On Sunday, May 13, 1917, ten year old Lucia Santos and her younger cousins, siblings Jacinta and Francisco Marto, were tending sheep at a location known as the Cova da Iria near their home village of Fatima in Portugal. Lucia described seeing a woman “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” Further appearances took place on the thirteenth day of the month and continued for several months afterward. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the children six times between May 13 and October 13, 1917. In the course of her appearances, the woman confided to the children three secrets, now known as the Three Secrets of Fatima and told them that she had been sent by God with a message for every man and woman living in our century. She also provided a miracle that was witnessed by over 70,000 people.
Upon hearing of the first appearance of “Our Lady of Fatima”, word spread quickly and thousands of people flocked to Fatima in the ensuing months, drawn by reports of the visions and miracles. What became to be called Our Lady of Fatima, became a monthly event and the townspeople eagerly awaited word regarding the next round of prophecy and visions.
Not all were pleased to hear of the prophecies and miracles though. On August 13, 1917, the provincial administrator, Arthur Santos, believing that the events were politically disruptive, intercepted and jailed the children. The children were interrogated in an unsuccessful attempt to get them to divulge the content of the three secrets that Our Lady of Fatima had passed on to them. During the Interrogation, Santos threatened to “boil the children in a pot of oil” unless they confessed to trickery and lies. The children, however, resisted and continued to insist that the visions they had seen were true. When authorities secretly followed the children to witness one of the appearances they noted that no surreal being appeared but rather the children froze in place and went into deep trances.
Warning to the People of the World
Our Lady of Fatima went on to explain to the children that the war that was currently engulfing the world (World War I) was a punishment for the sins of mankind. She further explained to the children that God would castigate the world plunging the populace in hunger, war, and persecution of the church – unless certain steps were taken in order to prevent the catastrophes. Our Lady of Fatima explained that Russia would be God’s chosen “instrument of chastisement,” spreading the “errors” of atheism and materialism across the earth, fomenting wars, annihilating nations and persecuting the Faithful everywhere.
Our Lady also requested the solemn public Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart by the Pope and all the Catholic bishops of the world. Lucia and the children took the news and spread the word to the local township. As the prophecies began to come true as predicted, one by one, and the miracles progressed, the children gained notoriety and their infamy spread all the way to the Vatican.
The Miracle of the Sun
Amongst the prophecies, Virgin Mary promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions on October 13, so that all would believe. What transpired became known as “Miracle of the Sun”. A crowd believed to be approximately 70,000 in number, including newspaper reporters and photographers, gathered at the Cova da Iria. The incessant rain had finally ceased and a thin layer of clouds cloaked the silver disc of the sun such that it could be looked upon without hurting the eyes. Lucia called out to the crowd to look towards the sun. While Lucia was pointing towards the sun and describing visions of various religious figures in the sky, the sun appeared to change colors and to rotate like a fire wheel. For some the sun appeared to fall from the sky before retreating while for others it zig-zagged across the sky. The phenomenon is claimed to have been witnessed by most people in the crowd as well as people many miles away.
Columnist Avelino de Almeida of O Século (Portugal’s most influential newspaper), reported the following: “Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – the sun ‘danced’.”
Eye specialist Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem reported “The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceeding fast and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat”.
The special reporter for the October 17, 1917 edition of the Lisbon daily, O Dia, reported the following, “…the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds…The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands…people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.” The solar phenomena the people experienced that day was visible from up to forty miles away.
The Three Secrets Revealed
The heart of Our Lady’s Message to the world is contained in what has come to be called the “Secret” which she confided to the three child seers in July 1917. The Secret actually consists of three parts, the first two of which were publicly revealed years later in Lucia’s memoirs while the third was held by the Church until many years later.
The first secret was a vision of Hell, which Lucia describes in her Third Memoir, was as follows:
The second secret included Mary’s instructions on how to save souls from Hell and convert the world to the Roman Catholic faith, also revealed by Lucia in her Third Memoir:
The second secret contained an eerily accurate description of an atomic bomb explosion, similar to the one that occurred two decades later when the United States unleashed a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima during World War II. As the Church recognized the accuracy of the prediction of the outbreak of World War II and the inevitable triumph of Her Immaculate Heart following Russia’s consecration and the conversion “of that poor nation” to the Catholic Faith, it’s instructions to consecrate Russia must have weighed heavily on their mind.
The third secret, a vision of the death of the Pope and other religious figures, was transcribed by the Bishop of Leiria. The Vatican held the screen from 1957 to 2000 – despite Lucia’s declaration that it could be released to the public after 1960. Several sources, including Canon Barthas and Cardinal Ottaviani, said that Lucia insisted to them that it must be released by 1960, saying, “by that time, it will be more clearly understood.” When 1960 passed without any such announcement, immense speculation over the content of the secret materialized. Finally, on June 26, 2000, the Pope released the third and final secret to the world. It read:
Some sources claim that the third part of the secret revealed in the year 2000 was not the real secret, or at least not the full secret. This was long suspected because it was known that the third part of the secret began with the words, “In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved etc.” Sister Lucia revealed this in her Fourth Memoir. These words and even this theme were not reflected by the version released by the Vatican on June 26, 2000.
Another argument for this revolved around the decision to release the secret much later than when specified by Sister Lucia. It was thought that the secret might contain condemnatory remarks about the last pope (who obviously would not have wanted to release it), or that it might contain inflammatory remarks about Russia. Instead, the third part of the secret as revealed was by far the most unspecific and ambiguous part (compared to earlier parts which said that if unconsecrated, “Russia will spread its errors around the world”).
On November 11, 1984, as reported in the Pauline Catholic magazine Jesus, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that he had “read the text of the Third Secret.” When asked why he had not revealed it, he replied:
Still, none would argue that the Third Secret accurately describes Russia’s spread of communism throughout the world. By 1960, Communism had spread to nearly ½ of the planet. In addition, the description of an attempted assassination of the Pope came true in 1981 with the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. The final piece of the prediction came true in 1995, five years prior to the release of the Third Secret, and 35 years after Lucia had requested it be released, communism fell.
John Paul has always credited the Virgin of Fátima with saving his life. After he visited the shrine in 1982 to give thanks for his survival, a bullet extracted from his body was placed alongside diamonds in a gold crown worn by a statue of the Virgin. Lucia went on to join the sisterhood and lived to be 97 years old. Lucia’s cousins, the siblings Francisco (1908–1919) and Jacinta Marto (1910–1920), were both victims of the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-20.