Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. In brief, the story of this famous Marian apparition is this. In May of 1917, the month in which Pope Benedict XV wrote a letter urging the children of the world to pray to Mary for peace in the world, Mary visited three young children from a small town in Portugal. The children, ten-year old Lucia, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta, were tending to sheep in a valley near Fatima when they saw a sudden flash of lightning, followed by a great ball of light that came toward them. The light was transformed into a beautiful woman wearing a white dress.
Mary told the children not to be afraid, that she came from heaven. She also asked them to return to that same spot on the thirteenth day of every month until October, and to pray the Rosary every day.
When the children returned the next month, accompanied by a group of fifty or so people, Mary again appeared, although only the children could see her. The others could see only a tree’s branches bent as if weighted down and heard only a loud sound at the end of the vision. Only the children heard Mary’s plea for continued prayer, and her request that a chapel be built at the site (which chapel was built now sits next to large basilica in the town of Fatima). Mary continued to appear to the children monthly until October.
One of the things that contributed to the fame of the Fatima apparition was that Mary entrusted three secrets to Lucia. The first two secrets were revealed in 1927. The first predicted that a second, more terrible world war would take place. The second warned that if Russia did not convert, it would spread its errors throughout the world and many nations would be annihilated.
Lucia wrote down the third secret and asked that it not be revealed before 1960. Her handwritten text was kept at the Vatican from 1957 to 2000, when it was finally published alongside an interpretation of the secret by Pope John Paul II. The secret described Lucia’s final vision of a “bishop dressed in white, we had the impression it was the Holy Father,” climbing a steep mountain toward a wooden cross, accompanied by other bishops, priests, and religious people. Before reaching the cross, “The Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and prayed over the souls of the corpses he met on his way,” Lucia wrote. “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.” Lucia reported that those accompanying the pope were also killed, and that their blood was gathered by angels, who used it to “sprinkle the souls that were making their way to God.” Pope John Paul II’s interpretation of Lucia’s vision expressed his belief that the vision referred specifically to the 1981 attempt on his life, and he credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
As I’ve suggested before, many people today react to the idea of Marian apparitions with some embarrassment or suspicion. And it is certainly the case that belief in apparitions is not a matter of faith or morals, so the church doesn’t require that people believe in them. But the truth is that our God continually reaches out to each of us, sometimes dramatically and sometimes in simple ways. Our God is a self-communicating God who continually speaks to us. If we accept that truth, perhaps it is not so strange that one of the vehicles God would use to communicate with us is Mary.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.