When praying the Rosary, many Catholics add a special prayer at the close of each decade: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.” We say this prayer at the request of Our Blessed Mother – Our Lady of Fátima – who for six consecutive months, beginning on May 13, 1917, appeared to three young shepherd children in Fátima, Portugal.
St. Jacinta Marto (age 7 – Lucia’s cousin), Servant of God Lúcia Santos (age 10), and St. Francisco Marto (age 9 – Jacinta’s brother).
Lúcia Santos, the oldest of the three children and the only one to speak to Our Lady, described seeing a woman who was “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”1 Our Lady asked the children to pray, to make sacrifices for sinners, and to pray the Rosary.
The First Two Secrets – The Vision of Hell and How to Save Souls
She also entrusted them with three secrets, the first two of which were revealed in Lúcia’s memoirs in 1941. Sister Lúcia2 wrote:
“The secret is made up of three distinct parts, two of which I am now going to reveal. The first part is the vision of hell.
Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.
We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and so sadly:
‘You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI.3 When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays.4 If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.’”5
In the summer of 1929, Sr. Lúcia had another vision. Our Lady returned as promised to ask that Russia be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart. Although the Church had declared the apparition at Fátima to be ‘worthy of belief’, no action was taken. It was not until July 7, 1952, that Pope Pius XII consecrated the people of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.6
On May 13, 1981, an assassination attempt was made on the life of Pope John Paul II. It appeared evident that Our Blessed Mother had intervened in order to keep him from harm. It was shortly after that incident that he read the third part of the secret. The Holy Father immediately thought of consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and this “Act of Entrustment” took place on June 7, 1981 in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Sr. Lúcia herself confirmed that this Act of Consecration fulfilled the request of Our Blessed Lady. “Yes,” she wrote. “It has been done just as Our Lady asked.”7
The Third Secret – The Violent Persecution of People in the Church
Pope John Paul II did not choose to reveal the contents of the third secret until May 13, 2000, the day on which Jacinta and Francisco were beatified.8 This part of the secret speaks of the violent persecution of many religious people, including the Pope, bishops, priests, religious men and women, and lay people. In revealing the final secret, Sr. Lúcia wrote,
“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”9
The Final Apparition
The final apparition of Our Lady of Fátima took place on October 13, 1917. Lucia had announced that Our Lady would perform a great miracle that day, to testify to the truth of her apparitions. Seventy thousand people turned up – not just the faithful, but also many atheists and sceptics who were eager to discredit the story. It was raining that morning, and the field had become a sea of mud. At noon, the rain stopped and Lúcia suddenly pointed to the sky and shouted, “Look at the sun!”
As the crowd watched, an extraordinary miracle took place. It appeared as though the sun was dancing. It spun and twirled, casting off beams of many-coloured lights in all directions. According to witnesses, the phenomenon lasted for at least ten minutes.
Although there are many accounts of what took place that day, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that something extraordinary had happened. One of the men who was there, Ti Marto, said, “We looked easily at the sun, which for some reason did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way, then another. It cast its rays in many directions and painted everything in different colours—the trees, the people, the air and the ground. But what was most extraordinary, I thought, was that the sun did not hurt our eyes. Everything was still and quiet, and everyone was looking up. Then at a certain moment, the sun appeared to stop spinning. It then began to move and to dance in the sky until it seemed to detach itself from its place and fall upon us. It was a terrible moment.”10
Panic broke loose – people thought that the world was coming to an end. But then the sun stopped. It returned to its place in the sky, and it was again a beautiful day. People realized that their clothes, which had been soaking wet just moments before, were now completely dry.
Could the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ have been the result of a mass hallucination or some other scientifically explainable fact? In a 1922 pastoral letter on the apparitions, the Bishop of Leiria wrote, “This phenomenon, which was not registered in any astronomical observatory, and could not, therefore, have been of natural origin, was witnessed by people of every category and class, by believers as well as unbelievers, journalists of the principal daily papers and even by people miles away, a fact which destroys any theory of collective hallucination.”11 After much deliberation and prayer, the Catholic Church officially recognized this event as a miracle on October 13, 1930.
What does it mean?
Over time, Sr. Lúcia came to realize that the purpose of the apparitions was to help us to grow in faith, hope, and love. She wrote,
“The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’.
Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc.
And let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible.”12
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Fr. John de Marchi, I.M.C., The True Story of Fatima [book on-line]; (St. Paul, Minnesota: Catechetical Guild Educational Society, 1956, accessed 7 May 2013); available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/tsfatima.htm; Internet.
2 Lúcia entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy as a postulant in 1925. She professed her first vows in 1928 and made her perpetual vows in 1934. In 1948, she received Papal permission to be relieved of her perpetual vows and entered the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra. She made her profession as a Discalced Carmelite in May, 1949.
3 Our Lady spoke first of World War I, which ended in 1918, a year after the apparitions in Fátima. World War II began in 1939, the last year of Pope Pius XI’s pontificate.
4 For more information on the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays of the month, go to http://www.rosary-center.org/firstsat.htm.
5 Sr. Lúcia, Third Memoir for the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima (August 31, 1941). Quoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima; available from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html; Internet; accessed 7 May 2013.
6 Cf. de Marchi, The True Story of Fatima.
7 Sr. Lúcia, Letter of November 8, 1989. Quoted by the Congregation from the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima.
8 Both Jacinta (1920) and Francisco (1919) were victims of the Great Spanish Flu epidemic. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 13, 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis on May 13, 2017. Sr. Lúcia died on Feb. 13, 2005 at the age of 97. On Feb. 13, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI fast-tracked her path to the formal recognition of her sainthood by eliminating the five-year waiting period to start the canonization process.
9 Sr. Lúcia, Letter of January 3, 1944. Quoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima. In the translation of Sr. Lucia’s letters, the original text – including imprecise punctuation – has been respected.
10 de Marchi, The True Story of Fatima.
12 Sr. Lúcia, Letter to the Holy Father (May 12, 1982). Quoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Message of Fatima.