SPECIAL FATIMA ISSUE|
May 11-14, 2000
volume 11, no. 91
part one of two parts
Saturday we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Blessed Mother to Lucia dos Santos , Jacinta and Francisco Marto, sister and brother, at the Cova de Iria near the village of Aljustrea, approximately five miles south of Fatima, Portugal. Pope Benedict XV was the reigning pontiff.
World War I was a fact. The world, as a whole, was plunged into a horrible reality. Many believe the previous pope, the holy and beloved Pope Saint Pius X died of a broken heart, so distressed over the outbreak of war and man’s growing greed and disregard for human life. Did Our Lady come to the Cova de Iria in order to awaken men’s minds to the supernatural order, to the spiritual battle being fought, rather than to the man-made war that took countless lives and forever changed mankind? Did she come to awaken in men’s hearts the fact that this cruel war was taking place as a fitting punishment allowed by God because of the number of sins committed by men against God?
Yes, she did. But she came for so much more! By her apparition in this small, out-of-the way village where actual war was not being waged, the Mother of God came to three peasant children of tender years, little education. They came from families that had problems just as families today have problems. In today’s jargon, we’d say that the three visionaries came from dysfunctional families. Nevertheless, God chose them, and through them His Mother delivered to the entire world a message of future events, and a remedy against the evils that were already present among men, and a safeguard against those that waited in the wings, so to speak, to drag many souls into perdition.
Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia were normal children. They went to Sunday Mass in a nearby town, but their prayer life was haphazard at best. Saying the rosary for them, prior to the apparitions, meant taking the easy route and saying merely the words "Our Father" and "Hail Mary". Surely not prayers from the heart.
Lucia’s own family was experiencing hard times financially and emotionally. Maria Rosa, Lucia’s mother, was overworked, and longed for the needed help of her husband. Unfortunately, Lucia’s father Manuel, had entered upon a period of drinking and of detachment from the affairs of his family, his household. Maria Rosa couldn’t see her way clear to bringing her family back into a semblance of regular life. Her efforts were geared to being both father and mother, and trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their head, while dispelling, possibly, the gossiping tongues of neighbors who made the cross of the family all that much heavier. Little did this family realize how their life was to change, forever, as the day of May 13, 1917 approached.
Prior to this date, the three children had already had three visions of an angel. These visions had led them to a conversion of heart. It was a preparation for the apparitions of the Mother of God which were to last seven months, which would bring untold suffering, persecution and a radical change in life that affected their souls rather than their daily income. The angel whom the children saw came as a young man of fourteen or fifteen years of age. He was absolutely radiant. He said he was the "Angel of Peace." It was from this Angel of Peace that the three children, through the latter part of 1916 and into 1917, learned to pray. Many believe it was Saint Michael the Archangel who also appeared to the visionary children at Garabandal. The Fatima children heard the words of the angel and they repeated them. From this same angel, these visionaries learned the importance of sacrifice and frequent prayer. The seeds of conversion of heart had already begun before the Mother of God came to the Cova de Iria. The pre-occupied relatives of these children did not seem to take note of the change in these children, or if they did were grateful that they were, at least, not hampering the day-in, day-out flow and ebb of life in the respective households. It is important to note that the Angel of Peace began their conversion of heart, but the fullness of this conversion did not happen on the first or even the third apparition of this Angel. No, the fullness of conversion took many days, weeks, months and years to achieve in each of the three children. It was their willingness to have this conversion of heart that so pleased God and strengthened them to persevere. It was certainly not their worthiness. In the many books that have been written about Fatima, there are pictures of the children, people of the village and relatives at that time, all with serious faces marked by a harsh life of hard work, little reward and little hope of circumstances turning toward the life they might have envisioned - that of a more around that would lead to a much more easier life. What can be noted is that the early pictures of Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, while depicting simple peasant children who underwent the suffering of the skeptics of their own time, their faces developed a serenity that is in the eyes, if not on the entire features of their respective faces. In the later pictures when they were photographed, their eyes are looking not at the camera, but at something beyond the eye, something beyond the mind. And that something is and was God! Their eyes were on Heaven for that was where their treasure lie, and no earthly enticement could take them away from this.
