To a world embroiled in a war that would leave Western civilization in ruins, and at the outset of a century in which God’s place in society would be rashly and self-confidently spurned, a message from Heaven came to the tiny, unknown town of Fatima. One hundred years ago, in the very heart of nature, to three little children peacefully pasturing their family’s sheep in the fields, the Mother of God delivered a message gravely needed for our time.
On the 13th day of the month, from May to October 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, who were ten, nine, and seven years old. Through these humble and simple children, Heaven provided Earth a warning of dangers to come that could lead to the destruction of the world and the ruin of countless souls. In a prophetic secret, Our Lady gave the children a frightening vision of Hell, and foretold the coming of the Second World War, the rise of Communist Russia, and the persecution of the Church. To draw the world from this ruinous course and to bring about a lasting peace, she called for the Rosary to be prayed daily, for acts of penance, and for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. With these dire warnings and urgent requests, the Mother of God also gave a promise of hope: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
All of this was reported by the shepherd children. The message of Fatima—without any propaganda or publicity—spread by word of mouth and crossed the frontiers of Portugal. The irresistible flow of pilgrims increased more and more in response to this message of hope. During the last apparition, on October 13, 1917, a crowd of 70,000 gathered at the Cova da Iria, where Our Lady had appeared to the children. She promised a great miracle that day so all would believe. As the crowds raised their eyes to Heaven in prayer, they would witness the promised miracle, confirming everything the children had said. They saw the sun dance.
Gathered in the Cova were the devout, the curious, and the scoffers, as well as journalists seeking to unmask what they deemed a hoax. The day was terribly gloomy, an allegory for a world immersed in war and losing its way. Everyone was soaking wet, had mud at their feet, and were chilled to the bone on account of the torrents of rain that had been falling throughout the night and right up until noon, the moment of Our Lady’s appearance.
The children saw the flash of light and Our Lady appeared on the holm oak tree, as she had during the previous apparitions. Lucia began her conversation with the Blessed Virgin with her usual question: “What do you want of me?” Our Lady replied: “I want a chapel to be built here in my honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.” Lucia then presented Our Lady with petitions on behalf of others: “I have many things to ask of you: to heal some sick people and to convert some sinners.” The reply was simple and direct: “Some, yes; others, no. People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins.” Then growing sadder, Our Lady said: “They must not offend Our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended.” Lucia inquired lastly: “Do you want anything more?” “Nothing more,” came the reply.
As the Mother of God took leave of the children she opened her hands, releasing a flood of light up to the sky, brightening the sun itself. Lucia cried aloud: “There she goes; there she goes!” and drew everyone’s attention to the sun. At this moment the clouds quickly parted and the children saw the Holy Family with Saint Joseph holding the Christ Child on one arm. Together, they blessed the world tracing the Sign of the Cross with their hands. This vision then disappeared, and Mary appeared as the Mother of Sorrows along with the suffering Christ who blessed the world by tracing the Sign of the Cross. This vision also vanished, and was followed by the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, holding her Divine Son.
This is what the children saw. The crowd however, could only see the bright sun piercing through the sky, which had cleared so abruptly. Then, they saw what the sun did.
The rainfall ceased and the bright sun was able to be looked upon directly without any painful disturbance to the eyes. One witness to the miracle, Mary Allen, stated: “Suddenly the rains ceased, the clouds separated and I saw a large sun, brighter than the sun, yet I could look at it without hurting my eyes, as if it were the moon” (quoted in Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR).
Then the sun began to dance, whirling violently through the sky, shooting forth streams of light which colored objects on the ground. The sun then seemed to detach itself from the sky and plummet to the Earth. Another witness, Maria Carreira, recalled: “It looked like a wheel of fire that was going to fall on the people. They began to cry out, ‘We shall all be killed!’ Others called to Our Lady to save them. They recited acts of contrition. One woman began to confess her sins aloud, advertising that she had done this and that…” (quoted in Fatima for Today). The sun then climbed back to its normal place in the sky, leaving everything instantaneously dry, from the dirt on the ground to the clothes on the people’s backs. The whole spectacle lasted about 10 minutes.
