Our Lady of Fátima – what was all that about?

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Fátima is one of the Roman Catholic titles for Mary, the mother of Jesus. The name was derived based on a series of bizarre events in 1917 in the little village of Fátima in Portugal.

Our Lady of FátimaFátima has grown from a little village to a city. It has a population of about 8,000 and lies between the Portuguese capital Lisbon in the south and the “wine city” Porto in the north.

Fátima got its name from a Moorish princess kidnapped by a knight named Gonçalo Hermigues. In Christian tradition, Princess Fátima fell in love with Gonçalo Hermigues and later converted to Christianity changing her name to Oureana. The Arabs, however, claimed she was forced into Christianity.  Either way, the town of Fátima is named after her, so is the city of Ourém 10 kilometres to the north-east.

700 years later Fátima went from “just another” Portuguese village to a major pilgrimage site in a matter of months. Today between four and five million people from all over the world make their way to Fátima every year, particularly on 13 May and 13 October. This international stature gave Fátima the title of “Shrine of the World”.

It began almost a hundred years ago.

The Apparitions at Fátima

Our Lady of Fátima
Lúcia Santos (left) with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 1917. Photo by Joshua Benoliel

Living just outside the village of Fátima in 1917 were three children – Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto. They were ten, nine and seven years old respectively. The world was in the middle of the First World War. Specifically it was the months when the Americans entered the War, the time of the French Mutiny and the time of the Russian Revolution which saw the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. It was also the time when Portugal too was entering the war. The Portuguese arrive at the front in April 1917 and Private António Gonçalves Curado was reported as their first casualty.

In Fátima on 13 May 1917, the three children were caring for their families’ sheep in a field called Cova da Iria about a kilometre outside the village. Suddenly there was lightning, and the children, thinking that it was going to rain, began to run. Then, just above an oak tree, they saw a beautiful woman holding a Rosary in her hand.

The woman was described as being “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”. She wore a white mantle edged with gold and held a rosary in her hand. She spoke to the children and told them not to be afraid. “I come from Heaven”, she said. She asked them to devote themselves to the Holy Trinity and to pray “the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war”.

Not surprisingly many put it down to the imaginings of children. Many others teased them incessantly.

The woman revisited Lúcia and her cousins over the next five months; all but August, on the 13th.

Lúcia was later to write that on 13 June when the children saw the woman she told them Francisco and Jacinta would be taken to Heaven soon but Lúcia would live longer. In her account Lúcia asked the woman if the three children would go to heaven when they died. She said that she heard her reply, “Yes, I shall take Francisco and Jacinta soon, but you will remain a little longer, since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on Earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart.”

The Lady also gave them a message, a “secret”, a secret “that was good for some and bad for others”. Lúcia dos Santos kept this message private until 1941.



Although there was a small crowd curious enough to come to the Cova da Iria, they did not witness much. They did not see Our Lady of Fátima but felt something. According to one woman, Maria da Capelinha, “We heard something buzzing like a small, small voice, but could not understand what it was trying to say. We then turned toward the miraculous tree, and what was our admiration and surprise to see that the shoots at the top, which had been standing upright before, were now all bent toward the east, as if someone had stood upon them.”

After this June vision of Our Lady of Fátima (as she was often referred as later), Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta were questioned at length by Fátima’s sceptical parish priest, Father Manuel Ferreira. They had told him everything except the “secret”. In exasperation the priest proclaimed, “It could be the work of the devil!”

This was enough to put doubt in Lúcia’s mind; and even with little Jacinta’s insistence the Lady could not be the Devil because the Devil was ugly, Lúcia remained troubled. It seemed she only found some peace with the daily visits to the Cova da Iria to tend the sheep.

By now Maria da Capelinha who was a sickly woman would join the children daily during prayer time at Cova da Iria.

Right up to the eve of the next expected visitation by Our Lady of Fátima, Lúcia insisted she would not go. She did not expect not to see the Lady, but she was concerned about who was sending her. Could it have been the Devil?

Even the tearful pleading of her cousins was not enough to convince Lúcia to go to the field the next day, but on awakening in the morning, inexplicably all her doubts evaporated. She went to the Cova da Iria with Francisco and Jacinta.

Our Lady of Fátima
: A religious statue depicting the Immaculate Heart of Mary as described by Sister Lúcia of Fátima. Photo by Andreas Praefcke (CC BY 3.0)

Although there were still many doubters in Fátima, the story of the apparitions had spread outside the village. The visitors coming to Fátima was extraordinary. The curious and believers had descended on the village in big numbers.

Lúcia wrote that during the third visit of the Our Lady of Fátima on 13 July, she asked the woman who she was and also requested a miracle that would prove Our Lady to the people. The woman promised to display a miracle and reveal her identity on 13 October. The children reported this to their parents and the village.

The August visit was disrupted by the mayor of Ourém, the municipality in which Fátima was located. He was Artur de Oliveira Santos. He was reported to be hostile to organised religion particularly Catholicism. Santos attempted to impede access to Cova da Iria but failed.

