Many have some familiarity with the apparitions at Fatima. In this talk from the Men’s Breakfast of January 2008, Gene Michael surveys Our Lady’s apparitions to the three Portuguese children from an intriguing vantage point: Mary’s message to men. Devoted husband and father of two, this former Battalion Chief within Rochester’s Fire Department currently leads Credo, a Pro-Life apostolate, and directs the esteemed website RochesterCatholic.Com.
The story of Fatima begins in 1915 when an eight-year-old Lucia (Lucy) Santos observed a bright light an angel known as the "Angel of Peace". Three times in 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Lucy and her two cousins, seven-year old Jacinta and eight-year-old Francisco Marto. After asking them to pray for the reparation of sins and the conversion of sinners, this angel taught them to revere the Blessed Sacrament through prostration and prayer, and even brought the Eucharist to the children.
In May of 1917, the three children witnessed a woman "more beautiful than the sun" hovering above an oak tree. She held a Rosary in her hand and instructed the children to return to the spot five more times, on the 13th of each month, ending in October of that year. During this year, Mary instructed the children to pray five decades of the Rosary daily to bring peace in the world. On one notable occasion, Mary revealed that Lucy and Jacinta would spend eternity in Heaven, but that Francisco "would have to pray many Rosaries" to achieve this reward. Far from advocating the notion that one can earn salvation, Mary’s words spoke to the difficulty of traveling the road that leads to Heaven (even for an eight-year-old), and to the necessity of frequent communion with God in prayer. Our Lady continuously asked the children to make reparation for sinners by penance and warned them that they would suffer greatly.
In June, Mary warned Jacinta and Fancisco that they would be taken to Heaven very soon but that Lucy would remain on earth to venerate her Immaculate Heart; she assured the children that all who embraced her Immaculate Heart – which is entirely and perfectly united to the Jesus – would be given salvation. The "Secret" of Fatima was the focus of July’s apparition. The secret is usually referred to in three separate parts: (1) World War I will end; (2) another war will begin if men do not repent from sin; and (3) a widely debated, long-confidential secret regarding great turmoil within the Church. Mary instructed the children in making First Saturday devotions and to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, warning that proper execution of these two tenets would stifle Russia’s errors and prevent another war. The other critical portion of the children’s experience with Mary on July 13, 1917 was a vision of Hell that left them with a great fear of eternal damnation.
In August, anticlerical governmental authorities incarcerated the children and forced them to miss their rendezvous with Our Lady. Although their lives were violently threatened by these men, the children would not recant. Several days later, Mary appeared to the children, encouraging them to sacrifice for sinners through penance and mortification. The children heeded this message by each fixing a coarse rope around their torso, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Our Lady’s September vision contained a foreshadowing of the great miracle to take place that October 13th and a prudent instruction to remove their penitential ropes while they slept.
70,000 Portuguese citizens, journalists and photographers traveled to the place of Mary’s apparitions to witness this miracle. Heavy rains had turned the countryside into a quagmire and awaited a great miracle. Soon, the crowd witnessed the "Miracle of the Sun", where sun seemed to dance and to change color. During this miracle, Mary spoke to the children, warning men not to continue to offend God, already greatly perturbed by their actions. As Our Lady departed for Heaven, the sun plunged toward earth on a path to annihilate the crowd. The people panicked and began to confess their sins. At the last moment, the sun ceased and retreated to its normal position; the crowd then found themselves and the countryside completely dry. Those journalists in attendance covered this story in dozens of newspapers, including the New York Times.
As she was dying of influenza, Jacinta spoke to Lucy, saying, "So many people falling into Hell … tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Priests must be pure, very pure. They should not busy themselves with anything other than the salvation of souls. The disobedience of priests to their superiors and the Holy Father greatly displeases our Lord."
Some have expressed that the message of Fatima creates undue focus on Mary, one that can lead a Christian away from Jesus. But St. Louis de Montfort’s words remain true: "The more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it will be consecrated to Jesus Christ."
Fatima is extremely relevant to the modern Christian, especially the Christian man. The errors of Russia have indeed spread throughout the world and the moral, causing Christians to question their moral and spiritual identity. Rather than retreat in the face of troubles in contemporary Church and society, God has called modern men to live lives of sacrifice for the good of their families and the world. Armed with an interior devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, lives lived in active service for evangelization and the pro-life movement will please God and help save many souls.