The constellation of events, noted in the previous commentary “The past prepares the future,” demonstrated that the Heavenly Father prepared a place called Fatima for His plan for peace to be revealed nearly 11 centuries later. In 1916, at the apex of the Great War, He sent an angel there to three shepherd children.
The last article accompanied the children during their progressive preparation of three lessons taught to them by the angel. These prepared their hearts and souls for future visits from Mary, the Blessed Virgin. Their first visit from “the Lady” came on May 13, 1917.
Many commentaries have been written about this and the apparitions that followed. Some have written about the implications of the messages for the world. Biographers have recounted these events from the viewpoints of each of the children. As this series now turns to the visitations from Our Lady to the children, it will examine how each visitation prepared the children, the Church and the world for God’s plan for peace.
To do so means to listen intently to the words of Our Lady and the children’s responses. It means asking: To whom are the messages intended? Is she speaking to one child directly, to all of them collectively, or, through them, to the community, the Church and the world? Finally, how does each visit prepare for the next?
THE FIRST APPARITION
On the morning of May 13, 1917, brother and sister, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin, Lúcia dos Santos, were leading their flock from the grazing fields of Aljustrel to the gentle slopes of the hillside called the Cova. They stopped along the outskirts of Fatima, midway on their journey to pray the rosary and eat their modest lunch. Suddenly, there was a bolt of lightning. The sky was free of clouds. Naturally they presumed a storm was approaching. Instead of going on to the Cova, they decided to go back to their homes. No sooner had they gathered the sheep when a second flash of lightning startled them. To their amazement, above a small holm oak tree, near the endpoint of the flash of light, was a figure dressed in white, illuminated by rays brighter than those of the sun, clothed in clear, glistening light. This was not the angel as before. This was the figure of a beautiful lady.
The Lady spoke directly to Lúcia. Jacinta saw the Lady encircled in light, but did not hear her words. Francisco saw the light, but he neither saw nor heard the Lady speak. To Lúcia, she said, “Fear not! I will not harm you.” “Where are you from?” Lúcia boldly asked. “I am from heaven,” the beautiful Lady replied, gently raising her hand towards the distant horizon. “What do you want of me?” Lúcia humbly asked. “I come to ask you to come here for six consecutive months, on the 13th day, at this same hour. I will tell you later who I am and what I want. And I shall return here again a seventh time.”
The Lady’s message, so far, is intended for Lúcia alone. She is asking for, not demanding, Lúcia to come back over the next six months. Lúcia does not decline the Lady’s request. Her acceptance prepares for future visitations.
“And I, am I too going to go to heaven?” Lúcia continues. “Yes, you shall,” the Lady assured her. “And Jacinta?” “Yes.” “And Francisco?” “He too shall go, but he must say many rosaries,” the Lady responded. Lúcia asked some more questions of the Lady. Two girls who used to come to her house to learn sewing from her sisters had recently died. Lúcia wanted to find out about them, too. “And Maria do Rosario, daughter of José das Neves, is she in heaven?” “Yes,” the Lady replied. “And Amelia?” “She is still in purgatory.” Lúcia’s eyes filled with tears. How sad that her friend Amelia was suffering in the fires of purgatory.
Lúcia’s response was not what one might expect of a 10-year-old child. She immediately, almost instinctually, asked about not merely her own salvation, but that of her friends as well. This speaks to Lúcia’s disposition. Her instruction in the faith had been simple. Her understanding of spiritual realities, however, was profound and pure. She did not debate the existence of heaven and purgatory. She did not question why Francisco needed to say many rosaries. She did not ask why Amelia had to suffer. Instead, her tender heart melted upon hearing of Amelia’s suffering. Lúcia’s mind and heart were not concerned with earthly matters, unlike her two friends.
Francisco, unable to see or hear the Lady, said, “I don’t see anything, Lúcia! Throw a stone at it to see if it is real!” Ignoring her friend’s less-than-effective manner of discernment, Lúcia inquired of the Lady, “So you are Our Lady and Francisco can’t see you?” This is the first time Lúcia thought that “the” Lady might be “Our” Lady. The Lady did not answer her question. She had already told Lúcia that she would reveal her name and what she wanted later. Instead, regarding Francisco, she told Lúcia, “Let him say the rosary and in that way he too will see me.” Francisco immediately took out his rosary, began to pray, and before the end of the first decade the Lady became visible to him “with almost blinding splendor.”
Jacinta, too, was concerned with a more worldly, albeit kind and hospitable, request. She said, “Lúcia! Ask the Lady if she is hungry. We still have some bread and cheese.” Francisco interrupted. He became concerned about their sheep. They were close to a neighbor’s farm. The boy was worried that they might eat the vegetables and destroy the garden. “Lúcia,” he cried out, “I am going over there to chase the sheep.” Lúcia put an end to her friend’s worries. She told them that everything would be okay. She explained they needed to be attentive to the Lady. To comfort them Lúcia said, “The Lady knows.”
Francisco and Jacinta quickly relaxed and elevated their hearts and minds to the apparition before them. Then, for the first time, the Lady addressed all three children, not just Lúcia. “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that He may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?” The angel had taught them how to offer themselves and their sufferings for this very purpose. Having already embraced this in their hearts many months earlier, Lúcia responded for all three, “Yes, we want to.” “Then you are going to suffer a great deal,” the Lady promised, “but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
The Lady opened her hands and from them a “highly intense light” penetrated the hearts of the children. They fell on their knees, saying, “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee; my God, my God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament.” The Lady departed after telling the children, “Say the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.”
The Lady had now spoken to all the children together, not Lúcia alone. She asked Lúcia to come back each month, but she asked all of them if they would suffer. The Angel of Portugal prepared the children for this very moment. He had taught them the prayers they would say, how to offer their sufferings to comfort God, and stirred within them a love for the Blessed Sacrament. The Angel of Portugal prepared them for this first visit from the Lady. The Lady, upon leaving, had now prepared all three children for her next visit. The revelation of God’s plan for peace had begun.
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.