The First Apparition
May 13, 1917
Since the last apparition of the Angel of Peace in the Autumn of 1916, the children of Fatima had plenty of opportunities to ponder his words. Amidst the illness of Lucia's mother, and the tortuous suspense she shared with Jacinta and Francisco over their brothers being away at war, it became a consolation to recall the words, "Above all accept and endure with submission the suffering which the Lord God will send you", and to reflect on their implication. They would be brave, they told each other, and patiently bear these trials. It happened, however, that Lucia would go out to the little well behind her home, where the Angel had halted them at play, and there she would pray and weep alone.
Sometimes Francisco and Jacinta would join her there, and add their tears and prayers to hers. Their generous hearts reached out in compassion, even Jacinta, young though she might be, was beginning to grasp the meaning of the mystery of suffering, and often she would say:
"My God, we offer Thee all these sufferings and sacrifices! It is an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners."
They were more silent and somber than they used to be, these little shepherds, when they followed their flocks over the gorse and stubble of the Serra in the spring of 1917. There was something different in the air that Spring. It was like the odor of death hovering upon the fragrance of the new flowers. Nearly everybody was affected by the absence of those who had gone to war. Thus, the children were often silent as they roamed over the scattered stones at Valinhos or gazed across the valley from the cave at Cabeço. They had become aware at last of a world in anguish, a humanity shackled for some obscure reason to the mystery of suffering.
Even May, the month of Mary, the month of new life and joy, weighed heavily on the world that year. On May 8, as if to voice the universal sadness and to point out the only source of hope, Pope Benedict XV lamented, in a memorable letter, "the cruel war, the suicide of Europe". After begging God to turn the hearts of rulers toward peace, and urging all to purge themselves of sin and to pray for peace, he especially asked that since all graces were dispensed "by the hands of the most holy Virgin Mary, We wish the petitions of her most afflicted children to be directed with lively confidence, more than ever in this awful hour, to the great Mother of God." He directed that the invocation "Queen of peace, pray for us", be added to the Litany of Loretto, and continued:
"To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeals go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from every place wherein a faithful soul finds shelter – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world."
The Blessed Virgin Mary waited a mere five days before responding to the urgent plea of the universal Father of the faithful. Although Lucia and her cousins had not even heard of the Pope's letter when they went out to the Serra on the thirteenth of May 1917, the three diminutive children were about to become the chief figures in the central event of the entire century.
It was an uncommonly fine Sunday, and Ti Marto had hitched up his cart, early in the morning, to drive his wife Olympia to Batalha, where they could attend Holy Mass at the exquisite cathedral, and afterwards attend to some affairs in the city. So off they went, cheerily enough, leaving the children to attend Mass at Fatima. It was drawing toward noon when Jacinta and Francisco got their sheep out of the patio and on the road to the Lagoa, where as usual, they met Lucia with her flock. They all proceeded across the fields to the meadows which Lucia's father owned at the Cova da Iria. Never was the immense sky more blue, the land more dappled with pastel colors.
Soon after they had arrived at the hill north of the little depression called the Cova and the sheep were contentedly cropping their food, they decided to make a little thicket into a "house" by closing up the opening to it with a wall; and they began to lug some of the stones that were lying all about, and to set them one upon another. While absorbed in this labor a flash so brilliant that they took it to be lightning suddenly startled them. Without stopping to ask how it could have come from that cloudless sky, they all dropped their stones and ran hurriedly down the slope toward a certain holm oak, or carrasqueira, about a hundred yards or more southwest of where they had been playing. They had just found shelter under its thick wide-spreading foliage when there was a second flash of light. Again frightened, the children left the tree and darted toward the east, a distance of perhaps another hundred yards. Then they stopped in amazement. For just before them, on top of a small evergreen called the azinheira- about three feet high, with glossy leaves with prickles on them, like cactus – they saw a ball of light. And in the center of it stood a Lady.
As Lucia describes her, she was "a Lady all of white, more brilliant than the sun dispensing light, clearer and more intense than a crystal cup full of crystalline water penetrated by the rays of the most glaring sun." Her face was indescribably beautiful, "not sad, not happy, but serious"-perhaps somewhat reproachful, though benign; her hands together as in prayer at her breast, pointing up, with Rosary beads hanging down between the fingers of the right hand. Even her garments seemed made solely of the same white light; a simple tunic falling to her feet, and over it a mantle from her head to the same length, its edge made of a fiercer light that seemed to glitter like gold. Neither the hair nor the ears could be seen.
The features? It was almost impossible to look steadily at the beautiful face; it dazzled the children, making them momentarily blink or look away.
The children stood, fascinated, within the radiance that surrounded her for a distance of perhaps a meter and a half.
"Don't be afraid," she said, in a low musical voice, never to be forgotten. "I will do you no harm!"
They felt no fear now, in fact, but only a great joy and peace. It was the "lightning", really, that had frightened them before. Lucia was self-possessed enough to ask a question:
"Where does your Reverence come from?" The child used the colloquialism of the Serra: "De donde e Vocemecê?"
