Europe, 711 AD. The Muslim population is increasing. Islam is firmly rooted in North Africa, Tunisia and most of the Arabian Peninsula. As the religion’s sphere of influence widens, the leaders establish, by force, an Islamic State – a Caliphate. It stretches from Aleppo, Syria in the west, Turkey to the north and Iran in the east. It is ruled by the Righteous Caliph.
Per the Quran and the Sunnah traditions, the duty of each follower is convert the world to Islam, eliminate those who will not, and establish Sharia as the universallaw. To this end, the Caliphate sends military expeditions, known as futuhats, to conquer and expand their reign in Europe. When these Islamic forces invade a city, people who refuse to convert, and most especially Christians, are often murdered in violent, public executions. Churches are destroyed or turned into mosques. It’s not long before Europe, especially the Iberian Peninsula, is living in fear of Islamic attacks.
After several centuries of Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula, the Christian kingdoms of North Portugal and Spain defeated and conquered the Muslim forces. This period of revived Christianity is commonly called the Reconquista. A collection of small Christian villages in the Serra de Aire hills of the Kingdom of Portugal were won back from the Muslims during this time. The last Muslim Imam to leave had a beautiful daughter named Fatima. A Christian Knight of the Reconquista, Gonçalo Hermigues, fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Muslims left, but even embraced the Catholic Faith. In 1158, the young husband honored his new wife by changing the name of their town to Fatima. Like many other Muslim girls, she was named in honor of Muhammed’s daughter. Muhammed said of her, “She has the highest place in heaven after the Virgin Mary.” In the Quran, the Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned no less than thirty times. No other woman’s name is recorded. Although not exclusive to the Five Doctrines of Islam, Muslims hold to the belief of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Visitation, and, believing in the virgin birth, call her “Virgin, ever Virgin.”
In Fatima, the past prepares the future. The European’s fears of the military futuhats mirror the fears of the present. The brutality of the past mirrors the inhumaneness of the present. The deadly collision of Christianity and Islam in the 8th century mirrors the smoldering discord of the present. Yet, amid the fear, brutality, deadly battles, and the evils of the past, God’s Divine Plan for the present began. A small town that may have gone unnoticed then, would, centuries later, become the seat of the Divine Plan for Peace in the world. A town named after Muhammad’s exulted daughter would become a city known for the exulted Mother of God. God’s plan, initiated long ago in a world at war, begins to unfold amid the First World War. In Fatima, the past prepares the future.
The First World War began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 and ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. The same penetrating hatred and passionate vitriol present in 8th century Europe were present to an even greater degree during the Great War. While each of the five years was gruesome, the bloodiest year of the war, and in European history, was 1916.
During that year, German zeppelins, chemical weapons, and tanks were used for the first time. The Brusilov Offensive began the Russian Empire’s spread through Europe. Britain’s deadliest battle to date, the Battle of Somme, commences off the coast of France. Portugal and Romania join the allied forces and lost nearly all their troops within the month. In the Middle East, British and French forces took control of the Islamic Caliphate, known as the Ottoman Empire, and ferociously ended the Arab Revolt. British, Belgian, and Portuguese forces entered Eastern Africa to dismantle the German influence on the continent, destroying entire tribes and annihilating many villages in the process.
The dead, wounded, and those missing-in-action in 1916, represent roughly 30% of all the war’s casualties. The estimated worldwide total is 11.2 million. Of that number, 2.5 million people died, 6.3 million people were wounded, and 2.3 million people were lost and never found. Death seemed more common than life.
Elsewhere in the world, Ireland’s Easter Uprising starts a prolonged war for independence from England. In Mexico, Poncho Villa commences the Mexican Revolution. In the United States, the eugenicist, Margaret Sanger, opens the first of many family planning and birth control clinics, the precursors of Planned Parenthood.
And in a small, quiet village named for Muhammed’s daughter, an angel visited three poor shepherd children: brother and sister, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin, Lúcia Santos.
It was Spring. The three children had taken shelter under a rock during a brief period of rain. There they ate their lunch and prayed the rosary. They started playing a game when the trees around them began to shake violently. Peeking out from their small shelter, they saw “a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun.” None of the children spoke. The young man, kneeling and placing his forehead on the ground said, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The children did so. He repeated this prayer three times. “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” The angel stood up and instructed the children, “Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.” This supernatural encounter profoundly affected them. For several days, they simply contemplated what they had seen and prayed the Angel’s Prayer.
In the Summer, the children were playing at the well inside the garden behind the Santo’s home. Suddenly, the same angel appeared again. This time, claimed Lúcia, the angel began to chastise them. He said, “What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.” Bravely, little Lúcia responded, “But how are we to sacrifice?” To this, the angel said, “In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way, you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.” Again, they experienced the sense of their encounter as if it were still happening through the next day. Lúcia would later write, “The angel’s words sank deeply into our souls like a gleaming torch, showing us Who God is, what is His love for us, and how he wants us to love Him too; the value of sacrifice and how it pleases Him; how He receives it for the conversion of sinners. That is why from that moment we began to offer Him whatever mortified us.”
It was later that year when the angel appeared to them a third time. They were grazing their flocks as they knelt and prayed the prayer the angel taught them. While repeating this prayer, a strange light appeared over them. Looking up, they saw the angel with a chalice in his left hand and a Host, suspended in the air, dripping blood into the chalice. The angel knelt, leaving both suspended in the air, and told the children to say this prayer three times, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.” The angel once again held the chalice and now the Host as well. He gave the Host to Lúcia and the chalice to Francisco and Jacinta. All the while, the angel prayed, “Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.” Before departing, he again knelt and prayed.
There would be no more visits from the angel.
In Fatima, the past prepares the future. The Angel of Portugal, the Angel of Peace, was sent by God into a world filled with violence, a world of horrific war, a world that was losing hope, during the bloodiest year of the Great War. Yet, the angel’s messages were not given to military generals, government officials, or even the Church’s leaders. They were meant for three children. His messages were not instructions on how to end the war, but they would forever change history.
The angel prepared the children for the next part of God’s plan. His first visit taught them how to pray and pray earnestly. His second visit impressed upon them the necessity of offering every suffering and to sacrifice all they had in reparation for the sins that offended God. His last visit was a simple, yet profound, example of receiving Christ’s Body and Blood for the conversion of sinners and to console God, Himself. Having learned the lessons, God, through the angel, prepared the children’s hearts and souls for their first visitation from the Blessed Virgin Mary. God’s divine plan for peace was nearly ready to be revealed. Our Lady’s first apparition to the children will be just the beginning of a plan that continues unfolding even now. In Fatima, the past prepares the future.
During this centennial anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, the Catholic News Herald is publishing a series of commentaries examining each of her six visits to the children, the messages given to them and how Fatima’s past prepared the future to receive God’s divine plan for peace. Father James Ebright, priest in residence at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Gastonia, is among those writing this series on behalf of the Te Deum Foundation, online at www.tedeumfoundation.org.