Monday, December 22, 2014


The only thing remarkable about the Portuguese village of Fatima is the name it bears. It is that of an Arab maiden who, snatched from her father's stronghold, died shortly after becoming a Christian and the bride of her captor. The latter laid her to rest in the chapel of a monastery which stood on this site over 700 years ago. He himself exchanged his knightly trappings for the plain robe of a monk. In time the monastery disappeared but the chapel stayed standing. Low white walled houses clustered around and made of it a village church. The memory of Fatima clung to the venerable stones which sheltered her remains, and the village took her name.

It is a high plateau hereabouts and hilly. When the Moors and Arabs were masters of most of the Spanish peninsula, this region is one which escaped from their rule. It has remained to this day isolated from the main roads. The soil is too stony for farming, but the pasturage is fair. The villagers keep some stock, and what with their olive trees, grapes and garden-produce, they have enough for their frugal needs. Of course, they have to work long and hard. The children help by tending the sheep.

Sunday is in honor with these sturdy folk. Work clothes are replaced by clean and neat ones.The blouses and skirts of the women are gay, and shawls frame the beauty of their firmly moulded features.

At the time of which we are speaking, there was trouble in Portugal. A series of revolutions from 1910 to 1913 had left the government in the hands of an anti-religious clique, bent on molesting the population in the practice of its loyal faith in Christ.

As a result, the joy that comes from a flourishing Christian life was absent from the land. The Church was hampered and hate hung heavy over the cities.  Christ was no longer supreme in Portuguese hearts, and they were forgetful that their country was dedicated to Mary, His mother, whom He loves, forgetful of the love they owed her too, forgetful of her power to deliver them from oppression and injustice. Even in the remoter places like Fatima, though nothing could shake the tranquil faith of the women, the men were becoming indifferent and listless. The practice of reciting the family rosary in the evening was dying.

But all this was going to change. Great events were impending. The village which the fair young convert from Islam had named was to receive the visit of another maiden, a Queen whose name is imperishable, whom all nations until the end of time shall call blessed. She came to the poor people of Portugal to save them from the catastrophes of our times and, by means of a regenerated Portugal, to show the wartorn world the way to peace and happiness. And to aid her in this mission of mercy, she chose three little children.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Lucia, Francis and Jacinta

They were Lucy, ten years old, youngest child of the Santo family, and her cousins, Francis and Jacinta Marto.

Lucy was a level-headed youngster, upright and truthful. She had the strong character of her mother, a woman of deep and sturdy faith with a passionate hatred of falsehood.

Jacinta was a tender, vivacious child, who charmed every one with her pretty ways. She was quick and intelligent. Francis was two years older than his sister. He had a good deal of affection for her, and listened solemnly to her gay chatter. Sometimes when she pouted, it pleased him to unbend from the dignity of his extra two years and give in to her.

The two Marto children often came to Lucy's house. The folk songs and legends of the country were to be heard aplenty within its hospitable walls. And Lucy's mother had not her equal for relating how Our Lord laid down his life because He loved men so, and how, during all the ages since, men and women have loved and died for love of Him.

So it is that Lucy, Francis and Jacinta became inseparable friends. They passed their days together. They ran and played and danced. And when they were breathless, they rested in their favorite nook behind the well in the Santos' garden. Lucy was usually called upon for a story, for she had something of Her mother's gift for telling about Jesus, His Mother and His Saints. Jacinta pleaded often to hear the account of why and how Christ suffered and died. She listened with tearful eyes, and said: "Poor Lord! I won't sin any more. I don't want Jesus to suffer." Francis became a still and pensive little man, a far-away look in his eyes.

Lucy was the only one of the trio to have made her First Communion. This experience made her wonderful to her friends. They were eager to be like her - entitled to receive the bread of angels, and to talk to Jesus brought into their young hearts.


The time came for Lucy to take charge of her family's small flock of sheep. This meant that she must pasture them out in the hills all day long. Francis and Jacinta were quite melancholy about it - no more pleasant days with her. They waited wistfully for her return in the evening, and they cried with delight when the sheep with their pretty shepherdess came trotting into view. The Marto family also had some sheep. And the two youngsters pleaded with their mother to have charge of them. Signora Marto could not long resist the entreaty of their upturned faces. The morning after, the three friends joined their flocks together and off they went, tripping gaily after the thirty odd sheep. What joy! They had recited the usual little prayers to God, to Our Lady and to their Guardian Angels before setting out, and now they were on their way to the beckoning hills.