He jailed Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta, and according to Lúcia, threatened the children with being boiled in oil unless they revealed to him the secret which they had reported receiving from the woman at Fátima.

Even Lúcia’s mother was still very sceptical and hoped the children would buckle and admit they had been lying.

Crowds assembled at the Cova da Iria on 13 August but the children did not appear. Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta reported an apparition on the nineteenth at Valinhos instead. Here the woman reasserted the need to pray daily the Rosary to save the lives being lost in the war.

Artur de Oliveira Santos would eventually be stripped of political offices and before his death in 1955, still managed to brag of his little bit of fame in 1917.

Our Lady of Fátima
From left to right, Jacinta Marto, Lúcia dos Santos and Francisco Marto, holding their rosaries in 1917.

By dawn on 13 September the roads near Fátima were congested; and by noon there were about 30,000 people in the Cova da Iria saying the Rosary. Among the crowd that day was Monsignor John Quaresma, Vicar General of the diocese of Leiria. He and many others saw “a luminous globe, which moved from the east to the west, gliding slowly and majestically through space.”  He wrote, “My friend also looked, and had the good fortune to enjoy the same unexpected and delightful vision. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light, disappeared. ”

Monsignor Quaresma commented, “It was my undoubted conviction also (the children seeing the apparition of Our Lady of Fátima). The children had contemplated the very Mother of God, while to us it had been given to see the means of transport—if one may so express it—which brought her from heaven to the inhospitable waste of the Serra da Aire. I must emphasise that all those around us appeared to have seen the same thing, for one heard manifestations of joy and praises of our Lady. But some saw nothing. Near us was a simple devout creature, crying bitterly because she had seen nothing.”

As for Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta, Our Lady of Fátima reiterated the need to continue to say the Rosary daily so that the war may end. When pressed for a miracle to cast aside doubt, she again confirmed she would present a miracle on 13 October.

By the 13 October 1917, an estimated 70,000 people, believers and non-believers alike, made their way to Cova da Iria. They were expecting a promised miracle as foretold by Lúcia and her cousins. What they witnessed was what has come to be known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.



The Miracle of the Sun

Our Lady of Fátima
Christian pilgrims during the Miracle of the Sun, on 13 October 1917

The “Miracle of the Sun” was a strange solar activity that occurred at about 1 pm on 13 October 1917. There were newspaper reporters in attendance and they wrote accounts on what many of the people there claimed to have seen. Also present was Dr. Joseph Garrett, professor of natural sciences at the University of Coimbra.

After a period rain the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicoloured lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careened towards the earth before zig-zagging back to its normal position.

Lúcia on seeing light rising from the woman’s hands and the sun appearing as a silver disk called out “look at the sun”. She later said she had no memory of saying this.

Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes became “suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling”.

People began crying out things like “I believe! I believe!”, “God forgive us our sins!”, “Jesus, save us!”, “Mary, save us!”

Many of the clergy who were sceptics were astonished and now convinced the children were not delusional nor were they lying over the last six months.

Our Lady of Fátima
An image of the crowd during the last apparition in Cova da Iria

John De Marchi, an Italian Catholic priest and researcher, spent seven years in Fátima, from 1943 to 1950 researching the events and interviewing people who witnessed the event. According to him, “Engineers that have studied the case reckoned that an incredible amount of energy would have been necessary to dry up those pools of water that had formed on the field in a few minutes as it was reported by witnesses.”

He said, “[Those present on 13 October 1917] included believers and non-believers, pious old ladies and scoffing young men. Hundreds, from these mixed categories, have given formal testimony. Reports do vary; impressions are in minor details confused, but none to our knowledge has directly denied the visible prodigy of the sun.”

Some of these formal testimonies according to De Marchi:

  • “The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat.”―Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the Catholic newspaper Ordem.
  • “… The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds … The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands … people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.”―Reporter for the Lisbon newspaper O Dia.
  • “The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamour was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.”—Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University.
  • “As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendour. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colours of the rainbow and sending forth multicoloured flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees.”―Dr. Manuel Formigão, a professor at the seminary at Santarém, and a priest.
  • “I feel incapable of describing what I saw. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt my eyes. Looking like a ball of snow, revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zig-zag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.”—Rev. Joaquim Lourenço, describing his boyhood experience in Alburitel, eighteen kilometers from Fátima.
  • “On that day of October 13, 1917, without remembering the predictions of the children, I was enchanted by a remarkable spectacle in the sky of a kind I had never seen before. I saw it from this veranda …”—Portuguese poet Afonso Lopes Vieira.

De Marchi also stated the prediction of an unspecified “miracle”, the abrupt beginning and end of the alleged miracle of the sun, the varied religious backgrounds of the observers, the sheer numbers of people present, and the lack of any known scientific causative factor make a mass hallucination unlikely. That the activity of the sun was reported as visible by those up to 18 kilometres away also precludes the theory of a collective hallucination or mass hysteria.

