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Fatima 100. Historical aspects.


Until 100 years ago, Fatima was an unknown village in central Portugal without any importance for geographers (Felici 1997: 15). But since 1917, along with the apparitions of Our Lady in front of the three little shepherds (Lucia, Iacinta and Francis), the word "Fatima" has been uttered by millions of people, many of them pilgrims to the holy places of Portugal; the holy places where Our Lady, the Queen of All Saints, descended among the humans to invite everyone to prayer and penitence (Suciu 2017: 41).

The interest of Romanians in the devotion of Saint Mary of Fatima developed mainly in the interwar period. For example, in the "Saint Helen" parish in Bucharest, on the initiative of the local parson, Alexandru Horvat, SJ, on 13th of February 1945 was organized "the first penitence pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima", an event which constituted the beginning of a long and wonderful tradition, which is also kept nowadays: on the 13th day of each month prayers are said to Our Lady of Fatima (Dobos 2015: 5).

One hundred years since this miracle, Christians are still asking themselves if they have understood, in its fullness, the message of Our Lady and if they have put into practice the advice given by the Queen of Heaven.

In the following pages, we shall outline the historical aspects which form the context of the apparitions. First, we shall briefly explore the political context of this event, and then we shall describe chronologically the six apparitions of Saint Mary, Mother of God.

1. The political context

The monarchy was abolished in Portugal in 1910, when King Manuel II (1908-1910) was forced to abdicate the throne, as the revolutionists proclaimed the Republic, in the same year.

On 28th June 1914, in Sarajevo, the inheritor of the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, was murdered. The author of this crime was Gavrilo Princip, a former student, member of the secret organization "Black Hand", which had fought for the unity of all the South Slavs. This event was a pretext for Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, on 28th July 1914. Immediately, Russia mobilized its armies to defend its ally, Serbia; consequently, Germany declared war on Russia, in order to support its ally, Austria-Hungary. However, the Germans did not want a war on two fronts, against Russia and France at once; so they attacked France first. Afterwards, all the World Powers joined the war, as well as other states that wanted to fulfill their goals (Netzhammer, vol. I, 2005: 629-630). In 1916, Portugal joined the war as an ally of the Entente Powers, as it had had close economic relationships with the British Empire for centuries.

2. The history of the apparitions

2.1. The vision of the Angel of Peace

Before the apparitions of Virgin Mary in 1917, the three shepherds (Lucia, Iacinta and Francis--Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, the siblings Francis and Iacinta Marto, all of whom lived in the small settlement Aljustrel, a part of the Fatima parish) had had three visions of the Angel of Peace. The number three and the three apparitions of the messengers of God is common in the Bible (Faraoanu 2018: 103-104).

The first apparition occurred in the spring of 1916, in front of a grotto on the Cabeco Hill, near Aljustrel, as sister Lucia recalled:
We had been playing for a while and then a strong wind blew the trees
and this made us look above, as it was a clear sky. Then, we saw in the
distance, above the trees, lying in the east, a white light, having the
form of a transparent young adult, brighter than a crystal crossed by
the sunlight. As it approached us, we could figure out its features: a
teenager, 14 or 15 years of age, very beautiful. We were surprised and
also fascinated. We were left speechless. Arriving near us, he said:
"Have no fear. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me". Kneeling down
before us, he bowed to the ground. Led by a supernatural force, we
followed him and we repeated his words: "My God, I believe, adore, hope
and love you. I beg forgiveness for those who do not believe, do not
adore, do not hope and do not love you". After he repeated this for
three times, he stood up and said: "Like this you ought to pray. The
Heart of Jesus and of Mary are attentive to your voices". Then, he

The three children were amazed and, remaining in the same position the Angel had left them, kept repeating the same words.

The second apparition occurred in the summer of 1916, around the well of Lucia's family courtyard, where the children were playing. Sister Lucia recalls the Angel's words:
What are you doing? Pray! Pray a lot! The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the
one of Mary have mercy on you! Offer ceaselessly to the Holy One
prayers and sacrifices. Lucia got courage and asked: "How can we
sacrifice ourselves?" "In everything you can and how much you can
(...). Thus you will bring peace to your country. I am the Guardian
Angel of your country (...) Above all, receive and bear the sufferance
which the Lord will send you. (Suciu 2017: 50)

The third apparition of the Angel occurred at the beginning of the fall of 1916, at the same grotto in Cabeco Hill. The three children arrived before the grotto, and started to pray the Rosary and the prayer they had learned from the Angel. Suddenly, they saw shining above them an unknown light. They saw the Angel holding in his hands a chalice with a host, from which a few drops of Blood fell in the chalice. Leaving the chalice and the host floating in the air, the Angel kneeled near them, asking them to repeat a penance prayer three times.