Sheep and children went leisurely along for an hour or so until they came to a suitable place. There they stopped for the day. As the sheep began to graze contentedly, their young guardians sought a shady spot to rest. The morning went peacefully by and at noon, the eager hands plunged into the lunch basket.

No sooner was their hunger quieted than they quickly knelt down, for they had been taught to recite the rosary after dinner. But their dark eyes were dancing with anticipated fun, and once refreshed they were eager for games and the blackberries in the bushes nearby. Jacinta especially longed with her impetuous little heart to run about. So, the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys were sadly garbled, and the instant the last bead was finished, off they scattered, shrilling in this or that jolly pursuit. In this way the afternoons were joyously passed until the time would come to return home.

After supper the grown-ups relaxed from the toil of the day and listened fondly to the children's tales of their adventures. Sometimes their own tongues would loosen, old tales go round, songs strike up, with now and then a whirl of dancing. When dust fell, the children said their prayers and were soon abed, deep in slumber and in the dreams of childhood. But little did they dream of the great and merciful designs that God had upon their lives; little did they dream of the things that they would be called upon to suffer for the love of Our Lord, and of the Virgin, His Queen-Mother; little did they dream of Portugal and of the peoples of the earth to be saved from ruin through their innocence and sacrifices! They were to see, not fleeting fantasies in sleep, but eternal realities in broad daylight, realities of that world compared to which our earth, for all its hardness and self-confidence, is but a shadow. They were to receive the visit of the Queen of that eternal land, of which this universe of time and space is only the vestibule. They were to hear from her things potent enough to cause a revolution in Portugal, and in every nation disposed to listen.

And the revolution that was to take seed in the hearts of three little shepherds was to be one not springing from desperation and hatred, but a revolution unleashing the forces of faith, hope and love. For that reason, it was a revolution that must ultimately succeed.


The rain poured heavily down, and the children took refuge from the storm in a rocky hollow in the side of the hill, without losing sight of the sheep. They ate their lunch, recited the rosary and were about to begin a game when suddenly a great rushing blast of wind, a burst of light . . . and then, astonishing sight!

A comely young man shining like crystal in the sun, advancing through the air toward them!

Fear mounted in their hearts, but the stranger spoke in gentle tones:

No, no! Do not be afraid. I am the angel of Peace. Pray with me.

Upon that the mysterious visitor bowed his forehead to the ground and repeated three times:

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope in Thee and I love Thee! I beg pardon from Thee for those who do not believe, who do not hope, who do not adore, and who do not love Thee!

He rose and gazing at them kindly, said: Pray like that, my little ones. The most holy hearts of Jesus and Mary will be moved by your prayer.

The Angel disappeared. The children remained rooted to the spot. They neither stirred nor spoke. They were filled with a sweet awareness of the presence of God.

At last they looked at one another, and read in each other's eyes the glowing aftermath of the vision. Their wonder gave rise to resolve as they thought of the message. They must pray! And down they went, bowing their heads to the ground and repeating again and again the angel's prayer. They kept it up until their bodies ached.

As they reluctantly stopped to rest, they began to wonder about it all, questioning each other what the angel could want of them. They relapsed into a puzzled silence. The only conclusion grew upon them: the only certain thing that they could cling to was that they must do what he had asked!

And so, down went the little heads to the ground again, and tremulously the tender voices chanted: My God, I believe, I adore, I hope in Thee and I love Thee. I beg pardon for . . .

Another halt, and another return to the enormous question that now filled their lives, hitherto untroubled. What did it all mean? What did the angel want of them? They were old enough to know that even in the Christian country of Portugal, there were many men who had scant love for their Creator and their Heavenly Father. They had forgotten Him and no longer confided in Him. Still God is good! How is it that men think no more of Him . . .

And upon this thought, the children resumed their adoration and petitioning, this activity which all of a sudden had become the burning need of their souls.


Several months had passed since they had seen the angel in human form. But the mystery of it still weighed upon them, and the message he had given them had not been forgotten. Then one day during the quiet of the siesta, they were talking together in their favorite retreat in the garden behind the well, when the angel appeared at their side.