No movement or other phenomenon of the sun was recorded by scientists at the time. Not all witnesses reported seeing the sun “dance”. Some people only saw the radiant colours, and others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.

Lúcia also reported that day that the Lady identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary.” The Lady also became known as Our Lady of Fátima.

Prior to the events in 1917, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, according to later writings by dos Santos, were visited by a first angel. This happened on three occasions in the spring and summer of 1916. This angel revealed himself as the “The Angel of Peace” and later as the “Angel of Portugal”. He taught them prayers, to make sacrifices, and to spend time in adoration of the Lord.



Francisco and Jacinta Marto

Our Lady of Fátima
The Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto in the apparitions in Tuy, Spain where the controversial Consecration of Russia was requested. Photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lúcia dos Santos wrote of Francisco and Jacinta and in her memoirs she said, even after the visions their personalities fundamentally remained the same. They were both musically inclined though Francisco liked to be by himself to think.

After the events of 1916 and 1917 at Fátima, Jacinta was deeply affected by a vision of Hell shown to the children and was convinced of the need to save sinners through penance and sacrifice as the Our Lady of Fátima had told them to.

She was just seven years old. Although she saw and heard everything during the apparitions she did not speak to the “Angel of Peace” in 1916 or to Our Lady of Fátima later; but she was adamant in her attempt to ease the “hurt of Jesus” through self-sacrifice to save souls.

Even through the disbelief and insults from many around her, Jacinta would not feel sorry for herself. “If only I could show hell to sinners!” she said, “how happy I would be if all could go to paradise.”

Our Lady of Fátima
Francisco Marto

Francisco preferred to pray alone, saying that this would “console Jesus for the sins of the world”. At the first apparition, Lucy asked if Francisco would go to Heaven, Our Lady replied: “Yes, he will go there, but he will have to recite the Rosary many times.”

After this Francisco showed little interest in school. Instead he would go to church “to keep company with the hidden Jesus”. Many affirmed having received gifts of grace after having asked Francisco to pray for them.

The Spanish Flu
Two months after the October 1917 “miracle” at Fátima, the world was to see more devastation in way of the Spanish Flu. The pandemic infected 500 million people globally and killed between 50 and 100 million. It ravaged the world for three years between January 1918 and December 1920.

In a strange twist while most influenza outbreaks proportionately kill more of the very small children, the elderly or the weak, the Spanish Flu took the lives of the young and healthy. Modern research concludes the strain of this virus forced the body’s immune system to overreact. People with stronger immune systems tended to have the system ravage their body and kill it, while there were fewer deaths proportionately among those with a weaker immune system.

By July 1918 the Spanish Flu reached Portugal. According to the Catholic News Agency, In October of that year Our Lady of Fátima visited the Marto children and told them she would take them to Heaven soon.

During his illness when his family tried to comfort him, Francisco responded, “It is useless. Our Lady wants me with Her in Heaven!” He said to Lúcia, “Only a little time remains to me before going to Heaven. There above, I am going to console Our Lord and Our Lady a great deal; Jacinta is going to pray a great deal for sinners, for the Holy Father and for you. You are going to stay here because Our Lady wishes it. Listen, do everything She tells you.”

Francisco was still only nine. At the time, First Holy Communion was not received until a child was ten. He begged his father for the “Blessed Sacrament”.

Our Lady of Fátima
Cousins Jacinta Marto (left, seated) and Lúcia Santos, two of the three children to whom Our Lady of Fátima appeared.

Having to first formally confess his sins, he urged Lúcia and Jacinta to recount for him the sins which he had committed. Hearing of some mild pranks he had committed, Francisco began crying, saying, “I have confessed these sins, but I will confess them again. Perhaps it is because of these that Jesus is so sad. You both ask also that Jesus will pardon all my sins.”

He was by now very weak but he received his First Holy Communion with his sister and cousin reciting the rosary on his behalf. On 4 April 1919 Francisco Marto succumbed to the virus and died in his home. He died calmly without any sign of suffering. Sister Lúcia later wrote, “He flew away to Heaven in the arms of our Heavenly Mother.”

Jacinta’s illness was lengthy. She contracted bronchial pneumonia and was hospitalised for two months. Yet from her hospital bed, she declared cheerfully that her sickness was just a new opportunity to suffer for the conversion of sinners.

Soon after she returned home, an ulcerous sore was found on her chest. Then she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Jacinta suffered for a long time and asked Lúcia, “Will Jesus be content with the offering of my sufferings?”

She was rushed to a Lisbon hospital. Ten months after the death of her brother, on 20 February 1920, Jacinta died.

Their mother Olimpia said her two children repeatedly predicted their deaths to her and pilgrims visiting Fátima.

Jacinta was buried at Vila Nova de Ourém but was reinterred in 1935 in Fátima, and then again in 1951 to Basilica of the Rosary.

