Our Lady of Fatima, By Rev. Bernard O'Connor. Part 1.


In centuries past the barren uplands around the little village of Fatima, which is one hundred miles by road north of Lisbon, had seen several of the great battles in which Portugal had won its freedom from the tyranny of the Moors and the overlordship of the Spanish. Those conflicts had long passed and had been forgotten, while scarcely an echo of the Great War then devastating half Europe had reached the ears of the simple peasant folk eking out a precarious livelihood from the poor soil of these hills, in the year 1917.


On May 13, 1917, three peasant children of that countryside were driving their little flock of sheep to pasture. They passed the few houses of the village, and, after some questioning among themselves, they chose to go along the northern road to the field which was owned by the father of one of them, Lucia dos Santos. Lucia was the eldest of the party. She was ten years of age, and with her were her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. Jacinta, the youngest, was seven. Like Lucia, she was barefooted and dressed in poor clothing of the peasantry, with long skirts, and a shawl thrown over her head. Francisco, the man of the party, was a sturdy lad of nine, with long trousers, short jacket, and a woollen cap. He carried his horn slung over his shoulder, and his staff in his hand.


The pasture the children chose for that day was a shallow depression, on which there was little grass among the many outcrops of stone, and nothing to relieve the eye except a few scattered groups of olives and ever-green oaks. The children walked slowly behind their browsing sheep. Their field was called Cova da Iria. About mid-day they sat down and ate their own poor lunch. Then, according to the custom of the district, they set about the recitation of their daily Rosary. Like many other children, they found the Rosary a long prayer, but they had struck upon an easy method of shortening it. They simply said “Our Father” and no more on the large beads, and “Hail Mary” for the smaller ones. They were soon free to play, and, at Francisco’s suggestion, they were busy on the far side of the field building a house with some of the loose stones lying around.


Suddenly there was a vivid flash of lightning. It came from the clear blue sky. At once the children stopped their play, for sudden thunder storms sometimes swept this district killing the sheep on the exposed fields. They ran to gather their sheep and drive them home quickly. But they were stopped by yet another vivid lightning flash. Terrified, they looked about them. To their amazement they saw to their right a lady of the greatest beauty standing, it seemed, upon one of the low oak trees. She appeared to be a girl of fifteen or sixteen, and was clothed in a long white garment with a white mantle over her hair, and this mantle was edged with a brighter light. She had a golden cord ending in a ball about her neck. Her beautiful face was serious and rather sad. Her hands were joined before her breast, and a rosary of white brilliant beads hung from her right hand. Her feet were partly hidden by the bright cloud which rested upon the tree.
Naturally, the children were astonished and afraid. But the Lady spoke to them kindly: “Have no fear. I will do you no harm.” Reassured by her gentleness and the sweetness of her voice, the children came a little closer. Then Lucia, the eldest, spoke: “Who are you?” she asked. “Where did you come from? What do you want?”
The Lady replied: “I come from heaven! I want you children to come here at this hour, on the 13th of each month, until October. Then I will tell you who I am.”
“You come from heaven! Shall I go there?” asked Lucia.
“Yes,” was the Lady’s reply, “but you must say the Rosary, and say it properly.”
“And Jacinta?”
“She will go, too.”
“And Francisco?”
“Yes, but he must say many Rosaries.”
Lucia made an enquiry about some little friends who had died: the Lady answered her.
Now, the Lady, in her turn, asked: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God, and to bear all the sufferings He wishes to send you in reparation for the sins whereby He is offended, and as intercession for the conversion of sinners, and to make amends for all the blasphemies and offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary?”
Lucia, answering in the name of all three, expressed their willingness. The Lady added: “You will have much to suffer then, but the grace of God will help you and give you the strength you need.”
Some moments later the Lady recommended them to recite the Rosary devoutly every day, to obtain peace for the world. Then she moved slowly towards the east and heavenwards, and disappeared in the blue vault of the sky. Lucia afterwards explained that all this had happened in the space of about ten minutes.


When the Lady had disappeared the children were left looking at one another in astonishment. They could scarcely believe that it had not been all a dream. But all three had seen her. Francisco had not heard what she had said, but both the girls had caught every word. And Lucia had spoken to her! They got their sheep together and began to move back along the road for home. On the way they decided among themselves not to tell anyone of this strange experience. But the excitement of it all was too much for little Jacinta. That very evening as soon as she met her mother she sought to share the joyful news with her. Her mother questioned her and got the whole story from her. The next day she told Lucia’s parents. Soon it was the common gossip of the village.


