OUR LADY OF FATIMA
Anthony Horan looks at the incredible story of three little shepherd children who were graced by the appearance of Our Blessed Lady and who suffered much for Heaven
Monday 13th May is the celebration of the apparitions of Our Blessed Mother at Fatima, a little town in central Portugal, between May and October 1917. The apparitions all occured on the 13th day of each month.
From a personal point of view, these apparitions and the faith shown by the three little children to whom our Mother appeared, have made a significant impression on my faith. Indeed, following my reading of the story of Fatima I have since made two pilgrimages to the town. I hope to return again one day.
Before I go any further with my brief summary of the story of Fatima I think it is important to take a breath and appreciate just what happened here. Mary, the mother of God, the mother of Jesus, appeared to three little children. A woman who we are told walked this earth around 2,000 years ago (or 1,900 years before 1917) suddenly appeared and spoke to three shepherd children. Let's take a few moments to just take that on board and then we can move on.
I would like to make it clear that this is a very brief summary of the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is not intended to be a complete version of events; rather an introduction to the beauty and splendour of Fatima. It is for the reader to decide if they would like to find out more. If this is the case then I can certainly recommend 'The Children of Fatima' by Leo Madigan which is an extremely detailed and in-depth look at the whole story. There is also a very useful website at fatima.org which provides a good introduction to the apparitions and the lives of the three children, or 'seers' as they are commonly known.
Our Lady appeared to the three children while they were tending to sheep in fields near to the town of Fatima. She revealed to them that she had been sent by God and that she brought a message for every man, woman and child that peace would be granted to the world if her requests for prayer, reparation and consecration were heard and obeyed.
Throughout the apparitions Mary would encourage the children to say the Rosary and emphasise the need for acts of reparation and sacrifice. She would also request the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart by the Pope and the Catholic bishops of the world, a request that would, of course, later be granted.
But it's what follows after her direct request for action by the children that is most incredible. Three little children, Lucia Dos Santos (aged 10), Francisco Marto (aged 8), and Jacinta Marto (aged 7) sacrificed not just their childhoods but their lives after seeing Our Lady. They gave their lunch to poorer, less fortunate children as a sacrifice to Our Lady. They prayed constantly. And they suffered at the hands of some family members and, most sadly, at the hands of some Church clergy who didn't at first believe them. Their sacrifices, they often proclaimed, were for poor souls who had not yet reached Heaven. This is clearly in line with the Catholic Church's teaching on purgatory; a place of cleansing for souls not yet ready for the Glory of God and Heaven.
More incredibly though, for Francisco and Jacinta (brother and sister), their suffering turned to illness. It resulted in both children dying shortly after the apparitions. Francisco died first, in April 1919, after falling gravely ill the previous October. Indeed, when he first fell ill, upon hearing his family members being optimistic about his likely recovery, he exclaimed: "It is useless. Our Lady wants me with her in Heaven!" On the day he died he shouted to his mother, saying "Look mamma, look, a light so beautiful, there near the door."
Jacinta died in February 1920 in a Lisbon hospital, far from her family. And, typically, Jacinta saw it as an opportunity to offer up yet another sacrifice to Heaven. While in hospital in Lisbon, Jacinta saw Our Lady three times and on one occasion Our Lady told Jacinta "I have come to take you with me to Paradise." It was a comforting echo of Christ's own words to the good thief on the Cross on Good Friday.
Lucia, the older cousin of Francisco and Jacinta, would live a significantly longer life but not without considerable suffering, particularly through her religious life as a nun. Indeed, Our Lady, on the occasion of the second apparition in June 1917, in answer to Lucia's question as to whether she would take them to Heaven said "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."
Lucia would eventually be taken by Mary, in February 2005 and her body is now entombed in the Basilica at Fatima along with those of her two young cousins.
Our Lady, however, didn't just appear to the children asking them to make many sacrifices and reparation for Heaven and to teach them to pray the Rosary. She imparted a secret in three parts to the children, a secret that would not be revealed to the world for many years.
The first part was a vision of hell which Our Lady showed to the children. The children described it as a 'sea of fire' and there were demons and souls of the damned (in human form) blackened and floating in the sea. Lucia gives a more in-depth and frightening account of what she saw that day and it is not at all pleasant. Mary described the image as "hell, where the souls of poor sinners go."
The second part was God's desire to have the world consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary explained that the war that was going on at that time (First World War) would end but that if people did not "cease offending God, a worse war will break out during the reign of Pius XI." This is an incredible prediction for two reasons. One, it suggests an acknowledgment from Heaven of the role of Pope; and secondly, it accurately predicts the occurence of a second world war during the reign of Pope Pius XI.
Mary expressed her desire to have Russia consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, suggesting that Russia's consecration to her would prevent further offence towards God.
The third part is where Mary proclaimed that her "Immaculate Heart will triumph", suggesting that Russia would eventually be converted and a "period of peace will be granted to the world."
There is so much more to tell about this incredible story, including the fact that an Angel from Heaven appeared to the children in advance of Our Lady's appearances in order to prepare them for their Mother's visit; including giving them Holy Communion.
The story of Fatima is truly incredible and is a real witness to faith. For three little children to give up their childhoods, to give up their chance to be a husband or a wife. To give up the chance to be a parent; to be a father, a mother, a grandparent. To give up the opportunity to enjoy the material things we indulge ourselves in so fervently on a daily basis. These things are clearly nothing compared to the glory and splendour of what awaits us in Heaven as so powerfully evidenced by the lives of three little Portuguese children.