During World War I, Pope Benedict XV made repeated but forlorn pleas for peace, and finally in May 1917, made a direct appeal to the Blessed Mother to intercede for peace in the world. Just over a week later, Our Lady began to appear at Fatima, Portugal to three shepherd children: Lucia dos Santos, age 10, and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 9 and 7. Fatima is a small village about 70 miles north of Lisbon.
The Fatima apparitions actually began in the spring of the previous year, 1916, when the Angel of Peace appeared to the children three times to prepare them for their meetings with the Queen of Heaven.
As they were looking after their sheep one day in the spring, a dazzlingly beautiful young man, seemingly made of light, appeared and told them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace.” He invited them to pray with him (the Pardon Prayer) and said the Hearts of Jesus and Mary were attentive to their prayers.
The angel appeared to the children again in the summer. He encouraged them to pray and make sacrifices as a way of drawing down peace on their country. He also revealed that he was the Guardian Angel of Portugal.
The angel came a third time in the autumn. He appeared before them holding a chalice in his hands. A Host was suspended above it, from which drops of blood were falling into the chalice. The angel left the chalice suspended in the air and prostrated himself before it in prayer. He taught them a prayer of Eucharistic reparation (the Angel Prayer). He then gave the Host to Lucia and the chalice to Francisco and Jacinta, saying: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
The angel fell prostrate to the ground and repeated the prayer three times and disappeared. The children remained in prayer for a long time.
On May 13, 1917, the three children took their flocks out to pasture in the small area known as the Cova da Iria (Cove of Peace). They suddenly saw a bright flash of something akin to lightning, followed quickly by another flash in the clear blue sky.
They looked up to see, in Lucia’s words, “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.”
The Lady smiled and said: “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you … I come from heaven.”
She asked them to come to the Cova at the same hour on the 13th day for six months. Then she said, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”
Lucia, speaking for all three, said, “Yes.” The Lady replied, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
Lucia recounted that at the same moment, she opened her hands and streamed an immense light that penetrated their souls. They fell to the ground, repeating a prayer that was communicated to them interiorly: “O most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee; my God, my God, I love Thee in the most Blessed Sacrament.” (The Eucharistic Prayer)
The Lady then said, “Say the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.”
She then began to rise, moving towards the east until she disappeared.
As word about the apparition spread, the attitudes of the local inhabitants ranged from skepticism to utter contempt, and the children thereby suffered many insults. They would have much to suffer, just as the Lady had told them.
About 50 people turned up at the Cova da Iria at noon on June 13. The children saw a flash of light followed immediately by the apparition of Mary, as she spoke to Lucia: “I want you to come on the 13th of next month, to pray the Rosary every day, and to learn to read. Later, I will tell you what I want.”
She told them that Francisco and Jacinta would go to heaven soon, but Lucia would remain on earth a while longer to help spread devotion to her Immaculate Heart throughout the world, as was Jesus’ desire. Lucia was sad at this and asked, “Am I to stay here alone?”
Mary replied: “No, my daughter. Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
She then opened her hands and radiated an immense light. In her right hand she held her Heart encircled with thorns. Lucia said they understood it to be the Immaculate Heart in need of reparation.
On July 13, the three children assembled at the Cova and again saw Our Lady over the holm oak tree. Mary told them again to come each month and said, “Continue to pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only she can help you.”
She promised in October she would tell them who she was and perform a miracle for all to see and believe. Then continued, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’” (The Sacrifice Prayer)
The First and Second Parts of the Secret: A Vision of Hell and Prophecies
As she spoke these words, Mary opened her hands and rays of light from them seemed to penetrate the earth, revealing to the children a terrifying vision of hell full of demons and lost souls amid indescribable horrors. This vision of hell was the first of the three-part secret of Fatima. The children looked up to the sad face of the Blessed Virgin, who spoke to them kindly:
“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.”
“To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
Third Part of the Secret: An Angel with a Flaming Sword
The Third Part as written down by Sister Lucia on January 3, 1944:
“I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through His Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine. After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’ And we saw in an immense light that is God, something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it, a Bishop dressed in White. We had the impression that it was the Holy Father. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
Our Lady told Lucia not to tell anyone about the secret at this time, apart from Francisco.
