In 1916, 100 years ago, 3 small shepherd children in the tiny town of Aljustrel, Portugal had the job of taking care of the sheep for their poor families. Aljustrel, a half-mile from Fátima, was a rural community set in the Serra de Estrela mountain chain. This land was barren and difficult to farm.
One day, these peasant children, 9-year-old Lucia dos Santos and her young cousins, 8-year-old Francisco Martos and his sister 7-year-old Jacinta Martos were playing while tending the sheep.
Suddenly, in front of the three shepherd children stood a shining young man of about fourteen or fifteen. He was, according to Lucia, incredibly handsome and ‘more brilliant than a crystal, penetrated by the rays of the sun.’ He calmed the children and told them he was the ‘Angel of Peace.’ (Those Who Saw Her, Catherine M. Odell, Our Sunday Visitor, 2010, p. 138)
This vision, this Angel of Peace, taught the children how to pray and about the importance of prayer. He visited the little children two more times in the summer and fall of 1916.
Then, on May 13, 1917, as the children were guiding the sheep to graze, there appeared a vision of a beautiful woman hovering over a nearby tree. The children described her as glowing with light and were scared. Lucia, the eldest, asked her where she was from and she said that she was from Heaven. The children reported feeling filled with God and the woman asked them if they were willing to suffer and pray for the reparation of sins and for the conversion of sinners. They eagerly said yes. She told them that she wanted them to return to the same place at noon, on the 13th of the month for the next 6 months. During one of these visits, she told them that she was the Lady of the Rosary and that they were to continue saying the Rosary and pray for peace and for the consecration of Russia.
What I know about this is a drop in the bucket. I have always been fascinated with the appearance of Our Lady in Fatima and very recently was moved by the desire to learn more. What I have written above is the barest of skeletons about these apparitions and I implore you to read about it yourselves.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that much of the veracity of these visions is due to the fact that these were illiterate, peasant children with almost no knowledge of the world outside of their tiny village. They had never heard of Russia, and the idea of the need for the consecration of Russia would have no meaning for them.
The children learned three “secrets.” The first being a terrible vision of Hell that petrified them. In the book “A Woman Clothed With The Sun,” edited by John J. Delaney and published by Image Books/Doubleday, pages 163-164, Lucia’s description of the first two secrets are…
“You have seen Hell,” she explained to them “where the souls of sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If people do as I shall ask, many souls will be converted and there will be peace. This war is going to end, but if people do not cease offending God, not much time will elapse and during the pontificate of Pius XI another and more terrible war will begin.
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 heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the entire world, provoking wars and persecution of the church. But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and some time of peace will be granted to humanity.”
Again, I want to emphasize that I don’t believe that it is possible for the shepherd children living in an isolated village to have had any prior knowledge of the events to which these secrets referred. But they certainly understood to pray the Rosary for peace in the world. Both Francesco and Jacinta died in peaceful prayer during the flu pandemic of 1918. Lucia revealed these secrets in 1927. The third secret was sealed and not to be made known until 1960, although the Bishop with whom this was entrusted, chose not to make it known at that time.
Then the unthinkable happened. On May 13, 1981, 64 years to the day that the Lady first appeared to the three shepherd children, Pope John Paul II was shot. He credits Our Lady of Fatima for saving his life that day, and had the bullet that was removed from his stomach placed in the crown of the statue of Our Lady in the shrine at Fátima, Portugal.
On May 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II met with Lucia dos Santos, a 93-year-old Carmelite nun and afterwards revealed the third secret told to the little children 83 years earlier.
This picture accompanied an article in the New York Times International on May 14, 2000, “Vatican Discloses ‘Third Secret’ of Fatima”.
Pope John Paul II believed that he was the man clothed in white who was making his way to the cross and was going to be shot by bullets.
As I write this, tomorrow will be the 99th anniversary of the last visitation to young Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta near Fátima, Portugal.
I don’t know what the implications are for us. As prophesied, World War II occurred and then we entered the Cold War when many countries were threatened by Russia. Pope Pius XII in 1942, and again in 1952 and then Pope John Paul II in 1984, consecrated the world and Russia to the Immaculate Heart.
When I was a child during the Cold War, we were told to say the Rosary daily as that was the message given to us by Our Lady at Fatima. We were to continually pray to God and pray the Rosary for peace.
The fall of communism in Russia was ceremonially observed on December 25, 1991, a day on which the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated.
But today, we find Russia at the center of our political campaign to elect the President of the United States of America. On this 99th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary, heeding the messages given to the 3 humble children on October 13, 1917, seems as timely as ever.