The prelude to the Fatima apparitions was the appearance in the spring of 1916 of an angel, who identified himself as the “angel of peace” to three Portuguese children: Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. The angel appeared to them again in the summer, telling them that heaven had “designs of mercy” and teaching them to offer prayers and sacrifices. He appeared a third time in the fall, offering the children the Eucharist.
The appearances of Our Lady began on May 13, 1917, and continued on the thirteenth of each month – except August, when the children were imprisoned and threatened with execution. On August 19, Our Lady appeared in a different location and promised the children that she would perform a miracle on October 13, so that all might believe.
The miracle turned out to be what Thomas Aquinas classified as the highest class of miracle – an event absolutely impossible according to nature. In this instance, it was gyrations of the sun, moving up and down three times, witnessed by 70,000 persons in Fatima and neighboring villages, and reported in newspapers.
Historical changes began almost immediately. Physicist and theologian Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, who traveled to Portugal to undertake a thorough scientific investigation of eyewitness accounts and depositions regarding the “miracle of the sun,” observes in his book, God and the Sun at Fatima :
The day after the miracle of the sun Portugal’s history began to change in the voting booths, though at that time nobody could see the ultimate portent of this. What, one may ask, if Portugal had fallen the prey of the plans of Lenin who described Lisbon as the most atheistic capital in the world? He would not have watched Lisbon so closely, had he no designs about it. What would have happened to Spain [during the Spanish Civil War], with Portugal already in the Communist camp? And what would have become of France, ruled by a “Popular Front,” if the entire Iberian Peninsula had turned into an outpost of Moscow?
In addition to effects on the Iberian peninsula, prophetic messages for people in the twentieth century were also conveyed in three “Secrets” Our Lady confided to the children, which were later revealed by the surviving witness, Lucia.
The First Secret consisted of a vision of Hell, followed up by the warning that wars were caused by sin, that “sins of the flesh” were the most frequent cause of entering Hell, and that God wished to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to save sinners from everlasting perdition.
The Second Secret was a warning about the coming of World War II, and the spread of Soviet Communism, followed by requests for personal consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Communions of reparation on five First Saturdays of the month, and consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart by the pope and bishops. Our Lady warned that failure to do this would result in Russia spreading its errors throughout the world, and the persecution of Christians. But she added that the pope would eventually do the consecration and Russia would be converted.
In the Third Secret, released by the Vatican in 2000, Our Lady did not speak. The three children witnessed a panorama of the future sufferings of Christians and the pope, and heard an angel holding a flaming sword over the world, shouting “penance, penance, penance”!
After his investigation, Fr. Jaki concluded that Fatima is arguably the most important event of the twentieth century, a providential sign for an era that was to witness so many incredible acts of inhumanity and immorality.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II, in conjunction with bishops throughout the world, consecrated Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (The assassination attempt on JPII occurred on May 13, 1981, and he visited Fatima for beatification of two of the children on May 13, 2000 – the bullet that failed to kill him, according to Church authorities, fit perfectly into a crown on a statue of Mary there.) In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union took the world by surprise.
Some Fatimists have been disappointed about the lack of individual conversions in Russia. But Our Lady spoke of the conversion of a country. Signs in post-1989 Russia are many: Orthodox Christians number 60 million, including the president and prime minister. According a 2009 National Geographic article:
In 1987 there were only three monasteries in Russia; today there are 478. Then there were just two seminaries; now there are 25. Most striking is the explosion of churches, from about 2,000 in Gorbachev’s time to nearly 13,000 today.
What still remains is the reunion of “sister churches” of Orthodoxy with the Roman rite, towards which significant steps have been made since Vatican II. Possibly, this achievement would “close the circuit” and bring about a miraculous change in Christianity and the world.
Russia is no longer spreading its errors around the world, and persecuting Christians. But Christians are still being persecuted at the hands of Islamist militants shouting “Allahu Akbar,” who now present great obstacles, not only to democracy, as discussed in a previous column , but to world peace.
Why did Our Lady not mention this threat, when she warned of world wars and the persecution of Christians? It was not necessary, since we have had adequate warning from Our Lord himself, who prophesied: “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God” (John 16:2).
The requests of Our Lady at Fatima – consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, reparation on five First Saturdays, and penance – still offer us the only sure roadmap to peace.