Before the apparition ended, she gave these final words: “When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: ‘O my Jesus! Forgive us, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.’” (The Decade Prayer)
As August 13 approached, the story of the apparitions had reached the anti-religious secular press, and while this ensured that the whole country knew about Fatima, it also meant that many biased and negative reports were circulating. The children were kidnapped on the morning of the 13th by the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, Arturo Santos. They were interrogated about the secret and were told to say the apparitions were a lie. Despite his threats of death, they refused to comply or divulge the secret, saying they would rather die then tell a lie. He finally released them on August 15.
Late in the afternoon of August 19, the Virgin appeared to the children in a place called Valinhos, near Fatima. She told them to continue to say the Rosary every day, and again promised a miracle in October, stating the miracle would have been greater had they not been kidnapped. Looking very sad, she said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
With that, she rose into the air and moved towards the east before disappearing.
By now, the children had thoroughly absorbed Mary’s plea for prayer and penance and did everything they could to answer it. They prayed for hours while lying prostrate on the ground and went long days without drinking water in the heat of summer. They gave their lunches to poor children as a sacrifice for sinners. They even knotted some pieces of old rope around their waists as a form of mortification.
On September 13, very large crowds began to converge in Fatima from all directions. Around noon, the children arrived. After the customary flash of light, they saw Mary on the holm oak tree. She spoke to Lucia:
“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 Sorrows and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is pleased with your sacrifices.”
The prediction of a public miracle caused intense speculation throughout Portugal and the reporter, Avelino de Almeida, published a satirical article in the anti-religious newspaper, O Seculo. People from other parts of the country descended by the tens of thousands on the Cova, despite the terrible storm that lashed the mountain country around Fatima on the eve of the 13th. Many pilgrims walked barefooted, reciting the Rosary as they went, all crowding into the area around the Cova. By mid-morning, heavy rains began to fall and the mud was ankle deep. The children reached the holm oak around noon and then saw the flash of light as Mary appeared before them. Lucia asked what she wanted:
“I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in my honor. 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.”
Lucia made some requests for cures, conversions and other things. Mary responded: “Some yes, but not others. They must amend their lives and ask forgiveness for their sins.”
Our Lady grew very sad and said: “Do not offend the Lord our God anymore, because He is already so much offended.” Then, opening her hands, she made them reflect on the sun and, as she ascended, the reflection of her own light continued to be projected on the sun itself. After she disappeared, as the people witnessed the predicted miracle, the children saw the visions foretold during the September apparition.
The greatest miracle to occur since the Resurrection is also the only miracle ever precisely predicted as to date, time of day and location. While popularly known as “The Miracle of the Sun,” October 13, 1917 has come to be known as “The Day the Sun Danced,” the headline of the article by Almeida in O Seculo.
During the solar phenomena, the sun whirled and zig-zagged, casting colors about the crowd as it began to descend toward the earth. The 70,000 people assembled cried out in terror, thinking it was the end of the world. After about 10 minutes, the sun returned to the sky. Then a howling wind began to blow, despite the leaves on the trees remaining still. The rain-soaked people were suddenly dry and their clothes clean, and the ground was completely dry.
Many physical cures of the blind and the lame were reported. The countless unreserved public confessions of sin and commitments to conversion of life attest to the authenticity of what they saw. The miracle is reported to have been seen from as far as 15-25 miles away, thus ruling out the possibility of any type of collective hallucination or mass hypnotism. No such phenomenon of the sun was reported anywhere in the world, and scientists were unable to explain it. Doubters and skeptics had become believers. Even the on-site reporter, Almeida, stood by his story later on in spite of harsh criticism. (See translation of Almeida’s article)
Jacinta and Francisco both fell ill to the influenza pandemic that swept Europe in the autumn of 1918. Francisco recovered somewhat and there were hopes that he might become well, but he realized that he was destined to die young as Our Lady had foretold, and his condition worsened again. He offered up all his sufferings as a way of consoling God for the sinfulness and ingratitude of mankind and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. on the day of his death, April 4, 1919, he received Viaticum, his first Holy Communion, besides the Precious Blood given to him by the Angel of Peace, that at this point was still unknown.
