Rife with enough secrets, visions and warnings to fill a riveting suspense novel, the story of Our Lady of Fatima has captivated Catholics and others for a century.
As the Church celebrates this month the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, the messages she gave to three heroic peasant children seem as relevant as ever in a modern age marked by societal upheaval and uncertainty about the future.
“It’s definitely a message for our time and it’s a challenging message in many ways,” said Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, author of two new books, Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions (Servant) and Our Lady’s Message to Three Shepherd Children and the World (Sophia Institute Press). “The Blessed Mother spoke about warnings and what would happen if we didn’t change our ways.”
“If the Fatima anniversary were 40 years off, people would not pay a great deal of attention to it, thinking they have plenty of time,” added Father Andrew Apostoli, whose book, Fatima for Today (Ignatius Press), thoroughly examines the apparitions. “However, now that the anniversary is here and, looking at the world situation as it is, people are taking it as a wake-up call.”
For example, Father Apostoli said, Mary spoke of war in 1917 during World War I, but the fear of another war is just as real today. She also cited Communism as a threat to western Christian civilization, saying it would begin in Russia and spread its errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. “This is especially true with regard to the family and what God intended for each individual, for families and for the world,” Father Apostoli said. “Today, a form of communism is seen in the teaching of gender ideology which ultimately undermines the Judeo-Christian concept of men and women as creatures of God with inherent dignity.”
Despite the serious nature of the Fatima messages, they were entrusted to three unlikely visionaries – two young siblings and their cousin who were tending sheep on a hillside on May 13, 1917, when they saw a flash of lightning and a “lady dressed in white.” The children had been prepared for the vision the previous spring by an “Angel of Peace,” who appeared to them three times, telling them to pray and offer sacrifices in reparation for sins against God and for the conversion of sinners. The angel also taught them two prayers, one known as the “Pardon Prayer” and the other focused on the Eucharist.
Serious revelation and admonition
Later, the lady who appeared to the children echoed and expanded upon the angel’s messages. Saying she was from heaven, she promised to return to the apparition site on the 13th of each month at the same time for the six successive months. In the subsequent apparitions, she asked the children to pray the rosary daily for world peace and to bear their sufferings in reparation for offenses against God and for the conversion of sinners. She also shared with them three “secrets,” the last of which was revealed in 2000 when two of the children, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were beatified. Although other aspects of the Fatima apparitions, such as the “miracle of the sun” that occurred on Oct. 13, 1917, and Mary’s request that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, often get more attention, her admonition to pray the rosary and to pray for sinners forms an important part of the Fatima message, Cooper O’Boyle said. “We live in a culture that teaches us to think about ourselves and does not encourage us to think about sinners. Mary’s message teaches us to make sacrifices for sinners, to offer penance and pray the daily Rosary. She said so many go to hell because they have no one to pray for them.”
David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima USA, founded as the Blue Army, said at the heart of the Fatima message is a call to live in accordance with the Gospels.
The children, he said, were shown a vision of hell and asked if they were willing to offer their lives so that others would avoid such a fate. “That’s what we’re taught. We have to save our own souls, but we also have an obligation to work for the salvation of others.”
Carollo agrees with Pope St. John Paul II that the Fatima message is even more important today than in 1917. He said it is significant that both of John Paul’s successors share his deep devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Francis, in fact, has consecrated his pontificate to her and will visit Fatima May 12-13 for the centenary, when he is expected to preside over the canonization of Francisco and Jacinta, who died at the ages of 10 and 9, respectively. A second and final miracle required for their canonization was approved March 23.
Meanwhile, the cause of their cousin, Servant of God Sister Lucia, who died in 2005, is currently underway.
Assurance of consecration, Rosary’s power
During her life, Sister Lucia urged people to concentrate on Mary’s message instead of focusing on the more phenomenal aspects of the apparitions. Still, many persist in questioning whether all the secrets have been revealed and whether the consecration to Russia was properly fulfilled.
Father Apostoli said Sister Lucia, who was told by Mary that she would live longer than her cousins in order that she might spread the message of Fatima, stated before her death that no more secrets remained and that everything had been revealed. Sister Lucia also said that heaven accepted the consecration of Russia by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984.
Carollo said when he is questioned about the consecration during radio and television appearances, he reiterates what Sister Lucia said and declines to argue with those who will not accept it, instead advising them to heed Mary’s call to holiness and to pray and make reparation for sin. “First and foremost, we have to do those things. I would say focus on that. It’s common ground for all of us and that’s what our job is. She didn’t say to question the Pope. She said always pray for the Holy Father and the bishops.”
As the Fatima centenary nears, there also has been heightened interest in a letter Sister Lucia wrote to Cardinal Carlo Caffara as he was establishing the Pontifical Institute for the Studies on Marriage and the Family. In the letter, Sister Lucia said the final battle between the Lord and Satan would be about marriage and the family.
Cooper O’Boyle, who will be leading a pilgrimage to Fatima with Father Apostoli in September, said Sister Lucia’s message is not surprising considering how the definition of marriage is being challenged and changed. “It’s just all around us, this attack on the family and on marriage . . . The final battle could be a century long, we don’t know. But we know we’re engaged in spiritual warfare, we need to put on our armor, have a strong foundation of prayer and follow Our Lady of Fatima’s instructions. She said the rosary is powerful enough to stop wars. We need to take the time and do what she asked us to do.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.
The Three Secrets
The Fatima Visionaries were given three “secrets” by the lady who appeared to them. The last was revealed in 2000.
1. The children are shown a vision of hell and told to encourage devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart for the salvation of souls and peace. A worse war [than WWI] is predicted if people do not cease offending God.
2. Mary asks that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and for reparation through receiving Communion on the first Saturdays of each month. If this is done, she promises the conversion of Russia and a period of peace for the world.
3. The children see a vision in which a bishop dressed in white is killed by soldiers firing bullets and arrows. After his attempted assassination, Pope St. John Paul II read this third secret, concluding that “a mother’s hand” had redirected the path of the bullet, saving him.
Fatima Phenomena – Timeline of related events
Spring, 1916: An “Angel of Peace” appears three times to Francisco Marto, his sister, Jacinta, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos while the three are tending sheep on a hillside.
May 13, 1917: The children see “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun.” She tells them to return each month for the next six months on the 13th day at the same hour.
July 13, 1917: The lady promises to perform a miracle in October for all to see and believe.
Oct. 13, 1917: After the apparition, crowds witness “the miracle of the sun,” in which the sun appears to dance, swirl and descend toward Earth.
April 4, 1919: Francisco Marto dies.
Feb. 20, 1920: Jacinta Marto dies.
Oct. 24, 1925: Lucia enters the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Spain and continues to receive private revelations about the Fatima message.
May 31, 1949: Lucia makes her profession as a Discalced Carmelite, taking the name Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart.
May 13, 1982: Pope John Paul II consecrates the world to Mary at the Fatima shrine, a year after he was shot and wounded by an assassin. He credits the Immaculate Heart of Mary with his survival.
March 25, 1984: Pope John Paul II consecrates the world, “especially the peoples for which by reason of their situation you have particular love and solicitude,” to Mary, fulfilling her request to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart.
May 13, 1989: Jacinta and Francisco are declared “venerable.”
May 13, 2000: Jacinta and Francisco are beatified.
Feb. 13, 2005: Sister Lucia dies at the Carmelite Convent in Portugal.