Many times in our lives we face opposition, and it can be very difficult to remain faithful under the pressure that we receive from others. Sometimes, the forces against us are well-meaning, but simply misguided, at other times, we can face serious resistance. In this story, we see what God asked of several young children. They were asked to believe in Him and Our Lady despite facing opposition from all sides including their families, their village, and the local government. Perhaps we can take courage from them as we face our own burdens.
The Children of Fatima and the Angel
Their story begins in 1916 in the village of Aljustrel which is in the parish of Fatima, Portugal. Lucia Santos, who at nine was the oldest of the three children, would take her family's flock of sheep out to graze on land outside the village. Her two cousins, Jacinta (5) and Francisco (7) joined her while they cared for their family's flock. They would pass the time playing, singing, and dancing (Jacinta especially loved to dance). They had also been told to say their Rosary after eating their lunch. They would do that albeit most times that would simply say "Hail Mary" and "Our Father" rather than the whole prayers as they passed the beads through their hands.
On one beautiful spring day that year, the children had a remarkable encounter with what Lucia described as a fourteen or fifteen year-old boy who was whiter than snow and transparent as crystal. He greeted the children and told them to not be afraid. He identified himself as the Angel of Peace and invited the children to pray with him. The angel knelt on the ground and taught them a prayer of adoration and reparation. (The prayer is listed at the end of the story.) The children learned the prayer and joined the angel in prayer. Lucia urged her cousins to not share this encounter with anyone, and they did not.
After this apparition, the children would often spend long periods of time praying the prayer which they had learned. They also would do small acts on penance. The angel visited them two others times that same year. Both times he urged them to continue praying and to make sacrifices and reparation for sins. He also made clear that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary had plans for Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco.
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The First Apparition of the Lady
About eight months after the last visit of the angel, on the 13th day of the month of May in 1917, the three children were again out with their sheep when they were frightened by what they thought was lightning. Fearing a storm, they began to drive the sheep down in to a small area. Then they saw a beautiful lady dressed in white and shining brilliantly. As she appeared over a small tree, she assured them they did not need to be afraid as she would not harm them.
Lucia, as she would during all of the apparitions, did all of the speaking for the children. From her questions, she learned that the lady came from Heaven and that all three children would go to Heaven. The lady wanted them to return on the 13th of each month for the next five months. She then asked them, "Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?" And Lucia answered for them that they would. After urging them to pray the Rosary every day for peace, she rose and disappeared into the East.
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Opposition from their Families
The suffering that was mentioned began almost at once. Despite being warned by Lucia to tell no one of what happened, Jacinta, who was seven at the time, shared with her family the entire encounter and especially that she would go to Heaven. Jacinta's and Francisco's parents had differing reactions. The mother Olimpia was sure that it was childish fancies. The father Ti was inclined to believe in their story because of his own faith in God and his trust in his children's honesty.
At Lucia's home, her mother Maria Rosa who was a woman of unquestioned integrity, was convinced that Lucia was lying. Her father Antonio who was a man of nominal faith considered it all an idle story. Lucia's older siblings joined her mother and showed contempt for Lucia and her visions.
Of course, the information made the round of the village and soon the children became the object of ridicule and scorn with very little support from their own families.
The children's families were hopeful that the whole event would fade away or be forgotten by the children. In fact, the next date would coincide with the village's huge celebration of the feast of St. Anthony which was a major event for children.
The Second Apparition of the Lady
Nonetheless, when June 13th came, despite the festivities, the three children kept their appointment. They were accompanied by a small crowd who believed or were at least curious. The Heavenly Lady came again and urged them to say the Rosary every day. She also explained how Jacinta and Francisco would go to Heaven soon while Lucia would remain for a while to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Many who joined the children, although they did not see a lady, became convinced that there was something occurring. In contrast, the mothers of the children became outraged that this charade continued and their own children were leading people astray.
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Continued Opposition from Lucia's Mother
Lucia's mother Maria Rosa in particular would be the source of much suffering for Lucia. She constantly exhorted her to say it was all a lie. She beat Lucia and dragged her to the parish priest on a couple of occasions in order to force her to recant her story. The rest of the family joined the mother, and Lucia was left alone with only her father's weak support because of his indifference.
You can imagine how difficult that this must have been for a 10-year old girl who loved her mother and had shared her same sense of honesty. Lucia knew that to say the apparitions were a lie would be a lie itself. Instead, she shed many tears and offered all of this as sacrifices to God.