Jacinta was also confined to her bed during the long winter months, and although she recovered, was struck down with bronchial pneumonia while also developing a painful abscess in her chest. She was moved to the hospital in Ourem in July 1919, where she underwent the painful treatment prescribed for her, but without much effect. She returned home in August with an open wound in her side. The Blessed Mother had foretold that she would die alone in a hospital without her family. When it was determined she should undergo another treatment in January 1920, she was taken to Lisbon where she was diagnosed as having purulent pleurisy and diseased ribs. She knew it was the last time she would see Lucia.
She was admitted to the hospital in February, where she underwent another painful operation to remove two ribs. This left her with a large wound in her side that had to be dressed daily, causing her great agony. On the evening of February 20, 1920, the local priest was called and heard her confession, but he insisted on waiting till morning to bring her Holy Communion, despite her protests that she would die that night. As Mary had foretold, she died alone in her hospital bed later that evening, far from her family. Her body was returned to Fatima and buried with that of Francisco until both were later moved to the basilica built at the Cova da Iria.
The new bishop of the Diocese of Leiria decided that it was best if Lucia was removed from Fatima, both to spare her from the continual questionings she had to endure and to see what affect her absence would have on the flow of pilgrims. In May 1921, at the age of 13, she was sent away in secrecy to a school run by the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Porto. She later became a sister in this congregation before joining the Carmelites.
On December 10, 1925, while at the Dorothean Convent in Pontevedra, Spain, Lucia had another apparition of the Blessed Mother, this time with the Child Jesus. She had returned to ask for the Communions of Reparation we now call the First Saturday devotion, as she said she would during her July 13 apparition at Fatima. Mary told Lucia to announce that she promised to provide at the hour of death the graces necessary for salvation to those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, confessed, received Holy Communion, recited five decades of the Rosary and kept her company while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary for 15 minutes, with the purpose of making reparation for the blasphemies against her Immaculate Heart.
On June 13, 1929, Our Lady returned again as Sister Lucia was praying in the convent chapel at Tuy, Spain. This time, she appeared alongside a representation of the Holy Trinity. Mary spoke to her, saying:
“The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia, promising to save it by this means…”
On January 25, 1938, a strange light filled the skies of northern Europe. It was described as a particularly brilliant display of the Aurora Borealis, but Sister Lucia realized it was the “unknown light” spoken of by Mary during the July 13 apparition. It meant punishment for the world was close, principally through the Second World War, because it had not turned back to God.
Pope Pius XII consecrated the whole world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart in 1942 and carried out a similar consecration of Russia in 1952, but neither of these fulfilled Mary’s request at Fatima. This collegial consecration, in union with a “moral totality” of the world’s bishops, was finally carried out by St. John Paul II on March 25, 1984.
St. John Paul II further emphasized the importance of Fatima by beatifying Jacinta and Francisco on May 13, 2000, during the Jubilee Year. During the beatification ceremony, the third part of the Fatima secret was revealed and the third millennium was entrusted to Our Lady of Fatima.
On May 13, 2017, during the 100th anniversary celebration at Fatima, Pope Francis canonized Jacinta and Francisco; they are the youngest non-martyr saints declared in the history of the Church. Their feast day is celebrated on February 20.
Sister Lucia lived in the Carmelite Convent in Coimbra, Portugal, from 1948 until her death on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97. She spent her entire life after the apparitions, spreading the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the messages of the “beautiful Lady made of light.” Her cause for canonization is underway. The Sisters of Coimbra released her biography in 2013; the English translation is published by the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA: A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary.
In May 1922, Bishop Correia da Silva issued a pastoral letter on the subject of Fatima, indicating that he would set up a commission of inquiry. In 1930, he issued another pastoral letter on the apparitions, which after recounting the events at Fatima, contained the following brief but important statement:
“In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reasons of brevity we omit; humbly invoking the Divine Spirit and placing ourselves under the protection of the most Holy Virgin, and after hearing the opinions of our Rev. Advisers in this diocese, we hereby: 1. Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fatima, in this diocese, from the 13th May to 13th October, 1917. 2. Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fatima.