Fatima, Portugal, 1917
The apparitions that occurred in Fatima are the most famous and influential of all known apparitions. Four million pilgrims visit Fatima annually. Like many of the apparitions, these came during a time of local Christian persecution, shortly after the monarchy in Portugal had been overthrown, causing anti-Christian groups to seize power and kill more than 1,700 Roman Catholic priests and monastics. In the wake of this violence, three shepherd children, named Jacinta Marto, Lucia dos Santos, and Francisco Marto experienced some of the most dramatic reported apparitions in history.
These apparitions of Mary were preceded by the appearance of an angel to the three young children telling them to pray this way, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe and do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.” The angel also offered them Holy Communion.
After the angel's visit, the Virgin Mary appeared to the children six times, on the thirteenth day of each month.
The first apparition occurred when the children were out with their sheep in an area called the Cova da Iria. They saw a bolt of lightning come from the clear blue sky. They ran toward their sheep, and as they did this they saw another flash of light and then a globe of light that landed in a nearby oak tree.
Before their eyes, the Virgin Mary emerged from this globe. She asked the children if they wanted to offer themselves to God and to suffer for Him. They said yes, and she told them that they would suffer much but would be strengthened by the grace of God. She also told them that two of them would be in heaven shortly. The shepherd girl who would be left behind, Lucia, would be responsible for spreading the word about the apparition and spreading devotion to the Lady's Immaculate Heart.
In the next vision, the Virgin Mary offered the children a terrifying glimpse of hell. She told the children that the Lord wanted them to help establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart to bring more souls to salvation. All of this took place during World War I. Mary then told the children that this war would end, but a worse war would later begin. She told them that Russia would spread its errors all over the world and entire nations might be obliterated if it was not consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. Its consecration, however, would lead to “the conversion of Russia.”
The next apparition did not occur as planned because the children were kidnapped and held prisoner for three days. They survived and the prison administrator was forced to release them. On August 13, eighteen thousand people witnessed what they interpreted as a sign of God's anger for the kidnapping of the children. They saw lightning and thunder, the sky turned pale, and a yellowish haze hung about. A white cloud hung in an oak tree and transformed into all the colors of the rainbow.
On August 19, the Virgin Mary appeared to the children again and asked them to pray for all those who did not pray, saying that many souls are damned because there is no one to pray for them.
The End of the World?
On October 13, 70,000 people arrived at the Cova. A storm had just swept through Europe the night before. The Virgin Mary told the children that she was “the Lady of the Rosary” and that people must change their lives and not offend the Lord anymore because He was already greatly offended. She stretched her hands toward the sun and rays of light streamed from her fingers and the sun began to spin — the event that is now known as the famous Miracle of the Sun.
How do many people interpret the “conversion” Mary spoke of?
Although some people have interpreted the “conversion” Mary reportedly spoke of to mean that Russia would become a Catholic country, others have linked this to the fall of atheist Communism and the reemergence of the local churches.
Rays of color streamed from the sun and then the sun seemed to fall from the sky and rush toward the earth. All the onlookers dropped to their knees praying for forgiveness because they thought the world was ending. Just when it seemed the sun was about to collide with the earth, it returned to its place in the sky. While onlookers as far as thirty miles away were witnessing this solar phenomenon, the visionary children were watching scenes from the heavens. They saw Jesus in a red robe blessing the crowds, the infant Jesus with Joseph and Mary, and then Mary in brown robes. This was the final public vision at Fatima.
Both Francisco and Jacinta died of influenza. Lucia was later sent to a girls' school run by the sisters of Saint Dorothy. In 1934 she became a nun, after having one more vision of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in 1925. In 1929 the Virgin told Sister Lucia that it was time for the pope to consecrate Russia to his heart.
In 1989, Sister Lucia sent a message to the world to let everyone know that the pope's consecration of Russia had been accepted and that the results of his action would become clear later that year. In late 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. By 1991, Communism had collapsed in Russia. On August 19, 1991, in a Communist coup, Mikhail Gorbachev was captured and held for three days, just as the three visionary children at Fatima had been held for three days. This all occurred on the same day as the delayed fourth apparition at Fatima. The coup ultimately failed and Gorbachev was set free on August 22, which is also the Roman Catholic feast of the Queenship of Mary.