Francisco was already buried in Fátima. He was reinterred in 1952 to the Basilica.



Lúcia dos Santos

Our Lady of Fátima
Lúcia dos Santos 1945

Lúcia was the youngest of seven children. Her parents, António and Maria were devout Catholics though Maria was sceptical of the apparitions. She thought Lúcia and her cousins were lying to get attention to the degree where she beat and ridiculed Lúcia saying, “Do you think that because our Lady appeared in Nazare and in Lourdes that she has to appear to you?”

Much of Maria’s reluctance to believe her daughter stemmed from parish priest Fr Ferreira. Maria was a devout Catholic and did not question Church authority.

When Fr Ferreira first arrived at Fátima he declared that dancing outside the home was sinful. Maria whose children loved to dance abruptly forbade it. When someone asked her how come it was fine to dance when the previous priest was there but not when a new one arrived she replied, “I don’t know, but the Reverend Father does not want dancing; that is clear; so my daughters will not go to dances. They can dance a little at home because the Reverend Father says that in the family it is not wrong to dance.”

Our Lady of Fátima
Lúcia dos Santos

Fr Ferreira also vehemently denied any possibility of the children’s visions being true, and suggested to Maria that the “violent nonsense in her young daughter’s head could be of diabolic inspiration.” So when Lúcia cried, “Mama, believe me!”, Maria didn’t.

“Why should such things happen to me at my time of life?” Maria asked. “I have always been so careful about my children telling the truth, and now my youngest has to lie in this terrible way!”

During the visitations from Our Lady of Fátima, Lúcia was told to learn to read and write. Her mother was not happy about this.

At the age of fourteen 14, Lúcia dos Santos was sent to the school of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Vilar and in 1925 she became a postulant at the Dorothean convent in Tui, Spain.

Lúcia continued to report private visions periodically throughout her life. In the mid-1930s the Bishop of Leiria encouraged Lucia, now Sister Maria Lucia das Dores, to write her memoirs, in the event that she might disclose further details of the 1917 apparitions.

On returning to Portugal in 1946, Sister Lúcia visited Fátima incognito. She also returned there on four Papal visits, all on 13 May – 1967, 1982, 1991 and 2000. The last two were when her cousins Jacinta and Francisco were beatified.

In 1948 Sister Lúcia entered the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbra, Portugal, where she resided until her death of cardio-respiratory failure on 13 February, 2005, at the age of 97. Sister Lúcia had been blind and deaf and ailing for some years prior to her death.

Ecclesiastical approval for apparitions at Fátima

Our Lady of FátimaIn October 1930, Dom José Alves Correia da Silva, Bishop of Leiria, gave his seal of approval to the visions of Our Lady of Fátima, writing in a pastoral letter “The visions of the children in the Cova da Iria are worthy of belief.”

A small chapel called the Chapel of Apparitions was built on the Cova da Iria.

Pope Pius XII granted a Canonical Coronation to the venerated image enshrined at the Chapel of the Apparitions on 13 May 1946 via his Papal Legate, Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella. The reported apparitions at Fátima were officially declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church, which commemorates the event on the same date.

Of the hundreds of alleged apparitions the Catholic Church has investigated, only twelve have received ecclesiastical approval.

Three Secrets of Fátima

Our Lady of FátimaIn 1941 Lúcia dos Santos revealed the message she and her cousins received almost a quarter of a century before was made up of three parts. This message has become know as the “Three Secrets of Fátima”.

Two of the secrets were revealed that year in a document written by Lúcia, who was by now a nun, at the request of José Alves Correia da Silva, Bishop of Leiria. When asked by the Bishop in 1943 to reveal the third secret, Lúcia struggled for a short period, being “not yet convinced that God had clearly authorized her to act.” However, in October 1943 the Bishop ordered her to put it in writing.

Lúcia then wrote the third secret down and sealed it in an envelope not to be opened until 1960, when “it will appear clearer.” The text of the third secret was officially released by Pope John Paul II in 2000, although some claim that it was not the entire secret revealed by Lúcia, despite repeated assertions from the Vatican to the contrary.

According to the official Catholic interpretation, the three secrets involve Hell; World War I and World War II; and the Pope John Paul II assassination attempt.



The First Secret of Fátima

The first secret of Fátima was a vision of Hell. In Sister Lúcia written words:

Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.

The Second Secret of Fátima

Our Lady of Fátima
Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943. Photo by Georgii Zelma (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The second secret of Fátima was revealed by Sister Lúcia in August 1941. It stated World War I would end, along with a prediction of another war during the reign of Pope Pius XI, should men continue offending God and should Russia not convert. The second half requests that Russia be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Sceptics pointed out that obviously the Second World War had already begun by the time of the disclosure of the second secret in 1941. More importantly they observed Pope Pius XI had died on 10 February 1939, seven months before the start of the War which was generally accepted as 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.