In a split second all three sets of eyes saw a large ball of light settling at the top of the four-foot tree. Inside the glowing ball was a woman - a beautiful woman.
Lucia wrote later that she was "..a Lady of all white, more brilliant than the sun dispensing light, clearer and more intense than a crystal cup full of crystalline water..." But Francisco and Jacinta, who did not live long enough to learn to read and write, described Our Lady more simply. "A woman glowing with a bright light."
Our Lady told the children to be unafraid, that she would not hurt them. It was Lucia who asked who she was and where she was from, and with simplicity, the Mother of God replied, "I am from Heaven" Lucia then got down to the practical applications. "And what is it you want of me?" Our Lady replied that she wanted the three children to return to this exact spot, and at the same time, on the thirteenth of the month for six months in succession. At the end of these six months, Our Lady promised to tell them who she was and what she wanted. The children agreed. It was also at this first apparition that all three children learned that they would go to Heaven, even though Our Lady said that Francisco must say many rosaries until that time, and that Lucia would be left on the earth longer than her cousins because it would be to her to spread the messages and the devotion Our Lady desired to her Immaculate Heart.
All three were given extraordinary insights and graces to sustain them, because their humanity was not taken from them. Imagine their joy in hearing from this heavenly vision that they, too, would go to Heaven. Imagine, also, Lucia’s sorrow, regret, perhaps anxiety that she alone of the three children, would be left "alone" on earth to do whatever the beautiful Lady wanted. Nevertheless, they didn’t hesitate to comply with the Lady’s requests. Our Lady told the children, "Say the rosary, to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."
Unlike the Angel of Peace, when it was time for the apparition to end, Our Lady did not just disappear. Rather, she rose from the tree and glided eastward, until she was lost to sight by the children. All were filled with peace. It was to Jacinta and Lucia that Our Lady spoke. Francisco saw her, but he did not hear her, and it was Jacinta and Lucia who told him what she had said. At once Francisco believed.
The bliss of the moment was soon to be tried. By the next morning Lucia discovered that Francisco and Jacinta had told their own family about the beautiful lady. The father of Jacinta and Francisco believed, but the mother was indifferent. In Lucia’s household, the matter was even more difficult. Her father dismissed the whole story as just that, a fanciful story, while Lucia’s mother was more than a little angry. All the frustrations she was enduring at that time came down in full force upon her daughter, who Maria Rosa thought was lying. Lucia felt the full fury of her mother’s anger, and at the same time felt the loneliness of being suddenly "abandoned" by the family that she had once felt such love from and through. Conditions were not to improve in the months yet to come.
The children continued to take the sheep to pasture, and began to practice in full measure all that the Angel of Peace had taught them, and the desires of the Mother of God. They said the rosary and they said it from their heart, omitting not one word. They made sacrifices, hidden from the rest of the village and their families. God saw, and they were at peace with this.
The group arrived at the Cova around eleven in the morning. The children began praying the rosary. Others prayed too, but some had brought a picnic lunch and began to enjoy that. It was Lucia who suddenly stood up and announced to Jacinta, "Here comes the Lady!"
Bystanders reported that the sun seemed to dim, and they saw the carrasqueria oak bend a little. At this apparition the Mother of God requested the recitation of the Rosary, and also instructed the children that they learn to read and write, and she would give them further instructions in this regard later. During this vision a special grace was given to all three children as Our Lady opened her hands and a brilliant light came forth. For Jacinta and Francisco, the rays of this light came forth, touched them, and then ascended Heavenward. But for Lucia the light which streamed from the hands of the Mother of God, the rays, forming a shaft, penetrated Lucia and did not ascend, thus indicating what would come to pass: Jacinta and Francisco would be called home to Heaven within a short time, while Lucia’s earthly sojourn was to be of some length. Once again the Mother of God rose from the holm oak and disappeared gradually toward the eastern sky. When she had gone, Lucia and Jacinta immediately imparted to Francisco all that she had said, as, once again, he saw but did not hear the beautiful lady.
The household of Francisco and Jacinta was not quite at war, but bordered on indifference, with the exception of the father. In Lucia’s home, Maria Rosa was angrier. The very next day she dragged Lucia off to the local pastor, determined that what she could not get Lucia to admit (that the whole this was just a fantasy) the good priest could do. While Father Ferreira was gentle and kind, he planted in Lucia’s mind a doubt that, perhaps, all she saw and heard was a deception from the devil. What was she to do? She had no one to guide her or help her, and, in the face of her mother’s mighty wrath, feeling truly alone.
