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home : our faith : faith alive August 16, 2017

FAITH ALIVE: A brief history of Our Lady of Fatima

By Michael O'Neill | Catholic News Service

This year the Catholic Church celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the events at the Cova da Iria area of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed by three shepherd children who reported that they saw visions of Mary beginning on May 13, 1917, and then again on the 13th day of five subsequent months.

While tending sheep in a field, Lucia dos Santos and her two younger cousins, Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto, reported seeing a woman dressed all in white, "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."

Calling herself "Our Lady of the Rosary," Mary asked the children to pray the rosary daily for the conversion of sinners. She asked for prayer, penance and the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

On Oct. 13, 1930, Bishop Jose Alves Correia da Silva of the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima announced the results of the investigative commission and formally approved the apparitions. Every pope thereafter has recognized these events and has emphasized the importance of Our Lady of Fatima and the devotion to her Immaculate Heart.

The most spectacular of the apparitions was the sixth and final one on Oct. 13, 1917, when Mary appeared with St. Joseph. A crowd of 70,000 witnessed the sun dance, spin, display in various colors and descend on them, drying their rain-soaked clothes and the land. The sun miracle was reported by people as far as 40 miles away.

Due to the 1918 influenza epidemic, the two younger children did not live long beyond the apparition events. Francisco,10, requested his first Communion on his deathbed and passed away the following day, April 4, 1919. Jacinta died on Feb. 20, 1920, at age 9 after an unsuccessful operation for an abscess in her chest.

Lucia became a postulant at the convent of the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy at Pontevedra, Spain, but later entered the Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal, where she remained until her death in 2005.

Mary had given the children a secret in three parts. The first was a vision of hell. She also spoke of impending war and the need for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart; otherwise, communist Russia would "spread her errors throughout the world."

On May 13, 2000, St. John Paul II, at the end of Mass in Fatima with Sister Lucia in attendance, authorized Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, to make a statement regarding the third secret of Fatima, where he related the image of a "bishop clothed in white" getting shot.

After the assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca of Turkey on St. John Paul in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 (feast of Our Lady of Fatima), the pope believed that the secret applied to that event.

The next year, he took a bullet fragment that had entered his body and had it placed in the crown of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. Sister Lucia herself indicated that she agreed with this interpretation of it as a prophetic vision of the struggle of atheistic communism against Christianity and the sufferings of the victims of the faith.

That day, St. John Paul made the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima universal by including it in the Roman Missal and beatified the two deceased seers, Jacinta and Francisco. When canonized, they will become the youngest non-martyred saints in church history.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the normal five-year waiting period to begin the canonization process of Sister Lucia dos Santos who died at age 97 in 2005.

Fatima has become an important place of pilgrimage with 5 million people per year coming to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary which was first begun in 1928.

This 100th year of the Fatima apparitions is cause for great joy and celebration as are any of the very rare, highly approved and celebrated examples of the miraculous found in the Catholic Church such as Lourdes, Guadalupe, Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, examples with papal recognition, canonized visionaries, basilicas and feast days on the Roman calendar.

It must be remembered by the faithful however that these events belong to private revelation, as opposed to public revelation, that which is meant for all people for all time and has been completed by Christ.

When giving its approval to such spectacular supernatural events, the competent authority -- normally the local bishop -- is declaring that they are "worthy of belief."

Catholics are under no obligation to place their belief in such occurrences and may choose to incorporate them into their lives of faith as they wish.

Whatever the significance of the Fatima apparitions is for each us personally, this 100-year anniversary of these apparitions is a reminder of the central message of the Gospels, calling us to conversion and bringing us closer to Christ.

O'Neill is the author of "Exploring the Miraculous," creator of the website and producer of the new EWTN series "They Might Be Saints," available on

Visiting, and living with, Our Lady of Fatima

By Mike Nelson | Catholic News Service

"I get emotional very easily," admits Marina Yap with a smile, "especially when I'm thinking about Our Lady of Fatima. Like right now."

A native of the Philippines, Marina has adopted Our Lady of Fatima as her personal patron. In her home chapel in North Hollywood, California, she keeps a 42-inch, beautifully decorated statue of Our Lady of Fatima, alongside an image of the resurrected Christ.

"Every time I look at Our Lady," says Marina, "it makes me cry because I'm so filled with love for our Blessed Mother, what she stands for, and what she wants for us."

Indeed, Mary's message of peace, prayer and conversion have inspired Marina to form a prayer group devoted to promoting Our Lady of Fatima. She and her husband Michael also are members of the World Apostolate of Fatima's diocesan board in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

And in April 2016, Marina and Michael visited Fatima for the first time.

"I had recently been laid off from my restaurant job," she says softly, "so it was the perfect time for me and Michael to go."

At the Shrine of Fatima, they visited the Chapel of the Apparitions, filled with hundreds of pilgrims, and Marina was invited to lead five Hail Marys in Tagalog. "That was overwhelming," she says, her voice trembling at the memory. "So many people were there, and I was chosen. It was such an honor."