Our Lady of Fátima
Statue of Pope Pius XII in Fátima, Portugal. Just as a few years ago We consecrated the entire human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, so today We consecrate and in a most special manner We entrust all the peoples of Russia to this Immaculate Heart… (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On the other hand many other historians include Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 as part of WWII or even further back with their invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 or the Spanish civil war which began in 1936.

Intriguingly, Sister Lúcia’s disclosure of the second secret included “a night illumined by an unknown light” that was to be a sign that God was going to punish the world through war.

On 25 January 1938 half the world was given a sensational light show when the Aurora Borealis was seen over the whole of Europe and as far south as southern Australia, to Bermuda and southern California. Immense arches of crimson light with shifting areas of green and blue radiated from a brilliant Auroral Crown instead of appearing in parallel lines.

The headlines in papers the next day reflected the amazement of the people: Aurora Borealis Startles Europe; People Flee in Fear, Call Firemen; Britons Thought Windsor Castle Ablaze; Scots See Ill Omen; Snow-Clad Swiss Alps Glow; Northern lights disrupt radios in Maine, frighten Europeans; Borealis over Tennessee valley; Aurora borealis glows in widest area since 1709; Northern lights down south.

The reported descriptions obviously also captured the breath of many:

From 6:30 to 8:30 P. M. the people of London watched two magnificent arcs rising in the east and west, from which radiated pulsating beams like searchlights in dark red, greenish blue and purple.

From an airplane the display looked like a shimmering curtain of fire.

Police stations, fine brigades and newspaper offices all over the country were inundated by calls tonight asking, “Where is the fire?” The phenomenon was seen as far south as Vienna.

(The phenomenon) spread fear in parts of Portugal and Lower Austria tonight, while thousands of Britons were brought running into the streets in wonderment. The ruddy glow led many to think half the city was ablaze. The Windsor Fire Department was called out in the belief that Windsor Castle was afire.

The lights were clearly seen in Italy, Spain and even Gibraltar.

Firemen turned out to chase nonexistent fires.   Portuguese villagers rushed in fright from their homes, fearing the end of the world.

A huge blood-red beam of light … spread anxiety in numerous Swiss Alpine villages.  Emblazoned in the northern sky the light brought thousands of telephone calls to Swiss and French authorities asking whether it was a fire, war or the end of the world.

The sky was brilliantly lighted with dark red streamers, flashing like searchlights. (In Hamilton, Bermuda)

Our Lady of FátimaAnd as Australia celebrated its 150th birthday there were other not so enthusiastic headlines: Rebel Bombers raid Barcelona twice – Kill 150; Chinese assault drives Japanese from River town; Nazis dissolve Catholic youth clubs in Bavaria; US to increase air force with Army and Navy; Every man and woman must act; Fleet to be mobilised as “precaution”.

Interestingly, Japanese and American aggression toward each other was also highlighted on 26 January 1938. John Allison, a consul at the American embassy in Nanking, China, was struck in the face by a Japanese soldier.

After demands from the American government, Katsuo Okazaki, the Japanese Consul-General in Nanking apologized formally on January 30. This incident, together with the looting of American property in Nanking that took place at the same time, further strained relations between Japan and the United States.



The second secret of Fátima as transcribed by Sister Lúcia reads:

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 Pope 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 shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.
Our Lady of Fátima
Centre of Stalingrad after liberation. RIA Novosti archive (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In October 1942 Pope Pius XII performed the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the entire world, including Russia which was at the time being dominated by the advancing German forces in the Battle for Stalingrad. Most of the world believed Stalingrad would fall and worried about the aftermath with an all conquering Germany.

Russia’s Winter Campaign began on 19 November 1942. It also marked the beginning of the “turn-around” of the European war. The Germans were confused and in disarray. By January the Germans were defeated. Stalingrad held. It was the worse defeat in the history of the German Army. Germany was now on the defensive and would remain so until the fall of Berlin more than two years later.

In 1952 Pope Pius XII specifically consecrated the Peoples of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, stating:

Just as a few years ago we consecrated the entire human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, so today we consecrate and in a most special manner we entrust all the peoples of Russia to this Immaculate Heart.

In 1984 Pope John Paul II also consecrated Russia as part of the world consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope John Paul II who survived an assassination attempt in 1981 credits his recovery to Our Lady of Fátima. He in fact donated the bullet that wounded him to the Roman Catholic sanctuary at Fátima and it was placed in the crown of the Virgin’s statue.

Perhaps coincidental but, the attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life was on 13 May 1981. As for Pope Pius XII, he was appointed Archbishop of the Sistine Chapel on 13 May 1917, the day Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto first saw Our Lady of Fátima. Pius XII was laid to rest in the crypt of Saint Peter’s Basilica on 13 October 1958.

In 2013 Pope Francis also consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart.

To date the formal consecration of Russia is widely disputed as incomplete among some Fátima devotees. Some claim the varying consecrations made by recent Popes are insufficient in fulfilling the specific request that the Lady of Fátima made.