The Third Apparition of the Lady
The children were joined by even more people in July. Many of them had asked Lucia to ask the lady for various favors including healing. The beautiful lady asked them to say the Rosary every day for peace and an end to the war (World War I). Lucia asked the lady if she would perform a miracle that others might believe. Her answer was that she would reveal her name and perform a miracle in October. Then the children were shown three visions which were to be kept secret. They did keep the visions secret despite great pressure to reveal what they had been shown. Villagers, clergy, and government officials would all eventually try to get them to disclose what they had been show, but despite great pressure and many threats, they remained faithful to the request of the lady.
By this time, the children were constantly sought out by those who believed and those who wanted to prove that they were frauds. Even while trying to maintain a somewhat normal life, the children would be summoned from the fields to come home and meet someone who had come to question them. The parish priest, although cordial to Lucia, had suggested that perhaps the whole thing was demonic especially given the fact that there were secrets involved.
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The Government gets Involved
Finally, the government became involved because of the increasing number of people coming each month. As the government was openly hostile to the Church, it sought to discredit the children and their visions in order to show the Church was fraudulent.
First, the children were summoned to the local administrator which was nine miles from their village. Jacinta's and Francisco's father was clear that he would come but that his children would not need to go. Lucia's parents were very firm that she should go as they hoped this would force her to admit she was lying about all of this. On the appointed day, Lucia's father and uncle accompanied her as she rode a donkey to the next town. Lucia noted the different reaction of her parents to her uncle and offered up her suffering.
In front of her relatives, the government official threatened Lucia with everything from boiling her in oil to killing her in order to prevent her from returning to the place of the apparitions and to reveal to him the secrets. Throughout Lucia stood firm and finally was dismissed. Meanwhile, Jacinta and Francisco had spent the day praying for her sure that she would be put to death. They were shocked when she returned home later that day.
Second, the government intervened on August 13th by taking the children into custody and placing them in a prison cell with criminals. They suffered much because of the abandonment of their own families who stayed out of the entire affair. To keep up their spirits as they were missing their appointment with the lady, they prayed the Rosary and some of the criminals joined their prayers. The officials threatened the children with many threats including death. Eventually, they returned them to their families on August 15th.
The Fourth Apparition of the Lady
Because they had missed their appointment on the 13th, the lady appeared to them on the 19th and again requested that they pray the Rosary and offer sacrifices for sinners.
The children took up additional mortifications including wearing a rope around their waist. Instead of eating their lunch when they were caring for the sheep, they would give it away to poor children. As the interrogations and questions from more people increased, they would offer their willingness to meet with the people as sacrifices.
Our Lady of the Rosary
For the lady's visit in September, about 30,000 people joined Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. Then, when October came with the promise of a miracle, the crowd was around 70,000. The beautiful lady revealed herself as the Lady of the Rosary and asked that a chapel be built where she had appeared. Then, as Our Lady promised, there were a series of miracles in which Our Lord Jesus, St. Joseph, and Our Lady appeared in the sky. In addition, the people who were present and even people miles away saw the sun "dance". It was described in many different ways by eyewitness accounts but what was clear was that is was a supernatural occurrence--the miracle that would help make believers out of many doubters. Also, the Lady revealed herself as Our Lady of the Rosary.
After the October Apparition
Although the apparitions came to an end in October, the sufferings did not end for the three children. Of course, they continued to be objects of interest for both believers and skeptics which was a burden they bore with humility and patience. (However, there were times when they would find ways to hide when people came to call at their homes.) They continued to pray often for the conversion of sinners. In two years time, both Jacinta and Francisco became seriously ill with the flu. The suffering they endured was done for the sake of sinners, our Lord, and the Holy Father. As Our Lady had said, they both soon went to Heaven when first Francisco in April 1919 and then Jacinta in February 1920 passed away.
Lucia learned to read and write and became first a sister in the Institute of St. Dorothy and then later a Carmelite nun. Over the next several decades, at the order of her bishop, she wrote several memoirs about the events at Fatima. Her clear memory of the details are captured in these accounts. After a lifetime of service to the Lord, at the age of 97, she passed away on February 13, 2005.
The two younger children, Jacinta and Francisco, were canonized in 2017 and the cause for Sister Lucia's canonization has already begun.
The Fatima Angel Prayer
The angel who appeared to the three children taught them this prayer:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.
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Feast Day of St. Jacinta Marto: February 20 (Memorial)
Feast Day of St. Francisco Marto: April 4 (Memorial)
Learn More About the Three Fatima Children
I highly recommend the book Fatima: In Lucia's Own Words which is the written account by Sr. Lucia of everything that occurred from the moment that the Angel Gabriel appeared to the three children through Our Lady's appearances and the miracle of the Sun until the deaths of St. Jacinta and St. Francisco.
Written under obedience, she shares all of the amazing details of how the Lord worked through the young children to bring the message of Our Lady to the people of Fatima and to the world. Their story will inspire you and encourage you to offer up your sufferings for the salvation of souls.