Between May 13 and October 13, the Virgin Mary appeared six times in Fatima, Portugal, to three little shepherds: Jacinta Marto, aged 7, her brother Francisco, aged 9, and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, aged 10. As Our Lady had predicted, the first two died very young: Jacinta in 1920 at the age of 9, and Francisco in 1919, at the age of 11. As for Lucia, the Virgin Mary had told her that she would have to stay “a little longer” on earth: she became a Carmelite nun and died at the age of 97 on January 13, 2005.
Fatima has become one of the most visited shrines in the world, and the Apparitions of Mary there have been officially recognized by the Church: Pope Paul VI went to Fatima in 1967, and Benedict XVI in 2010. St. John Paul II went three times — the first time in 1982, to thank the Virgin of Fatima for having saved him during the attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 — and the last time on May 13, 2000, for the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco, which made them the youngest blesseds in the Church. Here are excerpts from St. John Paul II’s homily on this occasion:
“According to the divine plan, ‘a woman clothed with the sun’ (Rv 12: 1) came down from heaven to this earth to visit the privileged children of the Father. She speaks to them with a mother’s voice and heart: she asks them to offer themselves as victims of reparation, saying that she was ready to lead them safely to God...
“‘Another portent appeared in Heaven; behold, a great red dragon’ (Rv 12: 3). These words… make us think of the great struggle between good and evil, showing how, when man puts God aside, he cannot achieve happiness, but ends up destroying himself.
“How many victims there have been throughout the last century of the second millennium! We remember the horrors of the First and Second World Wars and the other wars in so many parts of the world, the concentration and extermination camps, the gulags, ethnic cleansings and persecutions, terrorism, kidnappings, drugs, the attacks on unborn life and the family.
The three children of Fatima who saw the Virgin: Lucia Dos Santos, Francisco and Jacinta Marto
“The message of Fatima is a call to conversion, alerting humanity to have nothing to do with the ‘dragon’ whose ‘tail swept down a third of the stars of Heaven, and cast them to the earth’ (Rv 12: 4, which means that one-third of the angels in Heaven followed Lucifer in his rebellion and fall). Man’s final goal is Heaven, his true home, where the heavenly Father awaits everyone with his merciful love...
“In her motherly concern, the Blessed Virgin came here to Fatima to ask men and women ‘to stop offending God, Our Lord, who is already very offended’. It is a mother’s sorrow that compels her to speak; the destiny of her children is at stake. For this reason she asks the little shepherds: ‘Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners; many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them’.
“Jacinta had been so deeply moved by the vision of hell during the Apparition of July 13 that neither mortification nor penance seemed too great to save sinners... Dear boys and girls, Our Lady needs you all to console Jesus, who is sad because of the bad things done to him; he needs your prayers and your sacrifices for sinners. Ask your parents and teachers to enrol you in the “school” of Our Lady, so that she can teach you to be like the little shepherds, who tried to do whatever she asked them. I tell you that “one makes more progress in a short time of submission and dependence on Mary than during entire years of personal initiatives, relying on oneself alone” (St Louis de Montfort, The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, n. 155). This was how the little shepherds became saints so quickly... Devoting themselves with total generosity to the direction of such a good Teacher, Jacinta and Francisco soon reached the heights of perfection.”
What is the message of Fatima? Prayer, penance and conversion. In 1917, the Virgin Mary gave a secret to the three shepherds; Sister Lucia unveiled the first two parts in her memoirs in 1941, and the third part of the secret was unveiled at Fatima on May 13, 2000, on the occasion of the beatification ceremony. Here is what Sister Lucia wrote about the first two parts:
The vision of hell
“The secret is made up of three distinct parts, two of which I am now going to reveal. The first part is the vision of hell. 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, it will spread its 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, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily during the Mass celebrated at the Shrine of Fatima:
“We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete… In sacred Scripture we often find that God seeks righteous men and women in order to save the city of man and he does the same here, in Fatima, when Our Lady asks: ‘Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the sufferings which he will send you, in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?’...
“May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the Apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”