Not every witness was a willing believer. Many were skeptics, and some were even declared enemies of the Church.
John M. Haffert’s book Meet the Witnesses of the Miracle of the Sun includes the story of Mario Godinho. Mario was a skeptic. He was a member of a distinguished Portuguese family who worked as an engineer and lived 18 miles away from Fatima. Mario owned one of the few cars in the area, and succumbed to the nagging of his pious mother to drive her to the Cova da Iria for the June apparition. Over the course of the six months the apparitions were taking place, he met all three children and was able to ask them many questions. He even took the first photograph of the little visionaries. But unlike his mother, he did not believe. He left every encounter disappointed (perhaps at their simplicity) and did not even bother to get out of his car on October 13, when his mother nagged him to bring her to the Cova for the promised miracle. Desiring to avoid the immense crowd as well as the rain, he remained seated in his car on a road a distance off from the Cova. After hearing the cries of the crowd he got out of his car and gave an account of the dancing sun similar to the one mentioned above, concluding with the simple words: “I saw that sun as I never saw it again.” In his account, he added as a side note that his mother was able to take two leaves from the holm oak Our Lady appeared on, which still had drops of candle grease from the candles lighted by the three children. One of these leaves he sent to the Holy Father in Rome, and the other he carried in his wallet for the rest of his life as a sign of his restored faith.
Two prominent newspapers of Portugal at the time were O Seculo (“The Century”) and Diario de Noticias (“The Daily News”). They were pro-government, anti-clerical, and had a wide circulation that included Lisbon. From October 13-17, 1917, these newspapers recorded the eyewitness accounts of editors and reporters who had been at Fatima and witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun.” The reporters dispatched to Fatima expected to detail for their readership crowds being dispersed by soldiers of the anti-clerical government or, even better, the crowds themselves repudiating the three little children because the promised miracle failed to transpire. Dario de Noticias was forced to publish the following account, however: “…Then the silvery sun, still shrouded in that grayish light, began to rotate and wander within the circle of the receded clouds! The people cried out with one voice. Thousands, transported by ecstasy fell to their knees upon the muddy ground…” (Haffert, page 74).
Avelino da Almeida was the managing editor of O Seculo. He was also a Freemason and antagonistic towards the Catholic Church. The very morning of the miracle he published a critical article about the gathering at Fatima and questioned the state of mind of the many who came to the Cova. He also suggested that clergy and commercial interests were promoting the spectacle purely for financial benefit. The next day he reported this: “…one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from the clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place…. People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and the dancing of the sun” (Apostoli, page 132). He would later say that the rationalism of unbelievers suffered a “formidable blow” by all that transpired that day (Haffert, page 75).
Not every witness was in Fatima either. The great miracle was seen by many people from neighboring towns and villages up to 25 miles away. These distant witnesses dispel theories of mass hallucination or suggestion resulting from the heightened emotion of expectation.
And with this great miracle, the Fatima apparitions had come to an end.
Thirteen years after the “Miracle of the Sun,” on April 14, 1930, the Church gave its decision after a commission was appointed to investigate the events at Fatima. The Church declared the visions of the three little shepherd children worthy of belief. With regard to the “Miracle of the Sun,” the commission stated: “The solar phenomenon of the thirteenth of October, 1917, described in the press of the time, was most marvelous and caused the greatest impression on those who had the happiness of witnessing it…. This phenomenon, which no astronomical observatory registered and which therefore was not natural, was witnessed by persons of all categories and of all social classes, believers and unbelievers, journalists of the principal Portuguese newspapers, and even by persons some miles away. Facts which annul any explanation of collective illusion” (Haffert, page 100).
In 2017, we live in an almost totally secularized society, where man has forgotten God. But in His mercy, God has given the world hope in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Heeding her message given to us 100 years ago and made remarkably apparent by the famed “Miracle of the Sun,” let us return to God.