The August apparition and the passion of the children of Fatima


Editor’s note: This guest column by Grace Small, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro and a high school teacher, is the seventh in a nine-part series on the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

The account of the August Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima came after the shepherd children had undergone much suffering. Perhaps in this month, the theme of the mystery of redemptive suffering and strength shines more vividly in the experiences of the three children. To start, Lucia’s father and uncle brought her to the administrator of Vila Nova where she was harshly interrogated. The administrator’s purpose was to force Lucia to reveal the secret and to promise him never to return to the Cova da Iria.

Frustrated and getting nowhere, he released Lucia, but only after protesting that he would achieve his purpose, even if he had to take Lucia’s life. When she returned home, Lucia was chastised by her mother, but through a special grace, Lucia always saw the Hand of God in all these things, and accepted these sufferings without bitterness toward her parents, and offered these sufferings to God for the conversion of sinners.

Lucia’s first Spiritual director, Rev. Dr. Formigao, also interrogated Lucia about the apparitions on a monthly basis. One day he said to Lucia, “My child, you must love Our Lord very much, in return for so many favors and graces that He is granting you.” Lucia noted in her memoirs that, “these words made such an impression on my soul that, from then on, I acquired the habit of constantly saying to Our Lord: ‘My God, I love You, in thanksgiving for the graces which You have granted me.’” We can admire the Spiritual growth which Lucia attained by responding to crosses and graces with a heartfelt sense of gratitude to God.

While Francisco became a true adorer of the hidden Jesus in the Tabernacle, making reparation to Him for sinners, he increased the number of Rosaries and his devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with whom he had fallen in love. Jacinta, who had become so impressed by the vision of hell, took the path of sacrifice to save sinners and making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One day two priests visited the children and they recommended that they pray for the Holy Father. The children did not know who he was, but Jacinta eagerly took up the charge of praying for him in her Rosary ejaculation: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven especially those in most need of Thy mercy, and for the Holy Father.” The journey through the angelic and Marian apparitions had strengthened the three children with a solid Spirit of prayer and sacrifice that they were ready for whatever sufferings the good God would permit in His Providence. That month, in fact, they were taken to the administrator again. As the 13th of August approached, all three children were put in prison. There the sense of the abandonment of their parents made them suffer most. It seemed that the children were to share in the Passion of our Lord in a special way, particularly in His abandonment on the cross. “My God, my God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?”(Mt 27:46). 

We must remember that to these small innocent children the psychological intensity of their sufferings was great. Jacinta with tears streaming down her cheeks would say: “Neither your parents or mine have come to see us. They don’t bother about us any more!” “Don’t cry,” said Francisco, “we can offer this to Jesus for sinners.” Then, raising his eyes and hands to Heaven, he made the offering: “O my Jesus, this is for love of You, and for the conversion of sinners.” Jacinta added, “And also for the Holy Father, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” In jail, the children were taken one-by-one and were told they would be fried alive. During Jacinta’s interrogation, Francisco confided to Lucia with boundless joy and peace: “If they kill us as they say, we’ll soon be in Heaven! How wonderful! Nothing else matters!” Then after a moment’s silence, he added: “God grant that Jacinta won’t be afraid. I’m going to say a Hail Mary for her!” Here we see the joy Francisco experienced in his suffering, looking to the promise of Heaven, beyond the cross. His heart is full of love for God and for his sister Jacinta, whom he prays for in order to strengthen in her sufferings. It is reminiscent of how Our Lord consoles us in our sufferings from the cross with His words to St. John and to all of us, “Behold thy mother.” The children respond to the Lord’s burning desire for co-redemptive love, “I thirst!” and satiate His thirst for self-sacrificing love. Francisco offers his sufferings in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Immaculate co-redemptrix, and mediates on behalf of Jacinta. 

When the threats of the administrator failed, each of the children were all returned to the prison. The other prisoners who were present tried to console the children by saying, “But all you have to do is to tell the administrator the secret! What does it matter whether the Lady wants you to or not!” “Never!” was Jacinta’s vigorous reply, “I’d rather die.” Here one sees the resolve of the children to give their lives for Christ and their Immaculate Mother rather than betray the truth that was entrusted to them. Their heroic witness to the Fatima secrets becomes a white martyrdom for the children. Here we can appreciate the integrity of the children and their unwillingness to compromise with the forces of the world, even amidst persecution, imprisonment and the threat of death. One could make many reflections on this point especially how the children loved Jesus and Mary, more than themselves, and how they rejected human respect even at the cost of their very lives. They were willing to suffer anything rather than sin or betray Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother. They would honor their Spiritual Father and mother with their lives.

By the time the children had arrived at home from their imprisonment it was the 15th of August. On Sunday, the 19th of August Lucia and Francisco and his brother, John went to pasture their sheep at a place called Valinhos. Francisco in particular felt tormented by the fear that Our Lady would no longer appear to them since they had not met her on the 13th of August as she had requested. Feeling once again the supernatural atmosphere and that Our Lady might appear to them, Lucia convinced Jacinta’s brother John to run home to call for Jacinta lest she should not be present when Our Lady appeared. It is at this point that Our Lady appeared to the children.

“Meanwhile, Francisco and I saw the flash of light, which we called lightning. Jacinta arrived, and a moment later, we saw Our Lady on a holmoak tree. “What do you want of me?” “I want you to continue going to the Cova da Iria on the 13th, and to continue praying the Rosary every day. In the last month, I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.” 

In the account by John De Marchi, “A Lady More Brilliant than the Sun,” Lucia reports that Our Lady also said that if the children had not been kidnapped the miracle would have been even greater (J. de Marchi, p. 121).

