Madonna In Our Midst: Mary's Insistent Call

Chapter 15 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

Read the other chapters here.

Wisdom preacheth abroad: she uttereth her voice in the streets … O children, how long will you love childishness?... Turn ye at my reproof; behold I will utter my spirit to you, and I will shew you my words. (Prov. 1, 20, 22, 23.)

THE FAITHFUL have in all ages made pilgrimages to Our Lady. It is a very healthy sign. But never before have we heard of Our Lady making pilgrimages to her unfaithful children, as she is apparently forced to do now; which can only mean that there is something awfully the matter with the world. While this is being written, the Pilgrim Statue of Fatima is on a tour of the world, leaving a riot of cures and conversions in its wake, symbolising just what Our Lady seems to be doing all over the world today. Now, more than ever, she is the good shepherdess seeking her ninety-nine lost sheep. For, if until now Our Lady has mercifully come to the help of a miserable world that sought her help, today she seems to be resolved to force her way to a wicked world that wants to keep her away. In a very real sense, the supernatural is invading an unwilling world, and Fatima seems to be the first great bombshell to blast the foundations of twentieth century unbelief. Despite its studied scepticism, the world has not been able to ignore Fatima.[i] It is the greatest event of the century so far. It is true the Church has not pronounced authoritatively on the incident, it is too early yet for such a solemn act;[ii] but her attitude is far too clear for a Catholic not to take Fatima seriously. We give below the outstanding facts and coincidences of this remarkable event, for they seem to have an intimate bearing on the present-day crisis, perhaps on the very destinies of the world.

It happened in 1917. The first world war was at its worst, and nations were writhing in hopeless bewilderment in the ever-growing conflagration. On May 5 of that year, Pope Benedict XV in a desperate appeal for peace lamented “the cruel war, the suicide of Europe” and urged all the faithful to turn at last to the hope of the desperate, Mary Queen of Peace. He wrote: “To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let moving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from every place wherein a faithful soul finds shelter – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart; that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.”

Eight days after, on May 13, 1917, three children of Fatima in Portugal, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, ranging from ten to seven years of age, reported an apparition. They were tending sheep in a hollow valley called Cova da Iria. It was noon and the sky cloudless. Suddenly they were frightened by two successive flashes of lightning, followed by the vision of a globe of light above a little evergreen called azinheira, and in the centre of the light a Lady of surpassing beauty. Lucia in her memoirs describes her as “a Lady all of white, more brilliant than the sun dispensing light, clearer and more intense than a crystal cup of crystalline water penetrated by the rays of the most glaring sun.” After the first shock of fright, Lucia asked the Lady who she was and what she wanted. The Lady replied: “I come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the thirteenth day at this same hour. Then I will tell you who I am, and what I want. And afterwards I will return here a seventh time.” Among other things, she informed the children that the younger two of them would soon go to heaven,

but Lucia would remain to suffer much and work for the realisation of her plans. Finally, exhorting them to “say the Rosary every day, to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war,” she rose serenely from the azinheira and glided eastward “until she disappeared in the immensity of the distance”. An interesting coincidence deserves mention. That very day, far away in Rome, Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli was being consecrated Bishop in the Sistine Chapel. It was he who as Pope Pius XII was to solemnise the twenty-fifth anniversary of this apparition by consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which was the first step towards the carrying out of the Lady’s wishes.

Country-wide talk and a storm of persecution were the immediate results of all this for the poor children. As the apparitions continued, crowds began to gather at Cova da Iria, which only made the resenters all the more violent. Lucia was severely ill-treated at home, particularly by her mother who believed her to be under some diabolical illusion; even the priest of the place, with all his reserve, had let fall that suggestion as a possible explanation. All three passed through the most frightful ordeal at the hands of the godless civil authority who wanted to stamp out everything that might smack of the supernatural. By imprisonment, threats of death and realistic preparations for torture, the civil Administrator of the District was able to strike terror into the hearts of the children, but not to make them retract their statements or contradict each other. The ingenious pitfalls prepared by over-sceptical Doctors of theology only proved that the children were quite sober, well grounded in the faith and, if anything, under supernatural guidance. There was only one change noticeable in them: they had begun to spend long hours in prayer, bestow their lunch on poor children on the way and go daily starving, even denying themselves one gulp of water when almost fainting with thirst. They had realised, in a manner astounding for their age, the significance of prayer and penance. They instinctively improvised hairshirts and disciplines and eagerly looked for more suffering; and the world around was not slow to give them a liberal helping of this last.