"What are you about?", he asked. His manner was grave. Pray, pray a lot! Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy upon you in their holy heartsKeep on offering to the Lord prayers and sacrifices to make up for so many sins against him, and to obtain the conversion of sinners. Offer them to obtain peace for your country.  I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept humbly whatever sufferings Our Lord will send you . . .

As the angel's words fell upon their ears, their minds were mysteriously illumined, so that they saw how God loved them, and how He wished to be loved by them in return. They saw also how great is the value of sacrifice and how powerful it is to obtain the conversion of sinners.

A deeper effect was wrought in the lives of the children. They became intent on sacrificing all the little comforts and delights they could. Their lives had been simple and frugal as they were, for peasant children have not many things to deprive themselves of, but they were ingenious in inventing ways and means of doing penance. The principal one they preferred was to remain for hours, their heads bowed to the ground, repeating the prayer which the Angel had taught them when he first appeared.

All summer long, the young shepherds tended their sheep and seemed outwardly just like the other children of the village. Secretly they were engaged in the special mission they had received from Heaven. Their days of penance and prayer went up as an agreeable incense to their Heavenly Father.

Autumn brought a third and momentous visit of the angel. The little trio had finished their meal at noon, and had come to the place where the angel had first appeared to them while they were sheltering from the storm. They had finished their rosary and had been reciting the Angel's prayer for a while when suddenly they found themselves surrounded by a brilliant light. Lifting their heads, their eyes grew round with wonder at what they saw. The angel was there, and this time he held in his hand a chalice. Above it was suspended a host from the whiteness of which drops of blood were missing and falling into the chalice.

The angel came and knelt beside them, the chalice and the host remaining where they were in the air. He made them recite three times this prayer:
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore profoundly, I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in re- paration for the outrages by which He Himself is offended.
By the infinite merits of His Sacred Heart and by the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conver-sion of poor sinners.
Then the angel rose, placed the host on Lucy's tongue, and gave Jacinta and Francis drink from the chalice, saying at the same time: 
Receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by thankless men. Make up for their sins, and console your God.
At the end he knelt again, repeated the prayer another three times, and vanished from their sight.

The children remained a long time on their knees, murmuring the angelic prayer to the Holy Trinity, their souls in a profound and luminous peace, their hearts throbbing with the effects of the mysterious communion which they had made. They felt the bliss of it immensely. Francis was the fist to come to himself and to think of getting back to the village. It was late. The children got the sheep together and started homewards in great joy. But they went slowly, for their small bodies were weary.


*       *       * 

It was a Sunday in the spring of the following year. May 13, 1917. The children had come home from Mass, and were taking the sheep out to pasture in a sort of dale, or basin-shaped depression not far from the village, where the Santos owned a field. The place was called Cova da Iria, which in English would be st. Irene's Cove, in honor of a saint who lived in the region in the 7th century. At noon, after eating lunch, the children knelt in the shade of an olive tree to say the rosary. They prayed with a fervor and piety nourished by months of compliance with the angel's wishes. Next they became absorbed in one of their favorite games, that of building a house. The girls brought the stones, and Francis made an enclosure of them, the floor of which was strewn with pine needles.

Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of lightning. Startled, the three looked up, but not a cloud was to be seen anywhere in the sky! Still, thought Lucy, perhaps a storm was brewing behind the hills, and she voted to taking in the sheep. The other two, nervously agreed, and quickly bringing the flock together, they moved off across the cove towards the village. Just in the middle of the cove, they were brought to a sudden stop by another dazzling flash. They glanced at one another fearfully, then again moved on. They were just passing near a young oak tree when this time they were fairly blinded by a brilliant light which enveloped them. Opening their eyes, their gaze was drawn to the tree from which light was radiating. And the source of the wonderful light was a beautiful young woman, clothed in the purest white, light poised on a branch of the oak.

A veil, bordered at the edge with a delicate gleaming gold thread a little more brilliant than the radiant whiteness of her apparel, covered head and shoulders and fell to her feet. The children could scarcely bear the vision of beauty, and wanted to flee. But a sweet maternal gesture and a gentle voice restrained them. Lucy reassured, had courage enough to ask a question:
~"Where are you from, Madam?"
~"I am from Heaven."
~"Why are you here?"
~"I come to ask you to be here on the 13th of each month at this time, every month for six months. In October, I shall tell you who I am, and what I wish from you."
~"You come from Heaven! . . . Shall I go to Heaven?"
~"Yes, you shall go there."
~"Jacinta also?"
~"And Francis?"
~"He too. But before he must recite many rosaries."