Then, recalls Lucia, he stood up, he took again the chalice in his hands and gave me the Host, and what was in the chalice, he gave to Iacinta and Francis to drink, telling them: "Take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, awfully insulted by the unthankful ones. Give redresses for their sins and caress your God".

Again he bowed to the ground and repeated with us the same prayer three times, and then he disappeared (Felici 1997: 30-31).

2.2. The apparitions of our Lady

The first apparition (13th of May). Sunday, the 13th of May 1917, the siblings Iacinta (7 years old) and Francis Mato (11 years old), with their cousin Lucia dos Santos (10 years old) were herding the sheep near Fatima, in a place called "Cova da Iria" (Valley of Peace). After lunch, they prayed the Holy Rosary and then started to play, building little stone houses. Suddenly, the three shepherds saw a lightning before a bright light appeared. Approaching them, the children noticed in the middle of the light the figure of a young woman ("the Lady from the Light") (Cionchi 2010: 56). The Lady was dressed in a robe, like a cape, with golden edges, which covered her head and her entire body. From her entwined hands hung a Rosary, with a silver cross. While the children were trying to run, the Lady stopped them saying: "Do not be afraid! I do not want to harm you!" Lucia asked her: "From which country are you?" The Lady answered: "My country is in Heaven." Then, she asked them to come to the same place, at the exact same hour, on the 13th day of each month, until October. When Lucia heard that the Lady had come from Heaven, she asked her if she and the other children would go to Heaven. The Lady assured her that all three of them would go to Heaven, but Francis would have to say many prayers before he could go to heaven. Then Lucia asked "the Lady from the Light" what happened to her two friends, who had died recently at a young age. One of them, said the Lady, was in Heaven, and the other one was in Purgatory. Then the Lady asked them if they would like to offer sacrifices and to receive sufferings in order to convert the sinners. Lucia answered in the affirmative for all of them. Pleased with their answer, the Lady advised them to pray every day the Holy Rosary for peace; after that, she disappeared. All this lasted for about ten minutes, and while all the three children could see everything that had happened, Francis was not able to hear anything (Suciu 2017: 55-58).

Even if the shepherds agreed not to tell anyone anything about this, Iacinta could not keep the secret and that evening, she told her family what had happened that afternoon. Obviously, no one believed her (Felici 1997: 39-40).

The second apparition (13th of June). The shepherds, followed by a group of 50 to 60 curious people (Van Es 1986: 11) returned to the place of the first apparition. Faithful to her given word, the Virgin Mary appeared, asking Lucia to learn to read and reassuring her that the other two children would go to Heaven. Also, the Lady told Lucia that Jesus wanted, with her assistance, to spread the devotion of the Immaculate Heart throughout the world. The three visionaries could see the Lady's heart crowned with thorns, understanding the invitation to penitence (Suciu 2017: 62-67).

The third apparition (13th of July). Although the three children had been chided by their parents and by the local inhabitants, as well as by the parson, on 13th of July, followed by 5,000 persons, they returned again to the place of apparitions (Van Es 1986: 11). Again, the Virgin Mary asked the shepherds to pray the Rosary daily and to offer sacrifices. Lucia asked the Lady to perform a miracle for those who did not believe, but the Lady asked them to come on each 13th day of the following months and said that on 13th of Octobershe would perform a miracle so that everyone would believe. During this apparition, the Lady told Lucia a series of secrets: the vision of hell and the prophecy of the Second World War, which would begin during the pontificate of Pius the 11th (1932-1939) (Felici 1997: 59-60). Only in 1941, at the Church's request and, after having received permission from the heavens, did Lucia put down two of the three secrets.

