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 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.