In saying this, the Lady, whose every movement sparked with light, turned a regard full of goodness and compassion on the young boy.
She turned again to Lucy:
~Are you willing to offer sacrifices to God and to accept all the sufferings that He will send you in reparation for the nuberless sins which offend His Divine Majesty? Are you willing to suffer to obtain the conversion of sinners, to make reparation for the blasphemies as well as for all the offense done to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?"
~"Yes, yes, we are willing," the child replied.
The unhesitating generosity of the children was rewarded by a smile of tenderness, and the Lady said: "You will have much to suffer then, but the grace of God will help and sustain you always."

Up to that moment, the Lady had held her hands joined at her breast. Now she parted them in an exquisitely gracious and maternal gesture, and the movement caused a flood of mysterious light, sweet and intense, to pour into the depths of their souls and to make them see themselves as they were in God. They fell to their knees exclaiming:
~"O most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee! . . . My God, my God, I love Thee! . . . "
The lovely regard of the Lady rested silently on them for a while. One more request she made of them ~ that they recite the rosary devoutly every day for the peace of the world and for the conversion of sinners ~ and then the children saw that she was moving away, and their eyes followed her until she disappeared in the light of the sun.


The children gazed at one another in ecstasy. Words of pent-up joy broke from their lips. Glowing and excited, they compared what they had seen and heard. Lucy alone had spoken to the Lady, Jacinta had heard all the conversation, but Francis had heard nothing. He had simply seen. Jacinta could not contain herself.
~"What a lovely lady! What a lovely lady!"

Presently Lucia began to wonder how their parents would take the news. The three decided that it would be better not to say anything for the time being.

But that very evening at suppertime Jacinta told all. She could not keep it in. She was bursting to share the delight with which she was filled by the vision of the lady who shone in her beauty as brightly as the sun. Though Francis was able to hold his tongue, the news was too wonderful for Jacinta's tiny heart to keep to herself. It was the Blessed Virgin herself whom they had seen, she had no doubt. How happy people would be to know! And to think that the lady would come again in a month's time.

Lucy's mother heard the story the next day. The village hummed for days with it, and mocking comments could be heard on all sides. The woman, so jealous of her reputation for honesty and trust, burned with indignation! To think that her daughter, in spite of her steady, quiet ways, was at heart an untruthful little braggart, ready to expose the family to such ridicule in order to win attention. Even the village padre was appealed to by the angry mother in an attempt to convince the wanton child how absurd and mischievous her story was. But, in the eyes of the child his own priestly eyes read sincerity . . . and, since he was at a loss to know what to make of it, he held himself aloof and counseled moderation . . . advice to which the woman paid little heed.

Francis and Jacinta were treated mildly by their parents but from then on Lucy had to endure from her mother hard words, and even blows. Her sufferings had begun in earnest. Often, she had to seek some secluded corner to sob and console herself with the thought of the heavenly visitor's promised return on the 13th of June. 


The longed-for day had come, and noon found the three young friends waiting, joyous and expectant, a short distance from the green oak tree. There were also about sixty onlookers whom curiosity had drawn to the spot. Neither the Santos nor the Martos were there. In fact, for long thy had forbidden their offspring to come but, finally, puzzled by the candour and the confidence with which the children expected the mysterious lady, they had weakened to their entreaties and granted permission to revisit the Cova.

While waiting, they recited the rosary. At the end, Lucy rose and began to arrange more neatly the kerchief sh wore on her hair. Someone asked if it would be much longer and she replied, "No." The younger children had just begun another rosary when the older girl cried: "The light! She is coming!"

All three ran closer to the oak tree and there she was, mantled in the same lovely light, radiant and good to see!

Lucy was terribly affected by this warning of the padre. The sinister question haunted her mind ~ could it be the devil's work? She began to have horrible dreams during the night, and became sick at heart. So great was the torment that she was driven to a resolve not to go to the Cova da Iria the next time. Jacinta wept and Francis pleaded, but all to no avail. The ten-year old child was drinking deep of the chalice of suffering, which the plans of God and of the Immaculate Virgin entailed for her.