The news was not received kindly by anyone. Everyone was incredulous except the children. Their parents particularly were determined that there should be no further nonsense of that sort. The three children were forbidden to tell such stories or to return to the field of Cova da Iria. However, Lucia was insistent that she must go back to the Lady at Cova on June 13, as she had promised. In desperation, her mother brought her to the parish priest and charged her: “Confess your lie so that the parish priest may tell the people on Sunday, and put an end to the whole affair.” Lucia still persisted: “But, mother mine, how can I say that I did not see what I saw?” The other children were brought along, too. Their pastor was kind to them, but deferred any decision till further evidence was available. While it might be some heavenly visitation, it was possible that it might be a deceit of the devil. Only time would tell. The many arguments and discussions which arose upset Lucia very much, and in the end, on June 12, she told the other children that she would not go with them to the field on the following day. They declared bravely that they were going, since they had promised the Lady. The following morning, June 13, Lucia went across to her cousins’ house and found them praying and crying. “Are you not going to Cova?” she asked them.
“We are afraid to go without you,” was their reply.
“Come, then, I am going!”


On this occasion, June 13, 1917, even though it was marked by special festivities in the village, as it was the feast of its patron, St. Anthony, the children were not alone in the field of Cova. Lucia’s father had gone ahead of the children, anxious no doubt, about the strange trespasser on his land. He was accompanied by sixty or seventy others, who had come along out of curiosity. Again it was midday, and the children, dressed in their best for the village feast, knelt in the shade of a large oak, and recited the Rosary devoutly with the people. After the Rosary the crowd noticed Lucia arrange her shawl over her head, “as if going into church,” and turn towards the east. With a gesture of surprise she cried out: “Look, that was a flash of lightning. The Lady is coming.” She rose and ran down to the smaller tree where the Lady had appeared the first time. “Madame,” said Lucia, “you have made me come here, what do you want of me?”
Again the Lady urged the daily recitation of the Rosary, and added: “I want you to learn to read, in order that I may be able to tell you what I want.” Continuing, she confided to Lucia the first secret message, which the child guarded faithfully. In reply to her request to take them all with her to heaven, the Lady said she would take Jacinta and Francis soon, but Lucia would have to remain longer on earth. “Jesus wishes to use you in making me known and loved. He wishes to spread in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
“Then I shall have to remain alone,” the child asked sadly.
“No, my child . . . I shall never abandon you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way which shall bring you to God.”
As the Lady spoke these last words she seemed to be surrounded by a still brighter light than before. In this light, as the Lady opened her hands in a parting gesture, the children saw a vision of a heart, surrounded with thorns. * That was the end of the second vision. The sixty witnesses had not seen the Lady.
Those nearest the tree had heard Lucia’s conversation distinctly, and the Lady’s words, not clearly, but faintly, like the buzzing of a bee. They all had remarked that the bright mid-summer sun had been dimmed in some mysterious fashion for the ten minutes of Lucia’s vision. When they went up to the tree afterwards, out of curiosity, they noticed another strange thing. The upper branches were all bent over towards the east, as if the Lady’s garment had trailed over them as she went away.


Naturally, news of these strange doings in the field of Cova spread rapidly over the countryside. When the children came back on July 13, some five thousand country folk had gathered to witness what they could. Again the apparition came, and the Lady urged again the recitation of the Rosary for the ending of the war. On this occasion, after giving the children a glimpse of the horror of hell, Our Lady confided to Lucia a secret that she was not to reveal to anyone until such time as Our Lady herself would see fit. With her heavenly mother’s permission, Lucia gave this special message to the world when the clouds of the second world conflict were gathering, just twenty-one years later. It was contained in a letter she addressed to the Bishop of Leiria. In the course of this message Our Lady forewarned Lucia that “the world, because of its many crimes, will soon be chastised by war, famine and persecution against the Church and the Holy Father. . . . To prevent it I ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and for the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturday of each month. If my requests are heeded Russia will be converted and there shall be peace. Otherwise an impious propaganda will spread its errors through the world raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. Many will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer; several nations shall be wiped out. . . . The horizon is gloomy but here is a ray of hope-my Immaculate Heart shall triumph in the end.”**
At the conclusion of this vision the lady added: “When reciting the Rosary say after each decade: ‘Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who most need Thy mercy.’ “
On this day Lucia, for the second time, asked the Lady who she was, stating many did not believe. The Lady’s reply was that the children were to come each month as promised, and that in October she would tell them her name, and work a great miracle which would convince all. Again most of the crowd present neither heard nor saw anything, but some of those near the children said that they had heard what Lucia had said. On this occasion, and others, many people declared that they saw a light cloud, like the smoke of incense, surrounding the tree and the children.

* Later the children understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wounded by the sins of the world.

**The reader will find on page 23 of this pamphlet, that Pope Pius XII himself fulfilled the request for the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in October, 1942.
Formal approval of the practice of a series of five Communions of Reparation on the first Saturday of consecutive months, together with the devout recitation of the Rosary and meditation for fifteen minutes on its mysteries was given by the Bishop of Leiria on September 13, 1939, this practice was recommended by the Hierarchy of Australia at their annual meeting, 1948.