The Third Secret of Fátima

In 1943, Sister Lúcia fell seriously ill with influenza and pleurisy. Bishop Silva, visiting her in September 1943, suggested that she write the third secret down to ensure that it would be recorded in the event of her death.

Sister Lúcia was hesitant to do so. At the time she received the secret, she had heard Mary say not to reveal it, but because Carmelite obedience requires that orders from superiors be regarded as coming directly from God, she was in a quandary as to whose orders took precedence. After a direct order from the Bishop to record the secret, Lúcia obeyed.

In June 1944 a sealed envelope containing the third secret was delivered to Bishop Silva, where it stayed until 1957 when it was finally delivered to Rome.

In 1960 the Vatican issued a press release stating that it was “most probable the Secret would remain, forever, under absolute seal.” This announcement produced speculation ranging from “worldwide nuclear annihilation to deep rifts in the Roman Catholic Church that lead to rival papacies.”

Twenty-one years later, the withholding of the “secret” was the centre of a strange plane hijack by Laurence James Downey.

54 year-old Downey was an Australian, an expelled monk, and wanted by the police in Ireland and Perth, Western Australia. He hijacked a plane flying from Dublin to London by dowsing himself in petrol and demanded the plane land at Le Touquet – Côte d’Opale Airport in France, and refuel there for a flight to Tehran, Iran.

While at Le Touquet, Downey threw a nine page statement out of the cockpit window demanding it be published in the Irish Press.

After an eight hour standoff, French Special Forces stormed the plane and Downey was apprehended.

In his statement Laurence Downey, who also worked as a tour guide at an Our Lady of Fátima shrine, demanded the Vatican release the third secret of Fátima.

In 1980 Pope John Paul II was asked to speak about the third secret of Fátima, This is what he had to say:

Because of the seriousness of its contents, in order not to encourage the world wide power of Communism to carry out certain coups, my predecessors in the chair of Peter have diplomatically preferred to withhold its publication. On the other hand, it should be sufficient for all Christians to know this much: if there is a message in which it is said that the oceans will flood entire sections of the earth; that, from one moment to the other, millions of people will perish… there is no longer any point in really wanting to publish this secret message. Many want to know merely out of curiosity, or because of their taste for sensationalism, but they forget that ‘to know’ implies for them a responsibility. It is dangerous to want to satisfy one’s curiosity only, if one is convinced that we can do nothing against a catastrophe that has been predicted.” He held up his rosary and stated “Here is the remedy against this evil. Pray, pray and ask for nothing else. Put everything in the hands of the Mother of God.” Asked what would happen in the Church, he said: “We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because it is only in this way that the Church can be effectively renewed. How many times, indeed, has the renewal of the Church been effected in blood? This time, again, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong, … we must entrust ourselves to Christ and to His holy Mother, and we must be attentive, very attentive, to the prayer of the Rosary.”

Twenty years later, symbolically on 13 May 2000, the Third Secret was released. In his announcement, Cardinal Sodano implied that the secret was about the 20th century persecution of Christians that culminated in the failed Pope John Paul II assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.



The third part of the message revealed to the three children by Our Lady of Fátima at Cova da Iria, on 13 July 1917:

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 splendour 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.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, published a theological commentary in which he states:

A careful reading of the text of the so-called third ‘secret’ of Fátima … will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.

The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction. Therefore we must totally discount fatalistic explanations of the “secret”, such as, for example, the claim that the would-be assassin of 13 May 1981 was merely an instrument of the divine plan guided by Providence and could not therefore have acted freely, or other similar ideas in circulation. Rather, the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them.



Fátima and the conspiracy theorists

Others have argued the “secret” released by the Vatican was not the real secret, or at least, not the full secret. Among the reasons given by an Italian journalist was the Vatican version of the third secret of Fátima was handwritten on four sheets while the original from Sister Lúcia was on a single sheet. He quoted Father Joaquin Alonso, official Fátima archivist, “Lucy tells us that she wrote it on a sheet of paper.” He also quote priest Malachi Martin, “I cooled my heels in the corridor outside the Holy Father’s apartments, while my boss, Cardinal Bea, was inside debating with the Holy Father, and with a group of other bishops and priests, and two young Portuguese seminarians, who translated the letter, a single page, written in Portuguese, for all those in the room.”

There are many other rumours about the Fátima visions including one that suggests Lúcia was later replaced by an impostor with the intention the replacement “would urge the Church not to reveal the Third Secret in 1960”.

Others believe the events stemming from Fátima were politically motivated to suit the times.

It is possible the interpretation of the visions and the messages may have been influenced by the social and political environment of the time.

The First World War was in full swing with the Russian government’s anti-religion policy was a real threat to the Church. By 1934 state atheism in Russia shut down 28% of Eastern Orthodox churches, 42% of Muslim mosques and 52% of Jewish synagogues. Russia in 1917 was seen as a threat to religion.