The third secret has a special history and for a better understanding, we shall present below an excerpt from a study entitled "The third secret of Fatima: dates, doubts and insides", published by Andrea Tornielli in Vatican Insider on 9th of May 2017:
Since sister Lucia's health had become weak, the bishop feared that she
could die without telling the third secret. So Correia da Silva, first
personally, then in writing, commanded her, at the end of summer 1943,
to write on paper the last part of the prophecy. The visionary had
tried for five times, but she could not write. The turning point
occurred in January 1944. Lucia felt the Virgin's presence and told
everything that had happened in a letter addressed to the bishop,
handing him the secret also.
This letter and the words we are about to cite have been unknown until
recent times. The Virgin's indications were precise: "Do not be afraid,
as God wanted to try your submission, faith and humility; be calm and
write what I command you, yet you cannot understand these. After you
have written it, put it in an envelope, close it and seal it and write
that it can be opened after 1960 by the patriarch cardinal of Lisbon or
by the bishop of Leira (...)". The envelope was sealed with a little
bit of wax and given to the bishop of Leira, who announced it to the
patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Goncalves Cerejeira, and to the Holy See,
he was advised to keep the envelope. The bishop, even if he could, did
not open the envelope. On 7th of September 1946, having an intervention
at the Marian Congress from Campinas, Brazil, Cerejeira announced that
the envelope would be opened in 1960.
After a year and a half, receiving the text of the prophecy in the
envelope sealed by the visionary, Monseigneur Correia da Silva put the
envelope in a personal one and sealed it again, writing: "This envelope
with its contents will be given to his Eminence, cardinal don Manuel,
Patriarch of Lisbon, after my death. Leira, 8th of December 1945, Jose,
bishop of Leira.
In 1956, when the bishop was already old, sick and almost blind, and
the date indicated for revealing the secret was approaching, he
received an order from the Vatican to send to Rome a copy of all sister
Lucia's manuscripts and the original envelope of the third secret. In
mid-March 1957, the auxiliary bishop of Leira, Joao Pereira Venancio,
gave the document to the apostolic nuncio in Portugal, the Archbishop
Fernando Cento. The envelope arrived in the Vatican on 16th of April
1957 (...)
The first Pontiff who opened the envelope and read the secret was John
XXIII, during the summer of 1959, while he was at Gandolfo Castle; on
17th August (...) The Pope brought the envelope to the Vatican. No one
spoke about it, neither did the Holy Office. The envelope lay in a desk
drawer in the Pope's bedroom. So, the envelope was kept in an
inconspicuous and not easily accessible place (...). After he had asked
to be helped to translate the text, John XXIII dictated Monseigneur
Capovilla a few sentences which he wrote on an envelope, which has been
kept secret until recently: "The Holy Father had received this piece of
writing from Monseigneur Philippe. He had reserved the right to read it
on Friday along with his confessor. As there were some difficulties in
translating the text, he had asked Monseigneur Tavares to translate it.
He showed it to his close collaborators; and, in the end, he said that
the envelope would be closed again, along with these words: Without any

But the secret text did not remain known only to a few people. Planning his visit to Fatima, on 13th of May 1967, to mark the 50th anniversary of the apparitions, on 1st of March Paul VI called a Plenary Meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during which the secret was read and whether it should be made public or not was discussed. The negative opinions prevailed, so it was decided to continue on John XXIII's directive. In 1978, after the short pontificate of John Paul I, Karol Wojtyla was elected pope. According to his confession of 13th of May 2000 at Fatima, presented by the Vatican's spokesman, John Paul II had read the text in 1978, a few days after he had been elected. From other testimonies, presented by the Portuguese vaticanist Aura Miguel, after the attack of 13th of May 1981, while taken to be hospitalized at the Gemelli Polyclinic, pope Wojtyla asked to see all the documents regarding Fatima: one of the first cardinals who had visited John Paul II was the Argentinian Eduardo Pironio, who declared that he had seen the pope lost in documents about the apparitions in Cova da Iria. The former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Laity stated that the pope, impressed by the coincidence of the two dates, studied the documents.

According to Monseigneur Bertone's writings, that event took place more than two months after the attack. On 18th of July 1981, His Eminence Franjo Seper, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave his Excellency Eduardo Martinez Somalo, substitute of the Secretary of State, two envelopes: one white, with the original text of sister Lucia in Portuguese; another one, orange, with the Italian translation of the secret. On 11th of August, Monseigneur Martinez restored the two envelopes to the Holy Office's archive.

In this case, the differences between the accounts could have a simple explanation. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that 17 days after he had left the Gemelli Polyclinic, John Paul II returned there on 20th of June 1981 due to a blood infection. He would remain in hospital for another 55 days, until 14th of August. During this new period of hospitalization, according to the registers of the Holy Office, he received the documents regarding Fatima. So it can not be excluded that in fact the versions may concur and that the remembrances of the Pontiff consulting the documents refer to the second hospitalization rather than the first one. Thus, on 13th of May 2000, at the end of the Mass for the beatification of Francis and Iacinta Marto, celebrated by John Paul II in the presence of sister Lucia in the square in front of the Fatima sanctuary, the cardinal secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, presented a summary of the secret. Sodano exposed the prophecy as referring to the past, to the persecution of the Christians that had occurred during the last century and stated that in the vision the pope "drops as dead". He also declared that in order to allow Christians to receive and understand the message of Fatima, the pope had given the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the mission to publish the third part of the secret, after it had prepared a proper commentary for it. Even if the vision does not contain prophecies about natural disasters or about losing the faith in God, the images are still powerful and apocalyptic: it refers to the martyrdom of a large number of Christians--a relevant and sad subject nowadays--and to the death of a pope who is murdered.

