By Cliff Garvey
If you think that these are troubled times, just imagine life in 1917. The world is at war. When it all ends, more than twenty-one million people are dead. Among them are eight million civilians. Seven million soldiers are permanently disabled. Six million people are missing and presumed dead. Two million people die of disease.
The news is also not so good in Portugal. Six years after the separation of church and state becomes official, countless bishops and their priests are imprisoned. Almost every convent, monastery, and seminary is closed by the government. Church property is routinely confiscated. Between 1911 and 1926, Portugal has sixteen revolutions and forty different governments. Chaos, political division, and economic instability are the new normal of national life.
In the rough hills at the heart of Portugal, seemingly untouched by the war and tumult of politics, is the village of Fatima. These are country people. They are small farmers and shepherds, craftsmen and homemakers. They are poor, but somehow they make ends meet. They grow what they eat, trade for what they need, and dream about better lives for their children and grandchildren. The villagers pull fresh water from mountain streams and wells dug by hand. Medicine is scarce. Many people die of influenza, tuberculosis, and other infections diseases. Most babies are born at home. Too many mothers and infants do not survive childbirth.
Life in Fatima is not easy. The days are long. The work is hard. But life is considered good. Families are close. Marriages last. Children are cherished. The elderly are respected. Songs and stories, crafts and recipes, trades and traditions are passed from one generation to the next, offered by the old and embraced by the young. The villagers are devout; not perfect, but faithful. Families attend Mass together. Parents teach their children about the basic beliefs and customs of the Church.
Solemnities are somber days of prayer and fasting. Feast days are times for festivals and celebrations. The Church is the center of community life: there at the beginning of life, there at the end of life, always there for the people, day by day, week by week, year after year. These are simple people, who live simple lives, with a simple faith. All of a sudden, everything changes.
Throughout human history, sometimes without us knowing it, always without us understanding it, God intervenes in the lives of his children. God calls us, chastens us, comforts us, and challenges us, in his own way and in his own time. Such a thing happens in Fatima and it changes the world.
During the spring and summer seasons of 1916, three young children tend a flock of sheep. They are visited by an angel who teaches them to pray; to do penance for the sake of souls; and to adore the Lord Jesus. The children are a brother and sister: Jacinta Marto, age 7; and Francisco Marto, age 9; and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, age 10. The children follow the angel’s direction with faith and fervor. They forsake the few frivolities of their childhood to spend more time with the Lord.
During the spring of 1917, while the rest of the world is at war, the children are again tending their flock. This time, they are visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is described as “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light that are clearer than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling of waters.” She wears a white mantle that shimmers with gold. She carries a Rosary. She tells the children to devote their lives to God and to pray the Rosary every day for peace in our world.
One month later, on the Feast of Saint Anthony, Our Lady appears again. She tells the children that Francisco and Jacinta will live short lives, but that their cousin will live much longer so that she can promote the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By the end of summer, the children are visited five times by the Blessed Mother. During each appearance, she shares more about God’s hopes for the world. Over time, these become known as the Secrets of Fatima.
On October 13, 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appears for the final time. Everyone in the village and well beyond the village knows about the visions of the Blessed Mother. As many as 100,000 people gather in the fields. The rain pours. The crowd is wet, hungry, and suspicious. But the children just pray and patiently wait.
At noon, the sky suddenly clears. Muddy fields and wet clothing are instantly dry. The sun emerges as a swirling disk. Its brightness is miraculously dimmed so that the people can look at it. It radiates beams of brilliant color across the sky and over the surround hillside. The sun seems to dance before returning to its midday position among the stars in heaven.
It is called the Miracle of the Sun. Some believe. Some do not. Some call it a miracle. Some call it a hoax. The simple people believe. Word spreads from Fatima, throughout Portugal, across Europe, and around the world. After the Miracle of the Sun, the little village becomes a place of pilgrimage.
In 1930, Pope Pius XI declares that the visions are “worthy of belief.” In 1942, on the 25th anniversary of the apparitions, Pope Pius XII consecrates the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and entrusts all people into her care and protection. In 1946, Pope Pius issues a second message about Our Lady of Fatima. He writes: “The faithful virgin never disappoints the trust placed in her. She will transform into a fountain of physical and spiritual grace for Portugal; and from there, breaking all frontiers, over the entire Church and the whole world.”
In 1948, the pope issues an encyclical called The Signs of the Times. It is a message about prayer. It’s about praying for peace through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He encourages every Catholic family, every Catholic parish, and every Catholic diocese to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Pius XII is the first pope to visit Fatima. In 1950, 1953, and 1954, he encourages the devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. He says: “To keep Fatima in your heart and translate Fatima into deeds is the best assurance for even more graces.”
What does he mean? Which deeds? Which graces? Over the years, there has been perhaps too much focus on the mysteries, the spectacle, and the so-called Secrets of Fatima. We have lost sight of Our Lady’s simple and compelling message to the world: Pray the Rosary for peace. Pray the Rosary for others. Sacrifice for others. Do penance for others. Make amends. Be reconciled. Be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Why? Because within the Immaculate Heart, we encounter the Mother of God. We find the essence of perfect discipleship. We learn to love God. We learn to love Jesus. We learn to love each other through the power of Our Lady’s prayers and through the power of the Holy Spirit. From her Immaculate Heart, Our Lady of Fatima teaches us about joy, sorrow, discipleship, and love — love for God and love for all people.
What are the graces that flow from this devotion? Fraternity among neighbors. Solidarity among citizens. Unity among all peoples. Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Ultimately, the grace promised by Our Lady of Fatima is peace. Real peace, lasting peace, the incarnation of heaven’s peace in our divided country, our wounded church, and our suffering world. Now more than ever, we need this peace. We need Our Lady of Fatima.
Pope Francis knows this truth. He consecrates his entire pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. On the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, the Holy Father goes there and offers a long prayer that he writes himself. Here’s just a small part of that beautiful prayer:
Sweet Virgin Mary,
Queen of the Rosary,
Our Lady of Fatima,
help us to follow
the example of the Children of Fatima,
and the example of all people
who sacrifice themselves for the Gospel.
By doing so,
we will travel all roads,
we will be pilgrims on all pathways,
we will tear down walls,
we will overcome boundaries,
and we will go to the ends of the earth
to reveal God’s justice and peace.
In the Joy of the Gospel,
we will be a church
dressed in white,
dressed in robes washed clean
by the Blood of the Lamb,
which still bleeds in every conflict
that seeks to destroy the world.
Help us to be like you,
the image of the luminous pillar
that enlightens the way of the world,
proving that God exists,
that God is here,
that God dwells
in the midst of the poor,
and for all eternity.
Amen, Holy Father. Amen. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francisco Marto, pray for us! Saint Jacinta Marto, pray for us! Servant of God, Sister Lucia of Fatima, pray for us! Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and for our suffering world!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Praying Fatima. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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