The Virgin Mary was often seen as a champion against anti-clericalism through the ages. Leading up to and during the Spanish Civil War symbols of the Virgin Mary were to be found leading the armies of the faithful ranged against the Godless.

During the Spanish Second Republic, there was a vision of the Virgin Mary at Ezquioga. The seer, Ramona Olazabal, insisted Mary had marked the palms of her hands with a sword. There were sixteen other visitations of the Virgin to Spain in 1931.

Prior to this, Portugal too went through its fight for religion. The period between October 1910 and May 1926, the years of Portugal’s First Republic, was described as consisting of “continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution”.

The First Republic was intensely anti-clerical and aimed to disestablish the powerful role of the Catholic Church. Historian Stanley Payne points out, “The majority of Republicans took the position that Catholicism was the number one enemy of individualist middle-class radicalism and must be completely broken as a source of influence in Portugal.”

During World War II, when Germany invaded Russia in 1941, many believed the prophecy of Our Lady of Fátima was about to be fulfilled and joined the fight that was being engaged on the Eastern front. The Vatican took a different tack with Pope Pius XII performing the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the entire world – including Russia.

Anti-communism was apparent in Sister Lúcia’s memoirs with its focus on Russia and “her errors” in the messages of Our Lady of Fátima. Our Lady also said that “if Russia was not consecrated, it would spread its errors throughout the world.”

In the end, whatever the beliefs and the theories, something did happen on the Cova da Iria in Fátima in 1917.



Our Lady of Fátima

Our Lady of Fátima
Page from Ilustração Portuguesa, 29 October 1917, showing the people looking at the Sun during the Fátima apparitions attributed to the Virgin Mary

Three children aged seven, nine and ten were heavily scrutinised and threatened for many months, not only by their families, but publically as well. Their local parish priest continually berated them. They were arrested and threatened with being boiled in oil. Could these children conceal a lie in front of first tens then thousands of people for so long? It seems unlikely.

The events at Fátima are well documented. Hundreds of religious and non-religious people were interviewed. Newspapers carried the stories. The photographs on the front page of the paper clearly show something was happening in the sky on 13 October 1917.

Although the “miracle” was not specified, the three children were adamant about the time and date it was to occur. Even if the “sun dance” could be put down as a natural phenomenon, the precision in the prediction of the timing of the event months in advance  by three children in itself could be regarded as a miracle.

If all this was a ruse devised by the Church, what would have been the point of withholding the details of the “secrets” for a quarter of a century?

85% of people adhere to a religion. There are more than 2.2 billion (31.5% of the world’s population) that adhere to the Christian faith. More than half of these are Roman Catholic. The Church will continue their stand against state atheism.

The Vatican maintains the Third Secret of Fátima is ongoing. It sees it as the problems the Church faces and the work needed to renew it. The current firestorm in regards to the behaviour of some of the clergy appears to be part of the problem. They believe the message from Our Lady of Fátima is still current and still important.

Pope Francis will travel to Fátima next year for the one hundredth anniversary of the Marian apparitions. It is believed that he will use the occasion to canonize the Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

Pope Francis was ordained a priest on 13 December 1969. He was elected Pope on 13 March 2013. On 13 April 2013, he named eight cardinals to a new Council of Cardinal Advisers to advise him on revising the organizational structure of the Roman Curia.

Sanctuary of Fátima

Our Lady of Fátima
A panoramic view of the sanctuary Basilica and colonnade, the statue to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Chapel of the Apparitions. Photo by Andreas Trepte (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Fátima has become one of the most important shrines of the world dedicated to the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary. The Sanctuary at Fátima was constructed in and around the area of Cova da Iria where the three children witnessed the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of the Rosary. The sanctuary includes various buildings, shrines and monuments to the religious, political and social consequence of the event dispersed throughout a complex of open panoramas and vistas dominated by the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Church of the Holy Trinity. Central to the complex is the small Chapel of the Apparitions and its shelter, where many of the events of the apparitions took place and where the first pilgrims venerated the Marian apparitions.

Our Lady of Fátima
Virgin of Fátima City by Manuel González (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On 28 April 1919 the locals of Fátima began the construction of a small chapel, the Capelinha das Aparições (Chapel of the Apparitions). Its construction was not encouraged by church authorities but nor was it hindered. On 13 May 1920 a statue of the Virgin Mary was installed in the chapel, while the first officially celebrated mass occurred on 13 October 1921.

The Bishop of Leiria presided over the first religious service at Cova da Iria that included the blessing of the 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) Stations of the Cross on the mountain road to the site from Reguengo do Fetal on 26 July 1927.

On 13 May 1928, the first foundation stone was laid in the construction of the basilica and colonnade of Fátima.

A large pilgrimage marked the 25th anniversary of the apparitions on 13 May 1942. Two years later, on 13 May 1946, Pontifical Legate Cardinal Massella crowned the image of Our Lady of Fátima in the Chapel of the Apparitions.

