The Fatima Apparitions came during the dark days of World War I and provided many people with much needed hope and faith at a time of fear and despair.
Whether coincidence or not, the appearances of the lady of Fatima came after Pope Benedict XV, tired of his repeated pleas for peace being ignored, made a direct appeal to Mary to intercede and bring an end to the war that had destroyed so many lives. His appeal was made public on May 5, 1917. Eight days later three young children came down from a hillside in Portugal and said they had been visited by an apparition of a beautiful lady dressed in white.
First Apparition: May 13
The three children, Lúcia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, said they were watching over their flocks of sheep in a valley known as the Cova da Iria when they saw a flash of what looked like lightning. As they ran for shelter there was another flash and a lady in white appeared beside a small holmoak tree.
Lúcia described her as: ‘A lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water, lit by burning sunlight.’ She told the children she would not harm them and, when asked where she had come from, reportedly said, ‘I come from heaven. I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour. Later I shall say who I am and what I desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time.’
According to Lúcia the lady, an apparition of the Virgin Mary who became known as Our Lady of Fatima, asked if the children were willing to offer themselves to God and to bear the many sufferings that this would bring. The children said they were. The Lady of Fatima is then said to have opened her hands and from them came a light that allowed the children to see themselves in God. She instructed them to say the rosary every day to bring about the end of the war and to bring peace to the world, and then rose into the air heading eastwards until she disappeared.
Second Apparition: June 13
After news of the first apparition spread the children were mocked and laughed at by many of the locals. Even so about fifty people turned up at the Cova da Iria on June 13 to see them gather near the holmoak tree for the next apparition of the Lady of Fatima.
Lúcia records that they saw a flash of light followed immediately by an apparition of the Lady of Fatima. She asked the lady if they would go to heaven and was told that Jacinta and Francisco would be taken soon, but that she would stay because she was needed to help make the Virgin Mary known and loved throughout the world.
Third Apparition: July 13
Although no-one but the children had been able to see the second apparition, the assembled crowd were impressed enough to return to their homes with stories of the miracle that had occurred. As a result there were several thousand people waiting to see what happened when the date of the third apparition came around in July.
On that day the children returned to the holmoak and again saw the Lady of Fatima appear to them. Lúcia says in her memoirs that she asked the lady who she was and requested a miracle so that people would believe. She was told: ‘Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.’
What happened next was not revealed by Lúcia until the publication of her memoirs in the late 1930s. She said that as she spoke these words the Lady of Fatima opened her hands to release rays of light that showed a terrifying depiction of demons and lost souls adrift in the horror of hell. This vision was the first part of the secret of Fatima. The lady then revealed the second secret which spoke of a war worse than World War I that would follow if people did not stop offending God, and of a strange light that would fill the sky shortly before this war began.
At this point the Lady of Fatima is said to have revealed the controversial third secret, which Lúcia herself did not want released until 1960 and which the Vatican decided to lock away until 2000.
Fourth Apparition: August 19
By the time of the fourth apparition the story had hit the national press, which was largely against the church. There were calls for government action to stop the ‘farce of Fatima’ and criticism of the local authorities for doing nothing. As thousands of believers converged on Fatima the provincial administrator decided to take action and had the children arrested and thrown into jail. They were interrogated, mentally tortured and threatened with horrendous deaths but none of them relented or divulged the secret.
When they were finally released on August 19 the children were desolate at having missed the date of the fourth apparition. They found themselves together at a place called Valinhos, near Fatima, late in the afternoon, and were again visited by the Lady of Fatima who told them to go back to Cova da Iria on September 13 and repeated that she would deliver the promised miracle.
By this stage the children had completely absorbed the messages of prayer and penance and were doing everything they could to live up to them. They lay prostrate on the ground and prayed for hours; went as long they could without drinking water, even in the harsh heat of the Portuguese summer; gave their lunch to their sheep; and even wore tightly knotted rope around their waists as a form of self-mortification.
Fifth Apparition: September 13
The fame of Fatima had spread far by the time of the fifth apparition and large crowds began to gather in the village. The children arrived at the holmoak at noon on September 13 and, after the customary flash of light, they saw the Lady of Fatima in front of them. She told Lúcia: ‘Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war. In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Dolours and Our Lady of Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is pleased with your sacrifices. He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only to wear it during the daytime.’
Lúcia then presented the Lady of Fatima with some petitions for cures that people had pressed into her hand. The lady responded with: ‘Yes, I will cure some, but not others. In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.’ She then rose into the sky and disappeared.
Sixth Apparition: October 13
Around 75,000 people braved terrible storms and crowded mountain roads to be in Fatima for the promised miracle on October 13. By mid morning the rain was lashing down on the pilgrims, many of whom had walked to the village barefoot, reciting the rosary as they went.
The children gathered at the holmoak at the usual time and the Lady of Fatima again appeared to them in a flash of light. ‘I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in my honour,’ she said. ‘I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.’
When Lúcia again made requests on behalf of others she was told that people must amend their lives and ask forgiveness of their sins if they wanted healings or conversions. The Virgin Mary then said very sadly: ‘Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.’ Lúcia says she then rose into the air, opened her hands towards the sun which grew more brilliant and then disappeared to be replaced by visions that were only seen by the children. Shortly afterwards the clouds parted and the sun began to ‘dance’ in the sky before the gathered pilgrims. The Miracle of the Sun promised by the Lady of Fatima had begun.