Meanwhile the apparitions continued. The one of July was particularly awe-inspiring both for the contents of the message and the vision granted to the children. Lucia, who had been sorely tried by the hostile attitude of all around, begged the Lady to disclose her identity and perform a miracle which all would have to believe. The Lady replied: “Continue to come here every month. In October I will tell you who I am and what I wish, and will perform a miracle that everyone will have to believe.” She continued: “Sacrifice yourself for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: “O Jesus, it is for your love, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’.” Then the Lady unfolded a most terrifying vision to the children. Lucia describes it as “a sea of fire, and plunged in this fire the demons and the souls, as if they were red-hot coals, transparent and black or bronze-coloured, with human forms, which floated about in the conflagration, borne by the flames which issued from it with clouds of smoke falling on all sides as sparks fall in great conflagrations – without weight or equilibrium, among shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair which horrify and cause to shudder with fear. The devils were distinguished by horrible and loathsome forms of animals frightful and unknown, but transparent like black coals that have turned red-hot.” The children felt they would die for fear and grief. At length the reassuring voice of the Lady spoke in tender accents: “You see hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. The war is going to end. But if they do not stop offending God, another and worse one will begin in the reign of the next Pope.

“When you shall see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its crime by means of war, of hunger, and of persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father.

“To prevent this 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 request, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not she will scatter her errors through the world, provoking 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 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.

“When you say the Rosary, say after each mystery: ‘O my Jesus, pardon us and deliver us from the fire of hell. Draw all souls to heaven, especially those in most need’.”[iii] The Lady then told the children a secret which has never been disclosed. Not all the threats and promises in the world could make even the little Jacinta of seven yield that secret. All that has been gathered from their remarks is that the secret is for the good of the three children, that if the crowd came to know it they would be sad, that it forbodes good to some, evil to others. Lucia the only survivor of the three keeps it to this day locked in her heart not to be disclosed until she receives a command from heaven to do so.

The details of this July message deserve close consideration. The predictions it contained were such as no man, however ingenious, let alone the three children in question, could possibly make at that time. When the Lady warned about another and worse world war during the reign of the next Pope, the end of the first war was not yet insight. Even if it were to end soon, to all sober thinking it must take ages for nations to recover sufficiently to engage in another war if anything like the same magnitude. Both optimism and pessimism had arrived at one and the same conclusion, that the first world war was a war to end all wars for a long time to come. The Lady’s warning must have made many a politician smile. But the children were innocent of politics and they believed. Even more ridiculous must have seemed the threat that if Russia was not consecrated to the Immaculate Heart and converted, she would grow into a world menace and undermine all nations with her pernicious doctrines of irreligion and violence. It was a time when Russia could hardly be expected to survive as a nation, much less grow into a world power or world menace. Lenin was still in Finland, biding his time to enter Russia. This prediction was to all appearance the weakest point of this apparition. But what many thought the maddest commitment of all was the promise of a public miracle, at midday, in the Cova da Iria, on the 13th of October, challenging all the world to come and see. Some two or three thousand people were there on July 13 to hear this daring assurance from the children, and in no time all the countryside had known of it, in fact the whole of Portugal was full of this talk. While the Catholic Press observed a prudent reserve, the secular Press was screaming at its top pitch against this unwanted revival of medievalism. All looked forward to October 13, which would force the issue one way or the other.