"I am from Heaven."
"And what is it that you want of me?"
"I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the thirteenth day, at this same hour. Then I will tell you who I am, and what I desire. And afterwards I will return here a seventh time."
"And shall I go to Heaven too?"
"Yes, you will."
"Also. But he will have to say many Rosaries!"
Heaven! Lucia suddenly remembered two girls who had died recently. They were friends of her family, and used to go to her house to learn weaving from her sister Maria.
"Is Maria da Neves now in Heaven?" she asked.
"Yes, she is."
"She will be in Purgatory until the end of the world."
Purgatory! The end of the world!
The Lady was speaking again:
"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God, to bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?"
"Yes, we are willing."
"Then you will have much to suffer. But the grace of God will be your comfort."
As she spoke the words, "a graça de Deus," the Lady opened her lovely hands for the first time, and from them two streams of light came forth, so intense that it not only enveloped the children with its radiance, but its rays seemed to penetrate their hearts, and to reach the most intimate parts of their hearts and souls, "making us see ourselves in God"-these are Lucia's words-"more clearly in that light than in the best of mirrors." An irresistible impulse forced them to their knees and made them say, fervently:
"O most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee! My God, my God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament!"
The Lady waited for them to finish. Then she said, "Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."
Immediately after this she began to rise serenely from the azinheira and to glide away toward the east "until she disappeared in the immensity of space." Lucia said later, "The light that surrounded her seemed to open up a path before her in the firmament, and for this reason we sometimes said that we saw Heaven opening."
The children remained staring at the eastern sky for a long time. Even after they began to recover from the state of ecstasy which had come over them, they remained silent and pensive for a good part of the afternoon. But they were not heavy and tired as they had been after seeing the Angel of Peace. The sight of the Lady, on the contrary, had given them a delightful sense of "peace and expansive joy," of lightness and of freedom; they felt almost as if they could fly like birds. Jacinta would say from time to time: "Ai, que Senhora tão Bonita! Oh, such a beautiful Lady!" After a while they began to talk so freely that Lucia felt it necessary to caution them not to tell anybody, even their mother, what they had seen and heard. Francisco, as a matter of fact, had seen the Lady but had not heard what she said, as when he saw the Angel. When they told him all her words, he was intensely happy, especially over the promise that he was going to Heaven. Folding his hands over his head, he cried:
"O my Lady, I will say all the Rosaries you want!"
"Ai, que Senhora tão Bonita!" said Jacinta again. The child's face was shining with joy. She was almost bursting with it.
Happily for Jacinta, that evening her quiet father listened carefully and thoughtfully to the eager account given by his little daughter, and somewhat reluctantly corroborated by Francisco. When he finished weighing the words of his two youngest children, he quietly spoke. "From the beginning of the world Our Lady has appeared many times in various ways," he observed. "As wicked as the world is, it would be even more so but for many such happenings. The power of God is great. We don't know what this is, but it will turn out to be something." It seemed to him that without some intervention of Providence the children could not have repeated such big and imposing words, for they had had little or no instruction, even in catechism. Thus Ti Marto with his shrewd common sense and, more importantly, his simple trusting faith, became the first to believe in the story of Fatima, on that Sunday evening in 1917.
Lucia, on the other hand, was summoned promptly before her parents. Her mother took the matter very seriously, and gave her youngest daughter a tart scolding. "This was all I needed for my old age!" she lamented bitterly. "To think that I always brought my children up to speak the truth! And now this one brings me a whopper like this!"
The next day, as the children pastured their sheep, they were silent, depressed by the scoffings of Lucia's family and others. Jacinta sat pensive for a long time on a stone. Finally, Lucia said:
"Jacinta, go and play!"
"I don't want to play today."
"Why don't you want to play?"
"Because I am thinking that that Lady told us to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices for sinners. Now when we recite the Rosary we have to say the whole Ave Maria and Padre Nostro."
"And the sacrifices? How are you going to make them?" Francisco had an idea. "We can give our lunches to the sheep and make the sacrifice of not eating any lunch."
From that time on he often drank from the brackish water in the barreiro where the sheep and goats took water and the women washed their clothes. Jacinta thought of a better way of disposing of their lunches, however. One day they saw some poor children from Moita, half a mile away, coming to beg at Aljustrel. "Let us give them our lunches for the conversion of sinners!" she said. And they did.
By the middle of the afternoon they were ravenously hungry, and went looking about the moor for something to eat. Francisco tried some of the acorns of an azinheira which were now green enough to be edible, and found them palatable. Jacinta decided that if they were so good it would be no sacrifice to eat them. Instead, she picked up some acorns of a different sort under a large oak and began to munch them. Yes, they were bitter, she admitted. But she would offer the bad taste for the conversion of sinners.
Every day from then on Jacinta made a lunch of these bitter acorns or of sour unripe olives.