In Our Lady’s first words we learn that she expects the children to continue to come to the Cova da Iria to await her apparition on the 13th of the following month. Their fidelity and obedience continues to be rewarded by Our Lady. On the other hand, the obstruction caused by the administrator would cause the October miracle, as spectacular as it was, to be less than intended, due to the defiance of the authorities. Just as Our Lady’s apparitions were not intended solely for the children’s benefit but also for the benefit of all of Portugal and the entire world, the obstruction caused by these authorities in preventing the children from being present at the Cova on the 13th and their imprisonment would result in a diminishment of grace for mankind. How important to heed the messages of the Mother of God in regards to prayer of the Rosary, and sacrifice, and reparation to her Immaculate Heart! Especially when the world was in the midst of war as it was in 1917, even as today when Pope Francis has stated that we have entered WWIII!

“What do you want done with the money that the people leave in the Cova da Iria?” “Have two litters made. One is to be carried by you and Jacinta and two other girls in white; the other one is to be carried by Francisco and three other boys. The money from the litters is for the ‘festa’ of Our Lady of the Rosary, and what is left over will help towards the construction of a chapel that is to be built here.” “I would like to ask you to cure some sick persons.” “Yes. I will cure some of them during the year.” 

In this part of the apparition Our Lady directs the children on what was to be done with the offerings the people were leaving at the Cova. Here we see the money is to assist with the feast in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, the title she had given to the children in the previous apparition of July. The remainder of the money was to go towards the construction of a chapel where the Eucharistic sacrifice and reparation would be offered in thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings, but preeminently for sending His own Holy Mother to Fatima.

Then, looking very sad, Our Lady said: “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” She began to ascend as usual towards the east.

Following Our Lady’s apparition, the children were motivated to console the Immaculate Heart of Mary by looking for sacrifices they could make for sinners to save them from hell. This repetition of the maternal admonition had been given initially to the children by the Angel of Peace: “Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.” Here we see with what urgency Our Immaculate Mother asks the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, to take to heart for love of her and Our Beloved Lord the need to pray constantly and to make sacrifices. To walk the way of penance as traced by the life of the Our Blessed Lady and Our Blessed Lord throughout their entire lives, is not something for Christians only on Fridays, or during the Lenten season, or minimally Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as the Church requires. Rather it is a call to a Spirit of continual penance and renunciation for the love of God, in reparation for our sins and for the conversion of sinners. Scripture is replete with references of how Our Lord Himself did penance for our Salvation from His birth in a poor manger at midnight to His redemptive death on the cross. In her “Calls from the Message of Fatima,” Sister Lucia makes some insightful comments: 

“Jesus Christ, Who was Divine, could not sin, yet He gave us a splendid example of a life of penance. Before beginning His public life, He spent 40 days in the desert, praying and fasting. The Gospels tell us that throughout His public life, Jesus frequently withdrew from the crowds in order to pray to the Father in a place apart. And before delivering Himself to death, He spent a long time in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And do we, poor weak creatures that we are, not need to pray? We do indeed. It is in prayer that we meet God; it is in this meeting with God that He gives us the grace and strength we need in order to deny ourselves by offering up whatever it is that is required of us: ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few’ (Mt 7:13-14). Here Jesus Christ points out to us our great need for self-denial because, without a Spirit of renunciation, we shall not enter into eternal life. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High!”

Sister Lucia also makes very practical recommendations in “Calls” on how we can do penance in our daily lives. One way is to offer to God the sacrifice of some little act of self-denial of the food we eat in a manner that does not prevent us from obtaining the nourishment we need to do our work. For example, when given the opportunity, we may choose to eat a fruit, a dessert or a drink that we dislike. We may endure thirst for a while and then satisfy it after a while. Recall how the children denied themselves food and drink during the summer months when they pastured their sheep as a sacrifice to God for the conversion of sinners. At table, we can choose not to take the best bit, but if we cannot avoid doing so, thank God because as a good Father He likes to see us make use of the goods He has created without us abusing them, with gratitude and love for the One Who heaps His gifts upon us. We can and must make the sacrifice of dressing decently and modestly, so that by our Christian way of dress, “we may not be a cause of sin for others, bearing in mind that we are responsible for the sins that others commit because of us.” 

Our Lady told the children, “Many fashions would be introduced that would offend Our Lord.” And “Many souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh.” How important and interconnected are purity and modesty since we are temples of the Holy Spirit! We may sacrifice exaggerated jewels, whose sale can be used to help our poor brothers and sisters in need. We can endure the company of people we find disagreeable, avoid complaining about people or the weather or circumstances, cheerfully allowing others to take the first places, or credit for our labors, our sacrifices or our activities, contenting ourselves with being humble and self-sacrificing for the love of God and of our neighbor. Finally she says, “Another practice is to pray, in a Spirit of penance, with one’s arms outstretched in the form of a cross, in union with Christ crucified, or to pray prostrate with one’s forehead touching the ground, thus abasing ourselves before God Whom we have dared to offend, we who are nothing and in His presence. Although such penances are not obligatory, they are necessary in many cases; for example, to help overcome fiery natures which cause people to sin, or the violent temptations of the world, the devil, pride and the flesh.” 

By degrees therefore, we see that it is possible and necessary to offer small and great penances, out of love for Christ crucified and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so as to cooperate with them in extending the fruits of Christ’s redemption to all of humanity. As St. Paul says: “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His Body, which is the Church”(Col 1:24). In this manner, we grow in deeper intimacy and love with God and the Immaculate Heart of Mary our mother, even to the extremes of heroic virtue and love testified by the lives of the saints. 

What are we waiting for?

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