The fourth apparition (19th of August). After the apparition of 13th of July, due to the agitation that had overtaken the people, the three children were declared epileptics. However, many wanted to know more about these apparitions. So, on 13th of August, approximately 20,000 persons gathered up at Fatima to witness the apparition of the heavenly Lady. (Van Es 1986: 16). The hour was approaching, but the children did not arrive. In fact, the three shepherds had been arrested and confined by the local mayor Francis da Silva, because Lucia refused to reveal the secret she had heard at the last apparition. When the crowd decided to go to the mayor for explanations, the familiar thunder was heard; after it, a bright light appeared, then a beautiful cloud landed on the place where, usually, the Virgin had previously appeared. After ten minutes, the cloud rose to the heavens. After many threats and tortures, the three children were released on 15th of August 1917.

On Sunday, 19th of August, Lucia, Francis and his brother John--Iacinta had remained home--went to herd the sheep to the place called "Valinhos". The Virgin appeared and was disappointed by those who had detained the children. She asked them to pray and not to forget the meetings of the past two months (Suciu 2017: 62-67).

The fifth apparition (13th of September). Over 20,000 people were there to witness the fifth apparition of the Mother of God (Van Es 1986: 16). On Lucia's advice, the crowd kneeled down and prayed the Rosary. Suddenly, the Virgin appeared and assured the children that in October, the Lord would come to bless the world, along with the Lady of Sorrows, the Mother of Carmel, and Saint Joseph with the Baby Jesus. "God is pleased with your sacrifices" (Felici 1997: 97).

The sixth apparition (13th of October 1917). A day before the last apparition, during which the Lady had promised to perform a miracle, Lucia's mother told her to confess because if the miracle would not happen, the crowd could attack and murder her. Lucia assured her mother that the Virgin would keep her promise and so it was impossible for her to be murdered. Many pilgrims slept in the open air.

Over 60,000 people were present at the last apparition (Van Es 1986: 19). They did not fear to be out in the rain, which had transformed Cova da Iria into mud. While the crowd was praying, the Virgin Mary appeared and Lucia asked her a question: "Who are you and what do you want from me?" The Mother of God answered: "I am the Queen of the Holy Rosary. I want a chapel to be built here in my honor". Also, the Virgin asked for prayers for the conversion of sinners and the daily prayer of the Rosary. The moment "the Lady of the Light" disappeared, Lucia shouted: "Look at the sun" (Suciu 2017: 104-110). In a single moment, the rain ceased, the clouds cleared and the sun looked like a wheel of fire which turned around its axis, spreading rays of light of different colours. After a short break, another dance of the sun followed, above the thousands of people who were watching the spectacle performed by the sun. After another break, a miracle more coloured and brighter than the first two followed; while the pilgrims were enjoying the events, the three visionaries were lead into Paradise, where they could see the Mother of God and Saint Joseph with the Baby Jesus in his arms, blessing the world. Then, Lucia saw Saint Mary as the Mother of Sorrows and as the Mother of Carmel (Felici 1997: 109-115).

Iacinta and Francis were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 13th of May 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis on 13th of May 2017. Sister Lucia dos Santos passed away on 13th of February 2005, at the age of 98, in the Carmelite Monastery in Coimbra. Today, her cause of beatification is in progress at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in the Vatican. The bodies of the three visionaries rest in the Sanctuary at Fatima (Dobos 2010: 85).


Today, when we celebrate 100 years since the apparitions of Saint Mary at Fatima, humanity is invited again to admire the beauty of the Mother of God, but also to mind her gentle but severe voice, which calls everyone to prayer and penitence.

The apparitions at Fatima and the three shepherds' sanctity represent for every Christian a piece of the glory promised by Jesus in the Gospel. He does not guarantee an easy life on this earth, but eternal life, being helped by His grace, after we win over the forces of darkness, which lose all their power in front of God Almighty.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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Fabian Dobos, PhD. Reverend Associate Professor of Church History, Faculty of Catholic Theology. Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. Iasi, Romania;
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Author:Dobos, Fabian
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Geographic Code:4EUPR
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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