Sister Lucia dos Santos was arguably (with St. Bernadette of Lourdes) the most famous Marian seer in history, a 97-year-old who had first seen the Blessed Mother in 1917 at the age of 10, with cousins Francisco, 9, and Jacinta, 7 – whose deaths preceded her own by more than eighty years. (Her two cousins were beatified in her presence on May 13, 2000 in Fatima by Pope John Paul II.) All that time she had been cloistered in convents, most recently in Coimbra, Portugal, a Carmelite who had lived out her vocation in stunningly successful fashion – never desiring publicity, never making claims beyond what the Blessed Mother told her.
Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, the Blessed Mother appeared to them six times. In the first encounter, the Lady promised the three of them would go to Heaven, but Lucia had to stay on earth a little longer to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On July 13, Our Lady revealed to them a secret, the first part being the vision of hell. We quote the words of Sister Lucia in her memoirs:
"Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.
We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and so sadly:
"You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world".
On May 13, 2000, after the beatification ceremony in fatima, the third part of the secret was released by the Vatican, mentioning the shooting of a "bishop in white" (which Sister Lucia acknowledged to be Pope John Paul II), and an angel ready to torch the world but halted from doing so by the Virgin. The secret also symbolized the incredible suffering of those martyred under Communism.
The Pope has always said that the Virgin Mary saved him from the attack in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981. As he said in his new book, Memory and Identity, one hand (that of the would-be assassin) shot the bullet, but another hand (that of the Virgin Mary) guided it to spare his life. In thanksgiving, the Pope traveled to Fatima on May 13, 1982. There he placed the bullet that wounded him in the crown of the image of the Virgin of Fatima. He also went back to Fatima in 1991 and 2000.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was sent by the Pope to preside over the funeral of Sister Lucia in the Cathedral of Coimbra, had said about the secrets of Fatima:
"Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc. And let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible".