Fatima August 1917, by Donal Anthony Foley
The fourth apparition at Fatima, which was due to take place at the Cova da Iria on 13 August 1917, was frustrated by the actions of the local administrator, Artur Santos, a Freemason and the most prominent local figure. He had become alarmed at the reports about the apparitions that were in circulation, which he considered as nothing more than a religious “fanaticism,” a movement which he was determined to stamp out. On 11 August, the children were summoned to his offices in Vila Nova de Ourem, a distance of about 8 miles away over winding country roads. Ti Marto, the father of Jacinta and Francisco, refused to bring them, but Lucia had to travel all the way on a donkey, with her father. She fell off three times. This was her first serious encounter with the lay authorities, and Santos did everything he could to get the secret out of her, including threatening her with death, but she said nothing.
Santos, though, was very determined, and on the morning of 13 August he turned up at the Marto house with an offer of a lift in a carriage to the Cova da Iria for the children, saying, that like St Thomas, he too wanted to see for himself and believe. But it was a trick and instead of heading towards the Cova, he took them in the carriage to his house for questioning.
As noon approached, a large crowd began to assemble at the Cova having come on foot, horseback, bicycle, and even in some cases, by car. Prayers and hymns were being offered up when suddenly the news was brought from Fatima that the children had been kidnapped. Immediately a great commotion began, but according to Maria Carreira, an important early eye-witness, this was interrupted by a noise like a loud clap of thunder and then a flash of “lightning.” Then, as everyone watched, a small cloud, “very delicate, very white,” stopped over the holmoak tree where Our Lady had previously appeared and then rose into the air before disappearing. Maria Carreira then describes how everything about them began to reflect all the colors of the rainbow, “pink, red, blue,” and how the leaves on the trees seemed to look like flowers. These strange phenomena had been seen at previous apparitions, and would be seen again.
Realizing that the Blessed Virgin had come, the crowd, estimated at between five and six thousand, began to shout against the Mayor and his followers. Apparently the noise was so great it could be heard in Aljustrel, over a mile away!
But despite the anger of the people, there was nothing to be done, and the children had meanwhile spent the morning being interrogated about the secret. Threats from the Mayor, though, and even the promise of money and gold, had no effect. In the afternoon they were taken to the local jail and told that a cauldron of boiling oil was being prepared for them, and that they would be thrown alive into it unless they revealed the secret. They spent two hours in the terrifying expectation that this was what would happen to them, but still said nothing. In fact, one of the prisoners with whom they were incarcerated urged them to tell the Mayor the secret, but Jacinta said that they would rather die.
Then they were brought once more before Santos, and when they still refused to tell him the secret, were taken off one by one fully expecting martyrdom. But still they did not crack and eventually they were joyfully reunited in another room. Santos stubbornly refused to admit defeat and had one last attempt to break their resolve, threatening to throw all three together into the oil. But finally, failing yet again to extract the secret from them, he gave up and the children were taken back to Fatima.
Only three months after their first encounter with Our Lady, then, the children had grown so much in spiritual stature that they were ready and willing to become martyrsa sign of the profound change that had come over them, and of the powerful influence of the Blessed Virgin.
Just a few days later, Lucia, Francisco, and his brother João, were with the sheep at a place called Valinhos, near their village Aljustrel, when, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, the characteristic changes in atmospheric conditions which had previously indicated an apparition of Our Lady became apparent; the air became fresher, the sun dimmer, and a there was a flash of light. Lucia told João to go and fetch Jacinta, but he was reluctant to go, and she had to give him some money. As Jacinta arrived there was another flash of light and they could see Our Lady over a different, slightly bigger, tree. Once more, Lucia asked what she wanted, to be told: “Go again to the Cova da Iria on the 13th and continue to say the Rosary every day.” The Blessed Virgin repeated her promise to perform a miracle in October, so that all could believe in the apparitions, and said that if they had not been abducted, it would have been even greater.
Lucia then asked about how the developing shrine at the Cova should be dealt with, and after the Blessed Virgin had explained what she wanted done, was told that some of the sick would be cured during the year. Our Lady, looking very sad, then said: “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.” With that she rose into the air and moved towards the east before disappearing. The children then took the branch of the tree she had stood on home as a souvenir. This was perfumed with the most beautiful fragrance, and was a factor in persuading Lucia’s parents to begin to believe in the apparitions.
From this point on, we can see how the children rapidly grew in holiness, having absorbed the Blessed Virgin’s fervent pleas for prayer and penance. For hours on end they prayed the prayer they had been taught by the Angel who had appeared to them on three occasions times the previous year, lying prostrate on the ground as they repeated his words: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love you.” They also went for long hours without drinking in the burning heat of the Portuguese summer, and likewise fasted in reparation for sinners, to save them from the fires of hell, mindful of the vision of that terrible place which had so profoundly affected them. They even knotted some pieces of old rope around their waists as a form of mortification, not removing them day or night.
Although we may not be able to fully emulate the children in this respect, perhaps there are some more prayers and sacrifices we could make in order to better live out the Fatima message?
This article appeared initially in the Wanderer.