It was at this juncture that the civil Administrator of the Province, a Freemason by name of Arturo de Oliveira Santos, stepped in prepared to nip the scandal in the bud. He had the children arrested, and played that infernal farce on them with diabolical realism till the children nearly died of fright and he in all shame and anger sneaked away without admitting defeat. The most he could achieve was to keep the children locked-up on August 13. That did not outwit the Lady however, for she found her rendezvous with the children in another place as soon as they were free. Thenceforward it became impossible to control popular enthusiasm. Both believers and unbelievers prepared for the next meeting day, which was September 13. Freemasons and Rationalists and all the Liberals put their heads together to devise ways and means of stifling this wholly risky affair. They even made a raid of the Cova da Iria by night to raze all the objects there that might be connected with the apparitions. But the pious peasants put up such a fight that the respectable gentlemen had to scuttle for very shame.

September 13 was a great day. The people flooded the whole neighbourhood and pressed round the children asking their prayers and confiding to them their intentions to be mentioned to the Lady. Lucia wrote in her memoirs about this manifestation of faith: “All wanted to see and talk with us. There was no human respect in that crowd! Many of them, and even gentlemen and noblemen, broke through the press and knelt before us, asking us to present their necessities to Our Lady. Others, unable to get near, would shout:

“‘For the love of God, ask Our Lady to cure my son, who is lame!’

“‘Ask her to cure mine who is deaf!’

“‘And to bring my sons home from the war!’

“And so on. In that place appeared all the miseries of poor humanity, and some shouted even from the tops of trees and walls where they had climbed to see us pass.”

That day, while the children were favoured as usual with the apparition, many thousands beheld a luminous globe come out of a cloudless sky and rest above the azinheira. Monsignor Joao Quaresma who had gone there in no fit of pious credulity saw the sight and believed. The Lady repeated to the children her former injunctions and disappeared.

The fatal October 13 was close at hand. Enthusiasm waxed white-hot – joyful expectation in some, dreadful forebodings in others. As the day waned on the 12th, it became evident that the worst imaginable weather was in store. Suddenly the sky became overcharged with thick cloud whipped and churned by a cold and cutting blast from the north-east. A storm was brewing. It was a particularly stormy day for Lucia on another score as well. Maria Rosa had always feared that her daughter was prey to some diabolical illusion, and she trembled at the prospect of what might happen on the morrow. The mob would certainly tear the visionaries to bits if their prophecies misfired. She must make a last effort to save her misguided child. “It is better for us to go and tell everything,” she said with an agonised look. “People say we are going to die tomorrow in the Cova da Iria. If the Lady does not perform the miracle, the crowd will kill us.”

“I am not afraid, mother,” replied Lucia. “I am sure the Lady will do everything she has promised.”

“We had better go to confession, to be prepared for death,” insisted Maria Rosa.

“If you want me to go with you to confession, I will, but not for that reason.” The child was calm and confident.

As darkness fell, the clouds melted into a heavy rain which continued to pour all night and half through the next day. The powers of hell seemed to be in a rage. The elements conspired to damp the enthusiasm of the maddest mob. Indeed, if the movement had only natural enthusiasm to back it, no pilgrim would have shown up at the Cova on that terrible October 13. But natural calculations were defeated this time. As it was, a magnificent sight of faith and piety conquering fear and fatigue presented itself on that awful night. Thousands upon thousands of human beings and beasts came plodding through the mud, defying darkness, cold and rain, converging upon Fatima like a great scattered army. There were whole families with their sick and maimed. Pilgrims from all over Portugal came, of every age and condition, hurrying to be at the Cova before the place got overcrowded. Their prayers and hymns and laughter resounded across the valleys and over the hills. But it was not the pious only that flocked to the Cova da Iria on that unforgettable day. The unbelievers were there too, particularly the press-men. One notable personality among them was Avelino de Almeida, a Freemason and the managing editor of O Seculo, the largest newspaper in Lisbon. He went there not because he liked such things – he made no secret of his dislike for all that smacked of the supernatural – but simply because he had to cover the story. Fatima had already been in the headlines now for some time, and his paper would only be the worse for ignoring it.

