A Reflection on the Centenary of the Apparitions in Portugal
This year, on May 13, will be the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the three shepherd children of Fatima in 1917. The three were: Blessed Francisco Marto (b. June 11, 1908 – d. April 4, 1919); Blessed Jacinta Marto (b. March 11, 1910 – d. Feb. 20, 1920); Lucia dos Santos (b. March 28, 1907 d. Feb. 13, 2005). Lucia was the oldest of the three children and the youngest of seven siblings. Following the deaths of her cousins, at 14 years old, she was sent to the Dorothean Sisters of Villar and in 1928 became a sister of St. Dorothy. In 1946, she entered the convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Coimbra and was known as Sister Maria Lucia of the Immaculate Heart. Following her death in 2005 at the age of 97, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 waived the normal five-year waiting period before the start of a canonization cause.
There were six Marian apparitions to the shepherd children from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917. All of these apparitions took place on the 13th of the month, except for the August apparition.
The children were tending their sheep near the Cova da Iria in Fatima, a few miles from their home. A beautiful young lady dressed in white appeared to them over the holm oak. The Lady said she was from heaven and wanted the children to return to the same place at the same hour on the 13th of each month for six months. The children were asked to pray the rosary each day.
Our Lady again asked the children to pray the Rosary every day, and she asked Lucia to learn to read and write. She revealed that Jacinta and Francisco would die soon, but Lucia would live longer. She then revealed that God wished to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and her heart would be a refuge and a way to lead people to God.
The Lady disclosed a three-part secret to the children.
The children missed their scheduled meeting with the Lady on Aug. 13 because they were detained by the anti-clerical civil authorities. They were imprisoned and released on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption. The Lady then appeared to the children on Aug. 19 and asked them to continue to come to the Cova da Iria on the 13th of each month and to pray the Rosary every day. She told them that she would perform a miracle the last month (October).
The Lady asked the children to continue to pray the Rosary for the end of the war. She told them that Jesus as well as St. Joseph would appear in October.
The most dramatic of the apparitions took place on October 13, 1917. Officials estimated that 55,000 people gathered on a rainy day near Cova da Iria and witnessed the “miracle of the sun.” Some 20,000 other people witnessed the miracle from as far away as 25 miles. The sun started spinning in the skies and grew larger, almost as if it were to fall to earth. The people then noticed that their clothes were completely dry even though they had been standing in the pouring rain for some time. The local newspaper had a front page story on “How the sun danced at midday in Fatima.”While the people were caught up in the solar miracle, the three children saw numerous apparitions. St. Joseph was seen with the Christ Child who seemed to be blessing the world. Mary was seen clothed in white with a blue mantel first as Our Lady of Sorrows and then as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. She revealed her identity to the children as “Our Lady of the Rosary.” She asked them to pray the Rosary every day and to have a chapel built at Cova da Iria, the site of the apparitions.
The apparitions of Fatima occurred during a critical time in the life of Portugal and the world. The Fatima message emphasizes central truths and devotions of the Catholic faith: the Blessed Trinity, the Eucharist, penance, the Rosary and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.
In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II added the May 13 feast of Our Lady of Fatima to the general Roman calendar. May 13, 1981 was the day when St. John Paul II survived an attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square. The assassin’s bullet that narrowly missed killing the pope now is inserted in a crown of Our Lady preserved at the Fatima shrine. Fatima is also closely linked with the collapse of Russian communism. After the May 13, 1981, attempt on his life, St. John Paul II authorized the disclosure of the third Fatima secret in conjunction with the May 13, 2000, beatification ceremony for Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
It is estimated that some 4-5 million people visit the Fatima shrine each year, and more are expected for the centennial year, including a pastoral visit by Pope Francis, who will travel to Portugal to celebrate the 100-year anniversary.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation