The loveable seers of Lourdes and Fatima

By Donal Foley –

The apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Fatima and Lourdes are among the best-known and loved of all her appearances in nearly 2,000 years of Church history. This is due, to some extent, to the lovable and attractive nature of the seers who saw Our Lady – St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in France in 1858, and Sts. Jacinta and Francisco along with Servant of God Sister Lucia dos Santos, at Fatima in 1917.

The promise of heaven

The feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, commemorates the day in 1858 when 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous first saw the Blessed Virgin at the Massabielle grotto near Lourdes. One of the most famous sayings uttered by Our Lady during the Lourdes apparitions was on February 18, when, after asking Bernadette to return to the grotto for 15 days, she said, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”

Thus, Bernadette’s life of suffering was mapped out for her—and it was the case that the future held much sorrow for her—but she always had this promise of ultimate heavenly happiness to buoy her spirits. Initially her feast day was set for February 18 in commemoration of Our Lady’s words, but is now kept on the day of her death, April 16. She died at the age of 35 in 1879.

The feast day for Sts. Jacinta and Francisco is February 20, the date of Jacinta’s death in 1920. Like Bernadette, the Fatima seers were promised that they would go to heaven during the first apparition in May 1917, and this was a source of solace to them also in all the sufferings they had to endure.

Lives of poverty and suffering

Bernadette suffered much in the way of illness. Her later years were increasingly marked by sufferings due to asthma and a tubercular condition that caused her to cough blood; she received the last rites on a number of occasions and even described her “job” as being sick. She also had to face many humiliations in her life at the convent.

For the Fatima children, their more immediate sufferings stemmed from the incessant questioning they had to endure during and after the apparitions, and later, as a result of the Spanish flu epidemic that devastated Europe after World War I, and led to the early deaths of Jacinta and Francisco.

In comparing the lives of St. Bernadette and the Fatima children, they all came from simple backgrounds marked by poverty. In fact, St. Bernadette’s family was extremely poor and they were reduced to living in a damp and miserable room that had previously been the town jail. No doubt Our Lady chose such poor children as a sign of the ultimate blessedness of poverty well-borne in this life, and also because it was the life lived by the Holy Family in Nazareth.

Regarding the messages given by Our Lady at Lourdes and Fatima, it is certainly the case that her message at Fatima was more urgent. This undoubtedly reflects the world situation that had become much graver in the nearly six decades following Lourdes. Still, the Fatima message echoes that of Lourdes, particularly the call to penance and the prayer of the Rosary made by the Blessed Mother.

Today the shrines of Lourdes and Fatima attract millions of pilgrims each year. Lourdes has been regarded as a place of physical healing and Fatima one of spiritual healing. There is some truth in this assertion—there is more of a focus on the sick and the healing waters at Lourdes, and the latter seems to have more of a reputation for the healing of the soul, which comes from the encounter with God and Our Lady at the shrine and through the Sacrament of Confession. Still, there were many outstanding miracles of healing at Fatima in the early years and by 1942, the 25th anniversary, more than 800 cures had been recorded at the shrine.

What is striking about these two apparitions is the visionaries themselves and how conformed to the life of Christ both Bernadette and the Fatima seers were: they were born poor, lived in poverty, were educated in their Catholic faith, but were simple and uneducated otherwise, and suffered a great deal, just as Christ did in His earthly life. Through it all they kept their eyes focused on the eternal glory. We tend to shy away from suffering and poverty, but maybe we could all do with a little less in terms of possessions and comforts, and also accept with a bit more willingness whatever sufferings God chooses to send us in life.

If we can do that we will all be a little more like the loveable seers of Lourdes and Fatima, and certainly more Christ-like.

This article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Soul Magazine. Subscribe to Soul for just $16/year here.

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