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Fátima is a small town in Portugal, now part of the conurbation of Leiria, that sits between Lisbon and Coimbra. Its chief claim to fame is as the site of the Marian apparition of Our Lady of Fátima, at which several miracles were reported. The site is now the home to a major Roman Catholic shrine that is a focus of pilgrimages for the faithful. The apparitions of Fatima are one of a handful of such apparitions that have been judged "worthy of belief" by the Roman Catholic Church.
Three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, were tending their flocks when they were visited by an angel, which appears to be the way these things typically get started. The name of the angel varies according to reports; some say it was the archangel Michael; other accounts name the angel Muriel.
Two follow-up visits by the angel encouraged them to spend more time at prayers and devotions. On the third visit, the angel gave the children communion wine. Soon enough on May 19, 1917, Lucia saw a woman "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun," whom they identified with the Virgin Mary. They return to the village and announce what they have seen, and the site soon began to draw miracle-seeking crowds.
A local politician, taking a page from the villains of the old martyrologies, contrived to have the children imprisoned to prevent the pious and excitable crowds from becoming a public nuisance. He allegedly went as far as threatening to have the children boiled in oil. But his evil plans were foiled by the children, who instead led the prisoners in the jail in reciting the Rosary.
Miracle of the Sun
On October 13, 1917, the apparition promised a spectacular miracle. On that day, while the children said that they saw various images of the Holy Family and the saints, a crowd whose reported size was around 70,000 people were led to stare at the Sun, and later reported that the sun seemed to change color and rotate like a wheel; others reportedly saw the sun "dance" and otherwise move around the sky in an unaccustomed manner.
Various naturalistic explanations have been put forth concerning the odd behavior of the sun on that date. The eyewitness accounts vary widely in what the pilgrims thought they saw. According to Joe Nickell, sun-dogs or sun-devils are one meteorological phenomenon that might have been observed there; others have chalked up the apparitions to mass hysteria, the tendency to interpret images in accordance with what you hope to see, or simply the medically-unwise effects of staring into the sun too long.
The Three Letters (or Secrets)
In addition to the miracles involving lights, the apparition of Fatima vouchsafed three messages to Lucia, which she recorded as letters and placed with the local bishop for the Pope's attention. These letters contained various eschatological and apocalyptic prophecies. The first two letters were kept secret after the visions, but released to the general public by the Bishop of Leiria in 1941. The third remained secret, and Lucia had given instruction that it should be revealed in 1960, but it was not released until 2000, by Cardinal Soldano at the direction of John Paul II.
“”Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.
“”You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing 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 she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world
The organization tasked with the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is known as the "Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima." Note that Pius XI was not pope in 1917, but died in February of 1939, seven months before the outbreak of World War II in September, 1939. Of course, several wars were fought during his papacy in the interim, including the Spanish Civil War.
When 1960 arrived, rather than releasing the third letter, the Vatican published an official press release stating that it was "most probable the Secret would remain, forever, under absolute seal." This had the predictable effect of generating intense interest in what the third message actually said; some said the End Times, others nuclear war, others schism and dissolution of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1981, Aer Lingus Flight 164 was highjacked by a man demanding that the third secret of Fátima be revealed.
“”After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!' And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.' Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; 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, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
Some have read this to refer to the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, who credited his survival to the intervention of Our Lady of Fátima. A theological commentary on this revelation by Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, suggests it didn't live up to its hype:
“”A careful reading of the text of the so-called third “secret” of Fatima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.
Lay reaction was also disappointed. Portuguese Catholics responded to the release of the text with disbelief, saying that if the words did not concern some kind of terrible catastrophe such as war, Holocaust or apocalypse, there had been no reason for the Vatican to keep them secret. The London Times in 2000 reported that "The revelation on Monday that there were no doomsday predictions has provoked angry reactions from the Portuguese church over the decision to keep the prophecy secret for half a century."
The anticlimactic content of the text revealed by the Vatican has also predictably given rise to conspiracy theories alleging that the text of the third message has been edited or suppressed, or claiming that there is another revelation from the Fátima visionaries that really is as juicy as the hype and secrecy suggested:
“”And yet the Catholic faithful are still being asked to believe that there is only one text of the Third Secret, and that the Virgin had nothing to say about the meaning of the ominous vision she herself confided to the Fatima seers. Whoever still believes this will have no good reason to continue believing after reading this book. And, given the absolute urgency of the Secret for every inhabitant of the planet, the case presented here should motivate Catholics and non-Catholics alike to demand that the Vatican reveal the hidden words of the Virgin to the whole world — before it is too late.
Besides, it isn't all that bad. What all the visions needed, more than anything else, is Steve Ditko to draw them.
The Virgin Mary's politics
Portugal itself was in a state of political upheaval at the time. The government in power, the Portuguese First Republic, was in the hands of an urban, secularizing and republican faction, opposed by a rural, Catholic, royalist faction. A disastrous Portuguese entry into World War I had led to further dissent, and the government responded by turning authoritarian, yielding a series of dictators, General Pimenta de Castro (January-May 1915) and Sidónio Pais (December 1917-December 1918). In 1918, Pais was assassinated, leading to a brief civil war, and the ultimate outcome of these events was the installation of the fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, which lasted until the 1970s. A Catholic apparition in rural Portugal in this political environment was itself fraught with political significance, and no doubt explains the hostility of government officials towards the visionaries.
Of course, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was occurring at the same time. The second Fatima message makes specific reference to "Russia's error"; "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated."
The release of the first two messages occurred after Nazi Germany betrayed the Soviet Union during WWII in 1941. On October 31, 1942, Pope Pius XII, in a radio address, informed the people of Portugal about the apparitions of Fátima, consecrating the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin with specific mention of Russia. Pius XII was a major fan; in the 1948 encyclical Auspicia Quædam, he called on every Catholic to consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart for peace in the Middle East.
It is on this account that the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima carries on its agenda of opposition to gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion, and secular education in the name of the Virgin and traditionalist Catholicism. Despite the fact that the rosary odometer must have rolled over, since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Vladimir Putin's policies strongly favor the Orthodox Church, they continue their crusade to get people to say more Rosaries for the consecration of Russia. Some people just have problems coping with success, it seems.
- The Message of Fatima, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- In case you're curious, the complete list is:
- Our Lady of Akita,
- Our Lady of Banneaux,
- Our Lady of Beauraing,
- Our Lady of Cuapa, Nicaragua,
- Our Lady of Fatima,
- Our Lady of Guadalupe,
- Our Lady of Good Success,
- Our Lady of La Salette,
- Our Lady of Lourdes,
- Our Lady of Knock,
- Our Lady of Pellevoisin,
- Our Lady of Pontmain,
- Our Lady of Rue du Bac,
- Our Lady of Rwanda,
- Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and
- Our Lady of Zeitun, Egypt.
- Our Lady of Fatima, examiner.com
- The True Story of Fatima
- The Lady of Fátima & the Miracle of the Sun, livescience.com
- Vallee: Fatima Event was UFO
- Frere Michel de la Sainte Trinite (1990). The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume III. Buffalo, New York City. pp. 578–579.
- Another interpretation is that everything is just a very bad trip and/or children's imaginations. It would have not been the first time that happens
- Christopher Ferrara,"The Secret Still Hidden"
- See the Wikipedia article on Steve Ditko.
- See the Wikipedia article on History of Portugal.
- Auspicia Quædam
- This begs the question: since the 'consecration of Russia' thing has been won by any reasonable measure of success, where are the current rosaries going? My vote is that they are petitioning God to reverse the direction of the earth's spin. So let's get praying.
- Fatima Network