The story of the apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima in 1917 is one of the most beloved and well-known chronicles of Marian appearances in Church history. It was on May 13th of that year in a place called Cova da Iria in Portugal that Our Lady first appeared to three small children.
At noontime, while the children were tending their sheep, there was a sudden flash of lightning, and the children saw a beautiful lady made of light, holding a rosary in her hand as she floated in the air above their heads near a holm oak tree.
Our Lady of Fatima spoke to the children and told them not to be afraid. “I come from Heaven,” she said. The oldest of the children, 10-year-old Lucía, asked Our Lady “Will I go to Heaven?” “Yes,” she answered. Lucia’s cousins, Jacinta (7 years) and Francisco (9 years) repeated this question and received the same replies.
Our Lady then asked the children if they would pray and make sacrifice for sinners, and if they would come to this same place on the thirteenth of each month for five months. The children agreed and Lucía said “Yes.” Only Lucía spoke to Our Lady, while the others simply listened. This was the beginning of a new life for the children, whose single mission was now to pray and make sacrifices for sinners. They would give their lunch to the sheep as a sacrifice, and perform other acts of mortification. The children noted that the beautiful Lady seemed sad, and they willingly shared this sadness out of sympathy for her.
On June 13th, Our Lady appeared again to the children, continuing to urge them to pray, make sacrifices and recite the Rosary. The following month, on July 13th, Our Lady of Fatima appeared yet again and conveyed a secret to the children composed of three parts. The first two parts were revealed by Lucía in her memoirs in 1941 and the third part was released by Pope John Paul II in May 2000.
The next apparition -which should have occurred on August 13th – was subverted when the atheistic mayor of the local town of Villa Nova de Ourem kidnapped the children and threatened them with death if they refused to recant their testimony. Witnesses testified that the children refused to recant, converted their jailers – and were released.
Our Lady appeared to the children again on both September 13th and October 13th, but not before promising the children that her appearance on October 13th – her final apparition- would be accompanied by a miracle to attest to the truth of the children’s experiences. It was on October 13th that 70,000 pilgrims in attendance – as well as many others from further distances – witnessed the miracle of the sun dancing in the sky. Our Lady appeared to the children, this time accompanied by St. Joseph holding the Christ Child in his arms.
While Jacinta and Francisco both died at very young ages, Lucia grew up and entered the convent as a Carmelite nun. She died in 2005 at the age of 97.
The message of Our Lady of Fatima is a simple one – that we must see ourselves as partners of God as we create the future. We must stop offending God, and remember to pray – especially through the Rosary and through petition to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The feast day commemorating the apparition and message of Our Lady of Fatima is May 13th.