"Don't eat those, Jacinta!" said Lucia one day. "They are very bitter."
"It is for the bitterness that I eat," said Jacinta simply. "To convert sinners."
It was not long before the children of poor families began to wait for them along the roadsides to ask for their lunches. The three always gave them cheerfully, and then ate whatever they happened to find as they roamed about the Serra. "We used to eat pine cones," Lucia remembers, "roots of bindweed, and of a little yellowish flower that grows on the root of a little ball of the size of an olive; mulberries, mushrooms, and some things that we picked from the roots of pine trees, but I don't remember what they are called."
The most resolute in carrying out the Lady's wishes regarding sacrifices was Jacinta. One sweltering day that Summer they went to a certain field that a neighbor had lent to Lucia's mother, and on the way, according to custom, gave their lunches to some of the beggar children. When they reached their destination, after a long hot walk, they were all tired, hungry and parched. There was no water about fit for human beings; even Francisco, apparently, was unable to drink from the little pool where the sheep relieved their thirst. No matter! They all offered up their pains for sinners as usual. But the sun got hotter and hotter, and as the afternoon wore on they found their resolution weakening, until Lucia suggested that they go to a house not far away and ask for a little water.
When they did this, a good woman gave them a small piece of bread, which Lucia divided with her companions, and a jug of water, which they took back to the pasture. There Lucia offered it first to Francisco.
"I don't want to drink," he said.
"I want to suffer for the conversion of sinners."
"You drink, Jacinta."
"I want to offer a sacrifice for sinners, too."
The rest of this episode reads like a biblical account, worthy of the pious King David who, hot from battle and served with water for which a soldier had risked his life, poured it on the ground as an offering of gratitude to the Lord God of Battles. The young shepherd girl of Aljustrel was moved by a spirit no less royal than that of the shepherd who was ancestor to the Messias and to His Mother, Our Lady of Fatima. "Then I poured the water into a hollow of the rock for the sheep to drink, and went to return the vessel to its mistress." The heat became more intense each moment, the grasshoppers and crickets were joining their song to that of the frogs in the nearby pond and were making an intolerable clamor. Jacinta, weak from fasting and from thirst, said with the simplicity that was natural to her:
"Tell the crickets and the frogs to keep quiet, it gives me such a headache!"
Francisco said, "Don't you want to suffer this for sinners?"
Jacinta, pressing her head between her little hands, said, "Yes, I do. Let them sing!"
Lucia was beginning to understand what the Lady had meant when she said, "You will have much to suffer." Not only did her mother continue to coax her to admit that she had been lying, not only did her own sisters lacerate her with ridicule more cruelly than they could guess, but everyone in Aljustrel seemed to have turned against her. As she went pattering along the cobbled street, she would hear one woman say, "If she were my child-" and another remark, "A good strong dose of quince tea would put an end to those visions!"
Yet with all this petty persecution there were consolations. One day two visiting priests stopped in to speak encouragingly to her, and to ask her to pray for the Holy Father. "Who is the Holy Father?" One of the priests explained. And every day, from then on, the children would add three Aves to their Rosary for the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter. It gave them a glow of importance to think that they could do something, so far away, to help the Vicar of Christ. Think of it, the Visible Head of the Church!
And Francisco! What a comfort he was to Jacinta and Lucia! He seemed not only to accept suffering, but also to love it, as the saints do who follow in the footsteps of the Crucified. "Our Lady told us we would have much to suffer," he would say. "That doesn't matter to me, I will suffer everything, as much as she wants!" Or when Lucia was on the verge of tears, thinking of the ill-treatment she was receiving at home and abroad, he said, "Never mind! Didn't Our Lady say we should have much to suffer?" And Lucia took heart again.
Another characteristic of the saints that Francisco began to manifest after the first apparition of the Lady was the love of solitude. One May morning he left the two girls with the sheep, and climbed to the top of a high rock.
"You can't come up here!" he called down. "Leave me alone!"
It was a refreshing sunny day, and Lucia and Jacinta began to run after butterflies. By the time they wearied of this they had forgotten all about Francisco, and they thought no more of him until they realized that they were hungry, and that it must be long past the time for their bitter acorns. There he was, still lying motionless on the top of the rock.
"Francisco! Francisco, don't you want to come down and eat your lunch?"
"No. You eat."
"And say the Rosary?"
When Lucia called him again, he said, teasingly, "You come and pray here."
The girls were not to be outdone. With much scraping of fingers and bruising of knees they managed to scramble to the top, where, breathless but triumphant, they demanded, "What have you been doing all this time?"
"I have been thinking of God, Who is so sad because of so many sins," the boy answered seriously. "If only I could give Him joy!"
Oh, if only we would but think, as Francisco did, of giving joy to God, not only by a careful avoidance of all sin and temptation, but also by offering up a willing reparation for our many sins, and those of all mankind!
Visit also: www.marienfried.com