These doubts about satanic deception were a terrible cross for the children. Even Jacinta and Francisco were worried. As July 13th approached, none of the children were going to go to the Cova as the Mother of God had requested. But that day, when Lucia went to the home of her cousins, the latter both in tears, a new resolve arose in her. She was going. That was all it took. Jacinta and Francisco were with her all the way.
But this time something different took place. Our Lady opened her hands as she had previously, but now the earth below them seemed to open, to reveal itself to them. Here all three saw hell, which Lucia later described as "a sea of fire; and plunged in this fire the demons and the souls, as if they were red-hot coals." This same phenomena was repeated at Medjugorje some sixty plus years later when the visionaries would be given a glimpse of Heaven, hell and Purgatory. Our Lady told the trembling children that this was hell, but that many souls could be saved from this damnation through devotion to her Immaculate Heart and by reparation. The Mother of God gave the children many prophecies, one of which said that if mankind did not stop offending God there would be another more terrible war during the reign of Pope Piux XI. At that time, remember, Pius XI had not come on the scene yet for the reigning pontiff was Benedict XV.
Our Blessed Mother made a very important request at this time. She said: "I come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturdays. If they listen to my requests, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors through the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church." Our Lady went on to tell the visionaries that these persecutions would touch the Holy Father.
Then came the words that sum up Fatima: "In the end My Immaculate Heart will Triumph." She continued, "The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal the dogma of the Faith will always be kept."
Many private things were said to the children, only Lucia and Jacinta hearing. But always the girls shared Our Lady’s words with Francisco, who heard, believed, and responded with all his heart. After this apparition it seemed all of Portugal knew of these happenings in this obscure place. If once the families in this village had enjoyed their privacy, it was a thing of the past. The "world" converged on this part of the world, and not all of it was good and holy, nor were all the motives of the people coming from God, nor for God. Things got so out of hand that the children took to hiding whenever they saw people heading toward their homes, which was often.
The hatred Lucia endured at home only worsened when the few crops in the vegetable garden of the family were trampled by the crowds that streamed into the village. It was in August that the administrator of Ourem, arrived in the village of Aljustrel. He came on the date of August 13, 1917. He was a member of a Portuguese republic which had come into power after the assassination of King Carlos in 1910. This political faction was openly anticlerical, hostile to religion and he was determined to stop this piety, not matter what he had to do.
Despite all his evil ways the administrator of Ourem had to admit defeat. On August 15 the children were taken back to Aljustrel and he left them as unwanted baggage on the steps of the rectory. It was on Sunday, August 19th that the Blessed Virgin came to the children in the afternoon in a hollow called "Valinhos." It was here that the children cut branches off the carrasqueira after she was gone, and took the branches to their home. Even Lucia’s mother Maria Rosa had to admit that the fragrance of these branches was pleasant, but nothing would dissuade her from her angry disbelief.
All three children were on their knees gazing lovingly at the Mother of God. "What do you want of me?" Lucia asked for the final time. "I want to tell you to have them build a chapel here in my honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Let them continue to say the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes."
When Lucia asked for the healings requested by the many in the crowd, Our Lady replied that some would be healed but that they must amend their lives. "Let them offend Our Lord God no more, for He is already much offended." Once again Our Lady opened her hands and the light that came from them shot into the sky.
It was then that the Miracle of the Sun took place, witnessed by everyone at the Cova that day. Many were so frightened as the sun began to spin closer and closer to earth that they were afraid of dying. But the sun suddenly ceased as it neared the earth and was instantly returned to its proper place in the Heavens. The people, still kneeling, noticed that their clothes were dry, the ground was dry…and the rain had earlier made a mud puddle out of the ground, and a mess of their clothing.
Now Portugal was convinced. The world would soon see the light also. But would they respond as Our Lady requested? History debates whether the world has, but in part two we will explore the revelations given to both Jacinta and Lucia and their significance in the overall tableau of Our Lady's request.
May 8, 2000 |
volume 11, no. 88
THIS DAY IN CHURCH HISTORY