The children reached the Cova with difficulty on October 13. It was a long and slow journey through the dense crowd of 70,000 all of whom wanted to see them, touch them and kiss their hands. At noon it was still raining. A priest who had been waiting all night in the rain glanced at his watch and asked Lucia when the Lady would appear. “At midday,” she replied. He waited impatiently a few minutes longer, then got up with these words: “Midday is past. Away with all this! It is all an illusion!” Disappointed grumblings were heard among the bystanders. “Whoever wants to go, can go,” said Lucia, “but I’m not going. Our Lady told us to come. We saw her other times and we’re going to see her now.” Before the crowd could make up their minds, Lucia looked to the east and announced the Lady’s coming. The children sank to their knees and stood gazing rapturously at the apparition, oblivious of the multitude around them. The Lady said: “I want to tell you to have them build a chapel here in my honour. 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.” Her face became graver as she added: “Let them offend Our Lord God no more, for He is already much offended.” With this the Lady opened her white hands as always, and light emerging from them reached up to where the sun was. The crowds heard Lucia cry out, “Look at the sun!”, though she had no recollection of it. And there in the sky the children saw three successive tableaux representing the Joyful, the Sorrowful and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. The first was a representation of the Holy Family, the second of the Mother of Sorrows meeting Her Divine Son on the road to Calvary, and the third of Our Lady of Carmel crowned Queen of Heaven and earth with the Infant on her knee.

In the meantime the crowd beheld a  sight that made them shudder and cry to heaven for help. Before the eyes of the seventy thousand the noonday sun first assumed the form of an attractive silver disc that could be looked at without any discomfort to the eye though it was as bright as ever. Suddenly, it began to tremble as though shaken by a giant hand and with the quick, abrupt movements spin round like a great wheel of fire. It paused for a while and repeated its dance with sickening rapidity. Presently its borders turned crimson, and long streamers of blood-red flames were flung across the sky in all directions. And as this monstrous spectre spun dizzily round sweeping the heavens with its fiery fingers, all the brilliant colours of the spectrum were reflected on the earth and all things under the sky. Then before the terrified gaze of the crowd this burning sun fell in a mighty zig-zag towards the earth. All feared the end of the world had come. A great cry arose calling to heaven for help. This lasted some ten minutes, and the sun slowly climbed back in the same zig-zag to its normal position in the sky and resumed its natural aspect. “Miracle! Miracle!” exclaimed the crowd in utter joy and amazement. “The children were right! Our Lady made the miracle! Blest be God! Blest be Our Lady!”

It was useless explaining it all away as mass hypnotism. It was not a question of a handful of gullible simpletons well primed by a competent psychiatrist imagining they saw things. Seventy thousand people of all conditions were involved here, and the little children who promised a great miracle themselves had no idea what was going to take place. And they all saw identically the same thing. And what is more, people miles away witnessed this unprecedented phenomenon. The poet, Affonsio Lopes Vieira saw it from his house at S. Pedro de Moel, forty kilometres from Fatima. In Alburita, over eighteen kilometres away, the people saw the phenomenon and ran in fear to the churches and chapels of the town which were all soon filled. Too many persons of all ages and conditions had witnessed it and too many of them are still living for unbelievers to deny the fact wholesale. They may yet invent a name other than miracle for this freak of nature that has happened only once in history, but they will have still to find an explanation for the other freak that three little children with no schooling at all foretold it several months before it took place, assigning the correct time and place for it. The secular and anti-religious Press never attempted to deny the fact. Avelino de Almeida wrote in O Seculo of October 17, describing it as “a spectacle unique and incredible if one had not been witness of it… One can see the immense crowd turn toward the sun, which reveals itself free of the clouds in full noon. The great star of the day makes one think of a silver plaque, and it is possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It does not burn, it does not blind. It might be like an eclipse. But now bursts forth a colossal clamour, and we hear the nearest spectators crying, ‘Miracle, miracle! Marvel, marvel!’