On 7 October 1953 the Church of the Sanctuary of Fátima was consecrated, and within a year, Pope Pius XII conceded the church the title of Basilica.

In a pilgrimage to Fátima by Pope John Paul II in 1982, the first cornerstone of the Capela do Sagrado Lausperene (Chapel of the Sacred Lausperene) was laid.

Chapel of Apparitions

Our Lady of Fátima
Chapel of Apparitions, built at the place where the Fátima apparitions were reported. Photo by Andreas Trepte (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Chapel of Apparitions was the first building constructed in the Cova da Iria. The exact spot of the apparitions is marked by a marble pillar on which the Statue of Our Lady of Fátima is placed.

The Basilica
The Basilica of the Rosary was consecrated on 7 October 1953. It has 15 altars which are dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. A painting above the high altar depicts the Message of Our Lady of Fátima to the three children. Scenes of the apparitions are represented in stained glass. In the Basilica is the monumental organ mounted in 1952 which has about 12 thousand pipes.

Our Lady of Fátima
Inside the Basilica of the Rosary by Andreas Trepte (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The carillon of the Basilica consists of 62 bells, the largest bell weighing about three tonnes with the clapper adding another 90 kilograms. It was created and tempered in Fátima by José Gonçalves Coutinho, of Braga.

Particularly interesting is a statue of Our Lady of Fátima in the niche above the entrance to the Basilica. The sculptor was American priest Thomas McGlynn. Fr McGlynn spent a great deal of time with Sister Lúcia to get as much detail from her memory of the apparitions. The collaboration between sculptor and visionary may have produced the most accurate representation of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This statue was a gift from the Catholics of the US to the Sanctuary of Fátima.

The tombs of Francisco and Jacinta Marto are in the Basilica.



The Recint

Our Lady of Fátima
Pilgrims kneeling on the faithway to the sanctuary of the virgin. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On the colonnade in front of the Basilica statues are statues of four Portuguese Saints and in the middled above the niche, a statue of Our Lady of Fátima in one of her apparitions when she urged devotion to her Immaculate Heart. Other statues of the Recint include St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, Bl. Marcelino de Champagnat, St. John Baptist de la Salle, St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, St. Jonh Bosco with St. Dominic Savio, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Simon Stock, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Paul of the Cross and St. Beatrice da Silva.

Perpetual Adoration Chapel
Perpetual Adoration Chapel, a place for silent prayer and adoration, is on the eastern side of the colonnade.

The Big Holmoak
It was under this tree the children awaited the coming of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917.

Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus stands in the centre of the square, over an existing spring in the Cova da Iria. Its waters are apparently the instrument of many graces.

House of Our Lady Dolours
Situated behind the Chapel of Apparitions is House of Our Lady Dolours. It is where the sick are cared for during the pilgrimages. It also offers retreat and accommodation.

House of Our Lady of Carmel
The House of Our Lady of Carmel provides accommodation for up to 250 people visiting the century. The Rectory is within the House of Our Lady of Carmel.

Berlin Wall
A concrete segment of the Berlin Wall sits at the entrance of the Sanctuary. The segment was offered to the Sanctuary by Virgilio Casimiro Ferreira, a Portuguese emigrant to Germany. It is included as a memorial of God’s intervention for the fall of Communism as promised by Our Lady of Fátima. The segment weighs 2,600 kilos and measures 3.60 meters in height by 1.20 meters in width.

Our Lady of Fátima
Portion of the colonnade. Photo by Therese C (CC BY 2.0)

Via Sacre
Composed of 14 chapels, Via Sacre, or The Holy Way, is in memory of the Passion of Our Lord. A 15th chapel which represents the Resurrection Beneath the Calvary is dedicated to St Stephen of Hungary. The first 14 Stations were offered by Catholic Hungarian refugees in western countries. The chapels were inaugurated in the presence of the Am

bassador of Hungary, a country now liberated from Communism. The Holly Way begins at the south Rotunda of Saint Teresa, and follows the path which Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta took when travelling from Aljustrel where they lived to the Cova da Iria.

Paul VI Pastoral Centre
The Paul VI Pastoral Centre was inaugurated on 13 May 1982 by Pope John Paul II. It is a centre for study and reflection on the Message of Our Lady of Fátima, and of the problems of the modern world, in the light of the Gospel. The two auditoriums have seating for 2,124 and 700 and accommodation for 400 pilgrims.

Valinhos is marked by a monument. It is about 400 meters from Aljustrel and is the place of Our Lady´s 4th apparition on 19 August 1917.

Loco do Anjo
Loco do Anjo is where the children received the first and third visits from the “Angel of Peace” in 1916.

The Homes of the Little Shepherds
At the bottom of the garden of Lucia’s home is the well where the “Angel of Peace” appeared for the second time. Near here is also the Ethnographic Museum.

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If you throw a kitten out of a moving car, would it be considered kitty litter?”