In a document entitled The Message of Fatima, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that “Fatima is undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern apparitions.” To understand the reason for this, we should look first at the historical context in which these messages were revealed.
Though the Angel of Peace had visited three times, the reality of World War I was still a terrible one for the Portuguese people in early 1917. In the midst of the spiritual, physical, and emotional agony of the war, Pope Benedict XV called for a novena to be said to Our Lady, the Queen of Peace.
May 13, 1917, was the eighth day of the novena.
On that spring day, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were once again with their flocks in the Cova da Iria. It had been roughly eight months since they’d been visited by the Angel of Peace.
The First Apparition: May 13, 1917
After getting the flocks out to the pasture, the children sat down on the ground to eat their lunches.
Suddenly, what seemed like a bolt of lightning dazzled the sky with brilliant light. The children rushed to round up their flocks. But before they could get to their sheep, another flash summoned their attention.
They stood in amazement before a beautiful Lady dressed in white, who was positioned on a holm oak tree. Lucia described the scene in her Memoirs: “She seemed more brilliant than the sun, and radiated light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.” The beautiful Lady immediately put the children at ease. She said, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.”
Imagine the surprise, as well as delight and curiosity, the children felt when the peaceful, mysterious Lady spoke to them! The Lady had a young, glowing countenance.
In fact, Lucia later said that she looked to be about seventeen years old, wearing a mantle and a tunic that seemed to be made of light. A cord with a little ball of light hung from her neck and towards the bottom of her tunic was a star.
The Lady was holding rosary beads, which were as brilliant as stars—the crucifix seeming to give off the most radiant light of all.
Suffer and Pray
The Lady then asked the children if they would accept their heavenly mission. “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”
“Yes, we are willing,” the children answered. The Angel of Peace had prepared their hearts for this special mission. Otherwise, the children might not have understood the depth of this great entrustment and might not have responded affirmatively so quickly and passionately.
“Then you are going to have much to suffer,” the beautiful Lady warned. “But the grace of God will be your comfort,” she reassured them.
Though their hearts were prepared by the angel’s apparitions, and now the comfort from the beautiful Lady, they still did not have any idea about how quickly their lives of suffering would unfold.
Suffering, indeed, came to the children, unfolding in a way that they were not expecting—through the ones that loved them. Lucia had instinctively asked Francisco and Jacinta to keep the visions a secret. The Lady had not asked that of them, but Lucia sensed that it was best to keep it all quiet. Despite her warnings and her younger cousins’ promises, their secret was soon revealed.
Little Jacinta could not contain her excitement over what had happened. She waited by the gate for her mother to come home that day. Upon seeing her mother, Jacinta hugged her tightly and then told her everything. Her mother, Olimpia, thought her daughter’s imagination was galloping away uncontrollably.
After mulling it over, her father, Ti Marto, came to believe his daughter’s story. Jacinta’s brother Francisco had maintained the exact same story, and he had never lied before.
Meanwhile, Lucia’s mother, Maria Rosa, was angry with her daughter when she got wind of the alleged sightings. She was not taking any of it lightly, believing Lucia to be responsible for committing a serious sin and even of being blasphemous. The family had already experienced some troubling difficulties. Maria Rosa feared even worse repercussions. Lucia was mocked by her own family, as well as her neighbors and some friends.
Young Jacinta felt terrible about making things tough for Lucia. She apologized to Lucia, who immediately forgave her. Jacinta also deeply reflected on the Lady’s visit. She felt bad about rushing through her earlier rosaries and vowed to pray her future rosaries with love and devotion.
The three of them talked about this amongst themselves. Francisco came up with the idea to feed their lunches to the sheep in order to make sacrifices to convert sinners. They later decided to give their food to any people in need that they would see when bringing their sheep out to the pastures. They also decided to deprive themselves of drinking water, even on the boiling hot summer days out in the dry, rocky fields, as a sacrifice to help the Lady. This was all done in secret.
Meanwhile, Maria Rosa was determined to convince her parish priest to put pressure on Lucia so that she would recant her story. She wanted the whole thing nipped in the bud before it grew worse and embarrassed the family even further. Fr. Manuel Ferreira met with Lucia and listened to her story. The interrogations made Lucia feel uncomfortable.
All of this kind of heartache, suffering, and scrutiny went on for Lucia throughout the remainder of the time before the beautiful Lady was going to be coming back as she had promised. The beautiful encounter with the Lady seemed to vanish as quickly in her mind as when the Lady herself had disappeared into heaven. And now, Lucia was left with three things weighing on her—a promise from the Lady that she would return; her own promises to the Lady of her willingness to suffer, offer, and pray the rosary; and an almost unbearable suffering in not being believed by those she loved.
This third burden was the heaviest for Lucia. Deep plaguing doubts caused her to wonder if the devil could be behind the Lady’s appearance like some said.
Little Francisco and Jacinta continued to encourage Lucia. June 13 approached, and Lucia’s doubts faded as the urge to go to see the heavenly Lady overtook her heart and soul. When the morning came, she ran to Francisco and Jacinta’s house to tell them that she would go.
A Time to Reflect
The Blessed Mother entrusted a great mission to three children. They could have run away from the vision and from the Lady speaking to them. They could have listened and watched, then ignored the whole thing. But they chose to believe and take it to their hearts.
The children were asked if they would offer sufferings and sacrifices to save souls. Even in such tender years, they agreed! They cared. They desired to help others and didn’t worry that they wouldn’t be strong enough to carry out what was asked of them. They trusted. Do we have the same love in our hearts? Could our hearts be hardened from life’s experiences or by sin?
Take some time to sit still, unplug from technology, and think about what God might be calling you to do.