On May 13, 1917, three children — Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto — experienced the first of six reported visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother appeared to the shepherd children in a field called Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal. Becuase of these appearances, Mary has since come to be known as Our Lady of Fatima.
Two of the visionaries — Jacinta and Francisco — both died of the influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1920 (known as the Spanish flu). Lúcia, who later became a Carmelite nun, died in 2005. The two Marto children were canonized on May 13, 2017.
On May 1, this year, the bishops of the United States and Canada dedicated (entrusted) their countries to the care of Mary, as the Mother of the Church. Italy’s bishops also entrusted their country to Mary on May 1. May 13 is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima and the month of May is a traditional month to honor Mary.
The Blessed Mother appeared to the three children of Fatima over the course of six months, one time each month.
At the first appearance, the children were herding sheep near their village. A flash like lightning startled them and they saw a woman dressed in white and holding a rosary. She asked them to pray the rosary, pray for the end of the war (World War I) and to return to the site on the 13th of each month. She also told them that she came from heaven.
The next month, June, the 13th was a major feast day in Portugal: St. Anthony of Padua. (St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 15, 1195.) The lady in white appeared to the three children again. She showed them a vision of her Immaculate Heart and told them that Jacinta and Francisco would both die soon. To Lúcia, she gave the task of spreading her words to the world. She instructed them to pray the rosary daily.
It was on July 13, her third appearance, that Mary revealed to the children the famous three secrets. The first was a vision of hell with condemned souls suffering torment. The second secret was about another war (World War II) and the future role of Russia in world politics, along with a request to consecrate Russia to Mary. The third secret was not revealed to the world until 2000, and it entailed the death of a “bishop clothed in white.”
(The first two secrets were not revealed until Sr. Lúcia wrote her memoir in 1941 at the request of her bishop. The third secret was sent on to Pope Pius XII.) St. John Paul II believed that the third vision referred to himself, since an assasination attempt on his life in Vatican Square took place on May 13, 1981.
By Aug. 13, 1917, word had gotten out about the apparitions and reports of miracles circulated. So crowds were gathering. The provincial minister of the area, Artur Santos (not a relative of Lúcia), placed the children in jail so they could not be present at Cova da Iria on Aug. 13. There are reports of some unusual occurrences at the site that day, but no appearance of Mary. The children later received a vision of the Blessed Mother on Aug. 19.
In September, Mary repeated had was said in August — that there would be a special event at her October appearance. She also said St. Joseph would appear with her. She again asked the children to pray the rosary and said that the present war would end.
The great miracle of the sun, perhaps the best known thing about Our Lady of Fatima, took place on Oct. 13. It had been a rainy day, but thousands of people had gathered and were praying in the mud.
The clouds began to thin and the sun appeared as a silver disk. Eyewitness accounts say the sun appeared to dance and whirl, with rainbows of light coming from it. Then, alarmingly, the sun appeared to fall toward the earth. People were terrified. Some thought the world was ending.
However, the sun returned to its normal place in the sky. It was then that the children saw the Blessed Mother beside the sun. St. Joseph was with her, along with the Child Jesus. The child and St. Joseph blessed the people. Then Mary and the adult Jesus appeared together to the children and Jesus again blessed the people.
This was the last Jacinta and Francisco saw of Our Lady of Fatima. However, Lúcia saw, at that same time, another vision of Mary attired as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This was the religious order that Lúcia entered on May 31, 1949. She had previously entered the Sisters of St. Dorothy. As a Carmelite nun, she took the religious name of Sr. Maria Lúcia of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart.
Today, we face a new epidemic/pandemic, in some ways similar to the one that took the lives of two of the child visionaries of Fatima. We might choose to remember these words of Sr. Lúcia in 1997 and offer our own prayers for the safety of the world:
“Putting up with any sacrifices that are asked of us in our day-to-day lives becomes a slow martyrdom which purifies us and raises us up to the level of the supernatural, through the encounter of our soul with God, in the atmosphere of the presence of the Most Holy Trinity within us. We have here an incomparable spiritual richness!”
Sources: “The Message of Fatima” by Sr. Lúcia; ourladyoffatima.org; marypages.com; ewtn.com; aleteia.org; piercedhearts.org; catholic.org and fatima.org