“Before the astonished eyes of the people, whose attitude carries us back to biblical times and who, full of terror, heads uncovered, gaze into the blue of the sky, the sun has trembled, and the sun has made some brusque movements, unprecedented and outside of all cosmic laws – the sun has ‘danced’, according to the typical expression of the peasant…

“Almost three o’clock. The sky is limpid and the sun follows its course with its habitual brilliance… Lucia, the one who speaks to the Virgin, announces with theatrical motions, on the neck of a man who carries her from group to group, that the war is going to end and that the soldiers are coming home… Such news, however, does not increase the joy of those who hear her. The celestial sign, that is everything…

“It remains for those competent to pronounce on the danse macabre of the sun, which today, at Fatima, has made hosannas burst from the breasts of the faithful and naturally has impressed – so witnesses worthy of belief assure me – even freethinkers and other persons not at all interested in religious matters who have come to this once famous countryside.” Evidently he himself is one of the latter, though by the manner of wording the report he tries to dissociate himself from the crowd. All over Portugal the anti-clerical Press was compelled to bear witness of the same sort.

A few days after this, Lenin won his first great victory. Red Russia was born.

It might be supposed that after the triumph of October 13 the children were believed and respected by all. Far from it. The leaders of irreligion intensified their attacks on Fatima. But what really pained the children and gave them trouble without end was the refusal of the greater part of the clergy to be easily taken in by even the “dancing” of the sun. The children had to answer the most searching questions of theologian after theologian till they almost trembled at the prospect of meeting a priest. Such caution was only to be expected of churchmen in such matters; but gradually most of them were convinced and some even became staunch supporters of the children.

But perhaps the greatest proof for the truth of the apparitions was the marvellous change that came over those little children after it. Francisco, the dull boy, had become so clear-minded and sure about spiritual things, that even Lucia, his senior in age, instinctively accepted his spiritual leadership.  He never seemed to lose sight of the tremendous things they had seen and heard, and would remind the other two of their grave responsibility should they sometimes seem to forget. He was always recollected, his chief preoccupation being to console Our Lord who is so much pained by the sins of men. While the two girls went to school, he spent most of the day before the Blessed Sacrament, and even when out in the fields they would sometimes find him rapt in prayer unconscious of everything around him. His only interest in life seemed to be prayer and penance. He knew he was going away soon. His one unbearable pain was his inability to receive Holy Communion, he had repeatedly failed in catechism tests. He had that happiness only on his death-bed. People asked for his prayers, and occasionally he foretold the outcome with the simplicity of a child and the certainty of a prophet. Many favours were attributed to his prayers. But he remained a simple boy to the end. A little before his death, when Lucia tried to assure him that in Heaven Our Lady would keep him close to her, he said with great anxiety: “But perhaps she won’t remember me!” He passed away like a little hero on April 4, 1919, after entrusting to Lucia for destruction his instrument of penance.

Jacinta was a bright little child who loved to pick flowers and chase butterflies. But after the vision her thoughts were continually about the Immaculate Heart and the Holy Father. She would suffer anything to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart. She often prayed and grieved for the Holy Father. She would suffer anything to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart. She often prayed and grieved for the Holy Father. Once she saw him in a vision praying in a great church before the Immaculate Heart, and a large congregation with him. Lucia believes it was a prophetic vision of what happened on May 13, 1942, when the Pope consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart. In another vision she saw him kneeling in prayer in his room, weeping, while an infuriated mob called him bad names and flung stones at him through the windows. Many marvels are attributed to her prayers. The most striking of them is the story of a boy, the son of Lucia’s aunt Victoria, who had run away and had not been heard of for quite a long time. Jacinta was requested to pray and, shortly after, the truant suddenly appeared one morning with this strange story: having spent his money, he had resorted to theft, and been arrested and thrown into jail at Torres Novas. One night he made his escape and fled to the mountains and hid in a pine forest. The night previous to his return, he was caught in a thunderstorm, and trembling prayed to God for help. Then he saw to his surprise Jacinta approach him, take him by the hand and lead him down the mountain all the way to the road that takes him home; and she vanished. Jacinta herself could give no explanation for this except that she was praying hard for him that night. Our Lady told the child she would have much to suffer. The child knew months before that she would go to two hospitals but not to be cured. She had already suffered much in one hospital when in December, 1919, she confided to Lucia: “Our Lady came to see me last night. She told me that I am going to Lisbon, to another hospital. She said that after I suffer a great deal I will die. I will die all alone. But she told me not to be afraid, for she will come and find me and take me to heaven.” She grew sadder as she continued: “I’ll never see you again, Lucia!” Lucia tried to reassure her: “I’ll come to see you in the hospital.”

