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Our Lady of Fatima

Our Lady of Fatima (Portuguese: Nossa Senhora de Fátima) is one of the best-known Marian apparitions in the world.



Between May and October, 1917, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children -- Lucia Abóbora dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto -- in the fields outside the village of Aljustrel, very close to Fatima, Portugal. She would come and speak to them on the 13th of every month. Lucia later described her as "more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun."

She exhorted the children to do penance and sacrifices to save sinners. They wore tight cords around their waists to cause pain, abstained from drinking water on hot days, and other works of penance. Most important, she asked them to say the Rosary every day. She reiterated many times that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace. Many young Portuguese men, including relatives of the visionaries, were then fighting in World War I.

On her last visit, a crowd of 70,000 people, including reporters from sceptical, anti-religious newspapers, gathered in a torrential rainstorm to witness the great Solar Miracle of Fatima. Many people in the crowd said that the sun changed colours, began dancing around in the sky and went completely dark for several minutes before seeming to plunge toward the earth, then returning to its proper place. Reporter Avelino de Almeida, who had snarked at Fatima in previous articles, saw and reported it, while his photographer saw nothing but shot pictures of the crowd looking up.

There is no independent verification of the solar phenomenon, and no movement or other phenomenon of the sun was registered by scientists at the time. It was reportedly witnessed from up to 25 miles away, but these people did not know what to make of it and apparently most did not consider it miraculous. Not everyone in the crowd saw the "sun dance", including the children, who reported seeing Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph blessing the people.

The three secrets of Fatima

Main article: Three Secrets of Fatima

Most of the interest in Fatima, however, revolves around the famous three-part secret of Fatima, which includes remarkable visions of the future. The first part described a horrific vision of Hell, while the second foretold the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II and called for the "Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary". Many including Lucia believe Pope John Paul II fulfilled this request in 1984 by giving a blessing over the world, including Russia, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although many are concerned that this blessing was not enough, Lucia reported that the collapse of Communism after the blessing proved that it was. These secrets were written down by Lucia only in 1941 when she was asked to compose memoirs about Fatima and her cousins so their canonization proceedings could begin.

The third secret was kept under wraps by the Vatican until Easter 2000 – despite Lucia's declaration that it could be released to the public after 1940. Some say that Sr. Lucia insisted it must be released by 1960, but other sources say she picked 1960 randomly and that release by 1960 was not a requirement. (She herself chose these dates, she said, because "by that time, it'll be more clearly understood.") When 1960 passed without any such announcement, this led to immense speculation over the content of the secret. In short, people assumed that if the Popes chose to oppose the supposed will of Mary, it was because it would have been far worse to reveal the content than not to reveal it.

The officially released text of the secret was symbolic in nature and open to various interpretations. The Church's interpretation was that the subject of the prophecy was the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by a Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, in Saint Peter's Square, Rome. The shooting occurred on May 13, the date of the first of the reported Fatima visions. The Pope had reportedly stooped to hug a little girl wearing a Fatima Badge when the assailant fired, and the bullets struck him in the abdomen rather than in the head as planned.

John Paul credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life. He said more than once that he plainly saw her actively intervening to deflect the gunman's arm. He said he maintained consciousness on the ride to the hospital by keeping his mind focused on her.

There is some controversy that the third part of the secret revealed in the year 2000 was not the real secret. The most basic argument for this revolves around the decision to release the secret much later than as specified by Our Lady. It was thought that the secret might contain condemnatory remarks about the last pope (who obviously wouldn't have wanted to release it), or that it might contain inflammatory remarks about Russia (which would not have been good to release during the Cold War). Instead, the third part of the secret as revealed was by far the most unspecific and ambiguous part (compared to earlier parts which said that if unconsecrated, "Russia will spread its errors around the world").

The fate of the three children

Lucia is said to have seen the Virgin again, in 1925 at the Carmelite convent at Tuy , Spain, and was asked to convey the message of the First Saturday Devotions. A subsequent vision of the Christ Child Himself reiterated this request.

Lucia entered the convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Coimbra in 1928. In 1929, Mary returned to Sr. Lucia and repeated her request for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart . Lucia reportedly saw Mary in private visions off and on throughout her life.

Lucia died on February 13, 2005 at the age of 97. The date may have significance to Fatima devotees since most of the major events of this vision series took place on the 13th day of the month.

Lucia's cousins, the siblings Francisco (19081919) and Jacinta Marto (19101920) were both victims of the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1919.

Francisco and Jacinta were declared "venerable" (two steps away from sainthood) by Pope John Paul II in a public ceremony at Fatima on 13 May1989. John Paul returned there on 13 May 2000 to declare them "blessed". (See Canonization for more on that process.) Jacinta is the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.

Interestingly, during the second apparition on June 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary predicted the deaths of two of the children. Previously, she'd told them they would all eventually go to heaven. On June 13, Lucia asked the Virgin to take them to heaven soon. Mary replied "Yes, I shall take Jacinta and Francisco soon, but you will remain a little longer, since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart." The younger children were ecstatic to hear that they'd be going to Heaven "soon", and did not keep this information secret. Family, friends and curious tourists all report Jacinta and Francisco joyfully and serenely predicting their deaths. Jacinta, in fact, accurately predicted the exact hour and detailed circumstances of her death, according to accounts by her own mother, by Lucia, and by hospital staff.

Exhumed in 1935 and again in 1951, Jacinta's body was found incorrupt. Francisco's had decomposed.

Controversies of Fatima

Fatima is not without controversy. Many non-Christians, and some Christians, do not accept the Church's claim of veracity of the visions. Compare similar visions to shepherd children at La Salette in 1848, published in 1879. In addition, the cult of the Lady of Fatima was used by the authoritarian Salazar regime to bolster itself in power and persecute liberal opposition. During the Salazar period it became almost obligatory to believe in Fatima. This long period of dictatorship was even referred by the opposition as the time of "Fado, Fatima, and Football".

Also, in the years prior to the revelation of the Third Secret, many tabloids used the Secret for their own purposes. They would publish articles on an almost regular basis saying that the Third Secret was a vision of the end of the world, or "earth changes" similar to those predicted by Edgar Cayce, which would come to pass in the very near future. Many of these articles, which were written prior to the year 2000 would say that the events contained in their version of the Third Secret vision would occur around the year 2000. Lucia, when asked about these articles, denied that the third secret was anything like that.

Influence of the apparitions

Fátima has become a more usual Portuguese female name, even thought it was previously used. The name of the city derives from the Moslem period, Fatima Zahra being one of the daughters of Muhammad.

Our Lady Fatima Parish is one of the divisions of mainland Macau, a former Portuguese colony, now part of the a special administration region of China

Official position of the Roman Catholic Church

Catholics are not required to believe in a miraculous origin for the events at Fatima: as with other Church-approved visions such as those of Bernadette Soubirous, it is designated "worthy of belief".

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Last updated: 05-17-2005 04:09:43