If you are Catholic, it is likely that you have heard of a sacred place called Fatima.
But regardless of your faith or even if you are a non-believer, the Fatima story is worth knowing because it is fascinating, controversial, and unexplained by science.
Fatima, a small city in central Portugal, is in the news this weekend with a visit by Pope Francis. The Pontiff, along with an estimated one million pilgrims are celebrating the 100th anniversary of a series of mysterious and miraculous events that commenced on May 13, 1917.
Throughout this centennial year, tourism officials expect Fatima will welcome eight million visitors, double the annual four million who come from around the globe to pray at one of the Catholic Church’s most holy sites.
Here are three reasons why Fatima is revered by Catholics (and other Christians too.)
- Six Appearances by the Virgin Mary are known as the Marion Apparitions
The circumstances surrounding Fatima’s six Marion apparitions sound like they could have sprung from the imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter.
On May 13, 1917, three poor shepherd children ages ten, nine, and seven were tending their flocks when, after a “flash of lightning” there appeared a “beautiful lady” who was “more brilliant than the sun.” The Lady said, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.” Then ten-year-old Lucia asked, “Where are you from?” The Lady answered, “I come from Heaven.” Lucia, (eventually Sister Lucia) described in detail all six encounters in her memoirs, Fatima in Lucia’s own Words.
Predictably, the children were doubted and ridiculed by family, neighbors, and church authorities but they staunchly refused to change their story. In August, after being tormented and jailed by local government officials, the children still refused to recant because the nameless “Our Lady” was keeping her promise to reappear to the children on the 13th day of the month for five consecutive months. (Although the Lady appeared in August on the 19th because the children were arrested on August 13th on their way to meet her.)
Word spread, and large crowds gathered on the 13th day of the month from June through October. However, only the three children could hear and see “Our Lady” convey truths about heaven, hell, sin, and war.
Most important, “Our Lady” made a promise to the children saying, “Continue to come here every month until October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.”
- The Miracle of the Sun
What is now known as the “Miracle of the Sun” occurred on October 13, 1917. Translated into English, the October 15, 1917, headlines and sub-heads of O Seculo, then Portugal’s largest (and ironically anti-Catholic) daily newspaper read:
How the Sun Danced at Noon in Fatima!
The apparitions of the Virgin—What was the sign in the sky? —Many thousands of people claim that a miracle took place— The war and peace
The caption under the photo of the three children read: “ Lucia, 10 years old, Francisco, 9 and Jacinta, 7, who claim to have spoken with the Virgin Mary in the heath of Fatima, municipality of Vila Nova de Ourém.”
O’Seculo’s report provides 21st-century skeptics and believers with a comprehensive account of the day’s events and the mood of the crowd, “which numbers thirty or forty thousand, according to unbiased estimates of sophisticated people who are not swayed by mystical influences.”
Then the reporter describes the “miracle” happening in real-time:
…as the sun pulsates [with] never-before-seen tremulous movements, defying all laws of gravity—the sun danced, according to the typical expression of the peasants….
Most people admit seeing the sun tremble, dance; others, however, declare having seen the smiling face of the Blessed Virgin, swear that the sun spun on itself like a Catherine wheel, that it lowered itself almost to the point of burning the earth with its rays… Some say they saw it change colors successively.
Just moments before the “Miracle of the Sun” the “Lady” told Lucia, “ A chapel is to be built here in my honor, I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Other highlights from Lucia’s account of the conversation include the “Lady” talking about mankind, warning, “Do not offend the Lord our God anymore, because He is already so much offended.”
As promised by “The Lady,” October 13, 1917, was the final apparition. She also promised that Lucia would live long, and in fact, Lucia’s death occurred on February 13, 2005, at age 97. But “The Lady” also told Francisco and Jacinta that soon she would take them to heaven. Francisco died in 1919 at age 11, and his sister Jacinta passed in 1920 at age 10.
- The Three Secrets of Fatima
Much of the modern fascination with Fatima revolves around the “three secrets” told to the three children during the third apparition on July 13, 1917, and later recounted by Lucia in her 1941 memoirs. But it is the “third secret” that is still controversial to this day.
Briefly, the first secret was a “vision of hell” experienced by Lucia and her cousins.
The second secret was geopolitical and highly detailed. The Lady said, “The war (World War I) is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI.” (He became Pope in 1922 and reigned until his death in 1939.) The Lady spoke about the rise of the Soviet Union (Russia) and what man must do to prevent all the tumult that is forthcoming.
However, the “third secret” was NOT revealed in Lucia’s 1941 memoir and remained shrouded in mystery. Even upon Lucia’s request in 1960, the Vatican refused to publish.
That changed on June 26, 2000, when Pope John Paul II released the “third secret.”
The secret reads like an apocalyptic passage from the Bible’s New Testament Book of Revelations and like Revelations is up for vast interpretation.
Currently, the most popular interpretation of the “third secret” connects the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II directly to Fatima and here is why.
The failed assassination occurred at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square on the May 13 anniversary date of the first Marian apparition in 1917 — a date celebrated annually as the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima.
On May 13, 1981, while greeting the crowd, Pope John Paul II suddenly leaned over to gesture to a young girl holding a picture of the “Our Lady of Fatima,” statue. It has been calculated that bending motion saved the Pope’s skull from being shattered by the bullets fired by Mehmet Ali Agca, a hired assassin from communist Bulgaria.
Pope John Paul soon believed that although he was seriously wounded, he survived because of his devotion to “Our Lady of Fatima” and his connection to the third Fatima secret. Then, 19-years after the assassination attempt, Pope John Paul released the “third secret” revealing a “Holy Father” dressed in white who was killed by bullets and arrows.
Furthermore, a bullet from the gun of the assassination was found in the Pope’s jeep. Amazingly that bullet fits perfectly into a little hole in the jeweled crown on the head of the original statue of “Our Lady of Fatima.” The statue, sculpted in 1947, was based on Lucia’s descriptions of “Our Lady” and the small narrow hole inside the crown was present from the statue’s inception.
When my husband and I visited Fatima last year, we saw the bullet in the crown of the statue and could not stop wondering if that bullet hole was pre-ordained.
Modern day miracles such as those that occurred at Fatima in 1917 are gifts from God, demonstrating to believers that He is real and with us always.
If you have read this far, you understand why the Pope is visiting and after 100 years why Fatima is an extraordinary place for millions of believers. And even non-believers, like close friends of ours who were touring Portugal. They only visited Fatima because they were curious about this top tourist attraction. Later, these friends expressed how they were thoroughly touched by what they saw and experienced.
Fatima’s famous events may have happened 100 years ago, but its mysteries are eternal.
David Adams, V.P. of Missions for Cross Catholic Outreach contributed to this article.
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