“No, you won’t come to see me. Look, pray for me, a lot, for I die alone.”

Another time she looked at a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows and cried in anguish: “Oh, my little Mother of Heaven, do I really have to die alone?” But she soon recovered her calm. No one except Lucia took her words about Lisbon seriously, for that great city was too far away and too costly to live in for peasant folk like them to think of going to. And yet Jacinta did die in the hospital room she had described long ago, far away in Lisbon, away from her parents and friends, without Lucia by her side, with not a soul to comfort her. Even the vigilant nurse had stepped out for a brief space of time; that was the time of Jacinta’s agony when she looked round and found no human help at that dreadful moment. But she had received several visits from her “Little Mother of Heaven”. She died on February 20, 1920.

Lucia was left, a sad and solitary soul in a world that could not understand her. Her faithful confidants were gone and she had no one to communicate her heart’s secrets to. She had to bear alone the burden of the great Secret of the Lady. What was worse, she alone became the centre of interest, the only target for the continual bombardment of questions and objections. But her Bishop came to her rescue. Dom Jose Alves Correira da Silva, the newly consecrated Pastor of the newly constituted diocese of Leiria (including Cova da Iria, Aljustrel and all the rest of the Serra), decided to remove the child from the scene where there were many dangers for her. For both popular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and Government opposition to it were growing intense. Detachments of troops had been dispatched from Lisbon to form a cordon round the place of pilgrimage on May 13, 1920, and the people had formed a mightier cordon round them, so that the soldiers had nothing left to do but kneel down and join in the Rosary. And no one knew what the Government might do next. But most people knew what the people would do if this attitude of the civil authority continued. Civil war was just round the corner. But it was not Portugal alone that was in danger. All Europe had seen red as soon as the red flag was unfurled in Moscow. The keen eyes of Benedict XV perceived something of what the Lady had foretold at Fatima three years before. He wrote in his motu proprio of July 25, 1920: “The fond hope and wish of every renegade is the speedy rise of some universal state which is based on the complete equality of men and women and common ownership of property as a fundamental principle, in which neither distinctions of nationality nor authority of parents over children, nor of public authority over citizens, nor of God over man living in society, are acknowledged. If these principles are put into practice, dreadful horrors must necessarily follow.”

So Lucia was sent by her Bishop to a school of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy near Porto, with strict injunction not to disclose her identity or mention a word about Fatima and the apparitions. She took her last leave of the people and places dear to her. Prostrate at the Cova she wept her heart out as she bade farewell to that holy spot. She shed tears at all the places associated with her dear Francisco and Jacinta, and said a last prayer at the grave of Francisco, and at two o’clock in the morning on June 19, set out for her strange destination, where she was to live a stranger in an unusually complete sense of the word. Only the Mother Superior knew her identity; to all others she was just a strange girl. After five years of schooling she was admitted as a religious of Saint Dorothy, though her original desire had been to become a Carmelite. In 1925, the year the Little Flower was canonised, Lucia became a Postulant at the convent in Tui, just across the Spanish border. On November 2, 1926, she was made a Novice and given the name Maria of the Sorrows. During 1927 she had two visions in which Our Lord Himself confirmed His Mother’s wishes regarding the devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and gave her permission to reveal certain things, but not the last Secret of the July apparition. On November 3, 1928, she made her first vows as a lay Sister, and on October 3, 1934, was perpetually professed. Recently, however, the Holy See allowed her to enter Carmel as was her first desire. She has been professed on May 13, 1948, the anniversary of the first Fatima apparition, and named Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart.

