Regardless of their faith and their own beliefs, we can not talk about Portugal without speaking of Fatima.
Located 130 km from Lisbon, Fátima also dubbed “City of Peace”, is the most important Marian sanctuary in Portugal.
Between 1916 and 1917, in a climate of war and turbulence of the early twentieth century and the First World War, three children who were tending their flocks in Cova da Iria they will have the experience of an apparition that will change their life forever. The apparitions of Our Lady occurred on the 13th day of each month between May and October 1917. There her great message of peace was transmitted to the world by the three children through faith and devotion to Our Lady and the praying of the Rosary.
It will be Lucia, the oldest of the three children who will tell in her memories what happened in that time.
On 13 May 1917, the children reported seeing a woman “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”The woman wore a white mantle edged with gold and held a rosary in her hand. The story continues: “Don’t be afraid I don’t want to hurt you,” said the lady; Lucia, astonished, asked: “Where do you come from, Madam?”. “I come from heaven”, She replied, asking the three little shepherds to go to that same place on the thirteenth of each month, for six consecutive months until October, also recommending that they pray the rosary so that the First World War could end.
Jacinta told her family what happened. Lúcia had earlier said that the three should keep this experience private. Jacinta’s disbelieving mother told neighbors about it as a joke, and within a day the whole village knew of the children’s vision.
The second appearance occurred on 13 June. On this occasion the lady revealed that Francisco and Jacinta would be taken to Heaven soon, but Lúcia would live longer in order to spread her message and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
On July 13 the children returned to Cova d’Irìa: this time about five thousand people were gathered there, many of whom were eager to make fun of the children; the vision of hell was shown to the three little shepherds, verbatim reported in the writings of Sister Lucia: «Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire, which seemed to be underground. Immersed in that fire, the demons and souls, as if they were transparent embers and black or bronze, with human form that floated in the fire, carried by the flames that came out of themselves together with clouds of smoke, falling from all similar parts at the falling of sparks in the great fires, without weight or balance, between screams and groans of pain and despair that caused horror and made one tremble with fear“
On 13 August 1917, the provincial administrator intervened, as he believed that these events were politically disruptive in the conservative country. He took the children into custody, jailing them before they could reach the Cova da Iria. Santos interrogated and threatened the children to get them to divulge the contents of the secrets. Lúcia’s mother hoped the officials could persuade the children to end the affair and admit that they had lied.That month, instead of the usual apparition in the Cova da Iria on 13 August, the children reported that they saw the Virgin Mary on 19 August, a Sunday, at nearby Valinhos.
On that occasion, Our Lady promised them that the month of October would do a miracle to confirm the authenticity of their statements
After some newspapers reported that the Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions on 13 October, a huge crowd, possibly between 30,000 and 100,000, including reporters and photographers, gathered at Cova da Iria. What happened then became known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.
Various claims have been made as to what actually happened during the event. According to accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the Sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The Sun was then reported to have careened towards the Earth before zig-zagging back to its normal position. Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes became “suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling”.
What is interesting about Fatima is the mystery and strength of the message. The message was transmitted to three poor shepherd children who were alone with their flocks in the Cova da Iria: a message that speaks of peace, faith and consecration. It is this message and this comfort that pilgrims seek in Fatima and when visiting the Sanctuary.
The message materializes through the believers’ processions and religious activities at the Sanctuary. This is especially true of the candlelight processions that take place from May to October – always at night between the 12th and 13th of each month. They remind each pilgrim of the apparitions of the Virgin in 1917. At these dates, thousands of candles light the huge square and the image of Our Lady passes by in a solemn procession.