The following day the Yaps visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, built on the site where Mary first appeared to Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

"It was a quieter setting with not as many people," Marina says. "And my tears never stopped falling, because all I could think of was, 'She's embracing me, she's holding me ... she loves me.' I know I will be coming back."

Carl Malburg, on the other hand, has visited Fatima three times, but has yet to experience what he calls "that magical, 'wow' moment." But that doesn't mean he isn't devoted to Our Lady.

"She's with me all the time," grins the 75-year-old resident of Munster, Indiana, who -- as custodian of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue -- spends a good part of each year (from 100 to 200 days) traveling with Our Lady of Fatima, visiting parishes and other sites around the U.S. (and beyond).

Fortunately, Carl's wife Rose Marie understands, since she is president of the organization that coordinates appearances of the 40-inch, mahogany statue. The statue often occupies the seat next to Carl on airplanes and, not surprisingly, draws attention from Catholics and non-Catholics, from believers and non-believers alike.

"They want to know why we have a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima," he says. "And I'm happy to tell them, 'Our Lady of Fatima's message is conversion, the need to repent for our sins, the need to bring the graces of conversion to sinners and ourselves.' I also tell them that I myself always have to work on staying closer to the right track."

The biggest challenge, Carl notes, is addressing the suggestion that Fatima constitutes a "cult" or "fringe" element of Catholic belief.

"Our Lady is not spreading a new Gospel," he says. "She's simply a mother trying to help us all understand the message of the Gospel and follow the commandments.

"It's about closer communication with God. People in heaven -- family members, saints and certainly the Blessed Mother -- can hear our concerns, and we can call on them for help. That's something we profess in our creed every week -- the resurrection of the dead, the communion of saints and the life of the world to come. It's very much a part of our faith."

And to those who remain skeptical, Marina Yap offers this suggestion. "Just be open," she says, "because there will come a time when Our Lady will come knocking at your heart."

Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.

St. John Paul II and Our Lady of Fatima

By Marge Fenelon | Catholic News Service

This year, we celebrate two important anniversaries.

The first is the 100th anniversary of apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to the children, bearing the message of her son and pointing to the dire need for conversion of sinners.

Mary appeared six times to the children, eventually revealing the "Secret of Fatima," of which there were three parts that were to be made known at an appointed time.

The second anniversary is directly related to the first. May 13, 2017, marks the 36th anniversary of the assassination attempt on St. John Paul II. On that day in 1981, St. John Paul was proceeding with his weekly tour of St. Peter's Square when four shots were fired out of the crowd.

The would-be assassin was Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish national who had traveled across Europe before finally entering Rome.

Two bullets hit the pope, and he began bleeding badly. He was rushed to the hospital where he required a 5 1/2 hour surgery to repair damage to his abdomen. Fortunately, no vital organs had been hit.

A year after the attack, St. John Paul placed a bullet fragment from the attack in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

St. John Paul credited his miraculous survival to Our Lady of Fatima, to whom he had an ardent devotion. He later said he felt it was a "mother's hand that guided the bullet's path." While in recovery, the pope requested that the Fatima archives be brought to him for examination.

St. John Paul traveled to Fatima three times during his pontificate: in 1982, a year after the assassination attempt; in 1991, on the 10th anniversary of the attempt; and in 2000 during the Jubilee Year. On his final visit -- May 13, 2000 -- the pope beatified Francisco and Jacinta, two of the shepherd children. In his homily during the Mass he said:

"The message of Fatima is a call to conversion. … In her motherly concern, the Blessed Virgin came here to Fatima to ask men and women 'to stop offending God, Our Lord, who is already very offended.' It is a mother's sorrow that compels her to speak; the destiny of her children is at stake.

"For this reason she asks the little shepherds: 'Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners; many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.'"

On June 26, 2000, the Vatican formally released the third secret of Fatima, publishing "The Message of Fatima," including a photocopy of the text from Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, the remaining survivor of the three children who saw Mary at Fatima in 1917.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fatima is, in a way, also the celebration of St. John Paul's survival of an assassination attempt and the subsequent revelation of the third part of the Fatima secret. The message was pertinent in 1917 and even more pertinent in 2017.

Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is


On March 23, 2017, Pope Francis approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto, which opens the path for their canonization. When canonized, the two will be the youngest, nonmartyred saints recognized by the Catholic Church.

The two children, along with their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, first saw Mary appear in the Cova da Iria area of Fatima, Portugal, on May 13, 1917. The children reported that Mary appeared to them monthly from May to October of that year, revealing to them three "secrets" of Fatima and calling for the conversion of sinners as well as extra prayer, particularly of the rosary.

Following an influenza epidemic, Francisco, 10, and Jacinta, 9, died due to illness. Lucia later entered the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, Portugal, where she lived the remainder of her days until her death at age 97 in 2005.

Those devoted to Our Lady of Fatima hope that Pope Francis will canonize Francisco and Jacinta during his visit to Fatima for the 100-year anniversary of the first apparition.  

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