And that silent soul remains the unique depository of a tremendous secret the significance of which nobody else is able to gauge. On the night of January 25, 1938, she looked out of the window of her cell and saw the sky aflame, the whole vault of heaven fearfully aglow with crimson fire which continued balefully from nine o’clock in the evening until two o’clock in the morning. The next day newspapers all over Europe recorded it. People had seen it from the North Sea to the Adriatic. In south Germany especially it struck fear in many Catholic hearts. In Fribourg, Switzerland, the sky was said to be “like a furnace”. The same sinister glare was seen on the Belgian coast, in Spain, Hungary, Norway, Italy, Holland, and Greece. Sister Maria of Sorrows remembered the words the Lady of Fatima had spoken in 1917: “When you shall see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is a great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, hunger, and of persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this I come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays…” She prayed and pondered over the sign from heaven she had seen and in good time appraised her Bishop of her fears. In her letter of August 8, 1941, she wrote thus to him: “Your Excellency is not unaware that some years ago God manifested that sign which the astronomers choose to designate by the name Aurora Borealis. If they look well into it, they will see that is was not and could not be, in the form in which it appeared, such an aurora. But be that as it may, God was pleased in this way to make me understand that His justice was ready to let fall the blow on the guilty nations, and in this way to begin to ask with insistence for the reparatory communion of the first Saturdays and the consecration of Russia. His end was not only to obtain mercy and pardon for all the world, but especially for Europe. God in His infinite mercy made me feel that this terrible moment was approaching, and Your Excellency is not unaware how on opportune occasions I used to point it out. And I still say that the prayer and penance that are done in Portugal have not yet placated the divine justice, for they have not been accompanied by contrition or amendment. I hope Jacinta is interceding for us in heaven.” In the meantime she seems to have received more detailed instruction about the consecration of Russia, for she said more than once: “What Our Lady wants is that the Pope and all the Bishops in the world shall consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart on one special day. If this is done, she will convert Russia and there will be peace. If it is not done, the errors of Russia will spread through every country in the world.” It was in 1925 that Sister Mary learned more fully about the First Saturday devotion Our Lady wished to see established. In an apparition on December 10, she said: “Look, my daughter, at my Heart surrounded with the thorns with which ungrateful men wound it by their blasphemies and iniquities. You, at least, try to console me, and announce that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturdays of five consecutive months, confess, receive Holy Communion, recite part of my Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour meditating on its mysteries with the intention of offering me reparation.” The whole message of Fatima can be put into two words: The Immaculate Heart as the last refuge for our woe-begotten world, and the Rosary as the invincible weapon against the red peril of our day. And the Rosary is not new to this sort of fight. The first foe it put to flight was the Albigensian heresy which had many lines in common with modern communism.

The first official cognizance of the marvellous happenings of Fatima was taken by the Church on October 31, 1942, when Pope Pius XII concluded the Jubilee celebrations in honour of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima with a magnificent radio address and the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart. His clear voice rang out in Lisbon’s great Cathedral where had assembled the entire Portuguese Episcopate with the Papal Nuncio and a vast concourse of people. The Pope pleaded with Mary’s tender Heart for a world that, despite her warnings, had plunged headlong into a second world war far surpassing the first in its horrors. He prayed: “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Refuge of the human race, thou who dost ever triumph in God’s battles, we humbly prostrate ourselves before thy throne, confident that we shall receive mercy, grace and bountiful assistance and protection in the present calamity, not through our own inadequate merits, but solely through the great goodness of thy maternal heart.

“To thee, to thy Immaculate Heart, in this humanity’s tragic hour, we consign and consecrate ourselves in union not only with the Mystical Body of thy Son, Holy Mother Church, now in such suffering and agony in so many places and sorely tried in so many ways, but also with the entire world, torn by fierce strife, consumed in a fire of hate, victim of its own wickedness…

“Queen of Peace, pray for us, and give to the world now at war the peace for which all peoples are longing: peace in the truth, justice, and charity of Christ… Give peace to the peoples separated by error or by discord, and especially to those who profess such singular devotion to thee, and in whose homes an honoured place was ever accorded thy venerated ikon (today perhaps often kept hidden to await better days): bring them back to one fold of Christ under the one true shepherd.” The touching way the Pope alluded to Russia, though without mentioning that name, is an indirect recognition of the message of Fatima. This was soon followed by the extension of the feast of the Immaculate Heart to the entire Church. The circumstance bears close resemblance to the occasion when this feast was first granted to the diocese of Palermo by Pope Pius VI. He granted it from his prison in Florence in 1799, in order that, as he says in his Bull, “the Mother of Mercy, under this new invocation, might strengthen the Vicar of Christ in his distress, defend and preserve the Church, and bring solace to all in the pressing calamities of the time.” The next act of Pius XII was the crowning on May 13, 1946, of the statue of Our Lady at Fatima, by the hands of his representative, and his radio address to the seven hundred thousand pilgrims assembled there. He concluded that stirring speech in these words: “You, by crowning the image of Our Lady of Fatima, signed as it were a document of faith in her supremacy, of loyal submission to her authority, of filial and constant correspondence to her love. You did yet more: you enlisted as crusaders in the conquest and reconquest of her kingdom, which is the kingdom of God, that is to say, you bound yourselves before heaven and earth to love her, to venerate her, to serve her, to imitate her, so that with her blessing you may better serve the Divine King; and at the same time you bound yourselves to labour that she may be loved, venerated, and served all around you, in the family, in society, in the world.”

A week after this epoch-making event, Sister Mary of Sorrows, the little Lucia who had left that place twenty-five years before, came to visit the scenes of her celestial experiences. What a changed aspect met her eyes! What was the wilderness of Cova da Iria had been partly enclosed by a wall. From two majestic gates descended roads that joined at the miraculous fountain, and then ascended to the lofty white basilica on the northern hill. The chapel of the apparitions had been completely rebuilt. To the left was an imposing hospice containing two or three chapels, the Bishop’s quarters and a seminary. On the opposite hill workmen were laying the massive foundations of another such building. Ground was being broken for an Italian seminary to the north-east. On another hill stood the new convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns from Belgium. Did she envy them? Well, today she is a Carmelite herself, Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart.

But Fatima is not quietly settling down after a fit of first effervescence. It is today an ever-growing fountain of spirituality, drawing millions to God and to His Holy Mother, working marvellous cures and conversions without end. And it seems as though Our Lady will not let her Fatima message be easily forgotten, for, if we believe human testimony of the highest order, she has been busy since reminding the world of it. Scores of apparitions of Our Lady, and even of Our Lord, have been reported within the last decade, all confirming and completing the Fatima message.

A great war broke out in the beginning of time, and has gone on uninterruptedly ever since. Indeed all other wars and revolutions are only repercussions and side-issues of this perennial conflict between light and darkness, between good and evil. The Scriptures open with the scene of its declaration when God put enmities between the Woman and the serpent, between her Seed and his seed. The Woman was empowered to crush the serpent’s head and the serpent with infinite venom was lying in wait for her heel. And after describing the endless vicissitudes of the age-long struggle, the Scriptures conclude with a magnificent close-up of the same war at its climax, when there appears in the sky the vision of the woman clothed with the Sun and of the Red Dragon fuming to devour her Offspring. Never before has this war been waged on such a cosmic scale or with such decisive deadlines as at the present time. Knowingly or unknowingly, the whole of humanity is falling into line on either side in this world-conflict; there is no room any longer for neutrals now. And as the end draws near, the battle is rapidly resolving itself into the long-foretold duel between the WHITE VIRGIN and the RED DRAGON.


[i] Most of the material for this Chapter has been gathered from the excellent book, Our Lady of Fatima, of William Thomas Walsh.

[ii] This book was written in the early 1950s.

[iii] In many books on Fatima this prayer is worded. “O my Jesus, pardon our sins, save us from the fire of hell, have mercy on all the souls in Purgatory, especially the most abandoned”. But Lucia insists that what she has written in her memoirs is the correct version.