The First Five Apparitions
Why does Fátima, a city in Santarém get over 8 million religious visitors every year? Home to the Sanctuary of Fátima, the city is the site of a world-renowned Catholic miracle.
The story of the Our Lady of Fátima miracle begins on May 13, 1917. Three peasant children, Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia were tending to their family’s sheep. The children under 10 years old were blessed with the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. In Portugal, she is also known as Fátima. The children saw this beautiful woman, dressed in white and standing above a bush. The Virgin Mary told the children that world peace would occur if they spread the godly message of prayer.
She visited the young children on the 13th for the next six months. She revealed to the children three secrets. We will go through them and their Catholic interpretations in the next section.
The children were told to make sacrifices to save sinners. They were tight cords around their wrists and did not drink water on hot days. Lucia told the villagers that Mary asked them to say the Rosary every day in order to keep world peace.
News of the apparitions spread throughout the village, some believing the children and some not so much. The Virgin Mary promised the children that one day a prophecy would occur that would show the village people that they were being truthful. These events culminated in the sixth final apparition “Miracle of the Sun”.
Let’s go through a quick summary of the first five apparitions.
The first apparition on May 13th, 1917:
The Virgin Mary tells the children that she will be visiting on the 13th of each month for 6 months. She tells the children they will need to commit sacrifices and suffer, but that they will end up in heaven. She tells the children to say the rosary prayer every day to bring about peace.
The second apparition on June 13th, 1917:
Mary asks the children to add the Fatima prayer to the end of the Rosary. The children ask her to take them to heaven, but she says that it’s too soon. She says she will soon take Jacinta and Francisco, but Lucia will stay on earth for longer.
The third apparition on July 13th, 1917:
Mary reveals the Three secrets. She shows the children that Hell is a horrible place. She also predicts the Second World War and the persecution of Christians in Russia. She goes on to want that there will be further persecution of Christians.
The fourth apparition on August 19th, 1917:
This apparition doesn’t happen as planned. The three children were kidnapped and imprisoned by the police. The police believed they were making up these apparitions and wanted the children to state that it was all a hoax. The children stood their ground and were later on released. Six days after the 13th of the month, Mary appeared again and told the children to pray for sinners.
The fifth apparition on September 13th, 1917:
On this day, people gathered to see if Mary would show and white rose petals fell from the sky. As the witnesses touched them, they disappeared. Lucia asked Mary to cure the sick and she responded that God could not cure those who were not healed.
The Final Apparition: The Miracle of the Sun
\What was the Fátima Miracle of the Sun?
The sixth and final miracle, the Miracle of the Sun, occurred on the 13th of October, 1917. This was essentially in response to the prophecy made by the three children. The children told the people in the village to come out and witness it, even the skeptics. There are reports of over 70,000 people being in attendance.
According to various witness accounts, the rainy sky cleared up, the ground that was wet from the rain became dry. The sun began “dancing around” and “zig-zagging” in the sky. Some say that it even flew closer to the earth and then jumped back into its place quickly. Others also mentioned multicolored light and radiant colors all over the sky. They said the miracle lasted for at least 10 minutes. The children were then finally believed by the people of Fátima.
Catholic Response to the Miracle of the Sun
There was an investigation conducted by the local bishop in November to review these reports and analyze whether they were congruent with Catholic theology. This miracle was declared “worthy of belief” and of a supernatural character by Bishop Jose da Silva in 1930.
Pope Pius XII also approved the miracle in 1940. Interestingly, the Pope also declared that he witnessed the same miracle in 1950. On October 30, 1950, the Pope was walking through the Vatican gardens where he witnessed the Miracle of the Sun near the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. He saw the same miracle again on October 31, November 1, and November 8.
In 2017, Pope Francis went on to officially recognize this miracle and even canonized two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, over 100 years after their death. This means they are officially saints! Lucia, the cousin of Francisco and Jacinta passed away in 2005 and is being considered for possible beatification. This is the step right before sainthood and essentially signifies that she is blessed in heaven. However, this process could only legally start in 2010, at least five years after her death, and is not yet finished.
The Three Secrets
The Three Secrets were a series of apocalyptic visions and prophecies that the Virgin Mary revealed to the three children. Two of these secrets were revealed in a document written by Lucia in 1941.
Mary told the children the first secret in July of 1917. The first secret described Hell as a horrible place where sinners’ souls burned. Mary said that to save these souls, acts of prayer and sacrifice were necessary.
The second secret prophesized the end of the First World War, but also the outbreak of the Second World War if sinning was to continue. Mary also called for the Consecration of Russia or else peace would not occur. Many say she also predicted the rise and fall of Communism.
The third secret was not revealed that easily. In 1943 Lucia was ill and asked by the local Bishop to reveal it, but she said God had not authorized her to do so. The Bishop still ordered her to write it down. Lucia decided to write it in a sealed envelope that could only be opened in 1960. In 1960, the Vatican issued a press release stating that the third secret would remain sealed forever. For years, Christians around the world speculated on the content of the third secret and some even feared it could refer to worldwide nuclear annihilation.
However, the secret was released in 2000 by Pope John Paul II. The Vatican said the secret spoke of the 20th-century persecution of Christians, leading to the failed assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II in 1981.
The text revealed said that Mary spoke of a “Bishop clothed in white” who prays faithfully. In her vision, he was making his way towards the cross passing through the bodies of those who were martyred, like priests and other religious people. This speaks to the prosecution of Christians. He then falls to the ground dead after hearing gunfire. This message was allegedly confirmed by Sister Lucia.
The Vatican declares that this bishop must have been Pope John Paul II. He was shot and wounded on May 13th, 1981 in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City by Mehmet Ali Ağca. He survived. The attacker, a Turkish journalist had said before that the Pope was “the masked leader of the crusades”. He was sentenced to life in prison in Italy in July of 1981 but was later pardoned by the president in 2000 at the Pope’s request. He was then deported. The Vatican said that it was “a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path” that saved the Pope’s life, alluding to the Virgin Mary.
The Third Secret – Controversy & Theories
The release of the third secret sparked anger in Portugal, as the Portuguese Catholic Church was offended that the text was not read in Fátima. The fact that the secret did not include any doomsday predictions also angered the Portuguese Catholic Church as there was no reason to keep the prophecy secret for 50 years and spark fear.
Many around the world also believe this third secret was altered by the Vatican and is not the original. There are many inaccuracies such as the fact that Lucia wrote the secret on one sheet of paper. The Vatican’s version was four pages long. There are also Portuguese sources that say that Lucia mentioned to them that the third secret was “in the Gospels and the Apocalypse”, even specifying Apocalypse chapters 8 to 13. Therefore, many believe the third secret did in fact contain a doomsday-like prophecy but this is being kept a secret.
Did the Three Secrets happen? Is the Miracle of Fátima true?
So did all the things mentioned in the three secrets happen? Did the Virgin Mary predict all these events?
The first secret was a vision of Hell, so we will skip this one. Whether you believe the first secret is real depends on your religious beliefs.
The second secret predicted the end of the First World War and the outbreak of the Second World War. The Virgin Mary told the children these secrets in 1917, less than a year before the First World War ended. She was also correct in predicting the Second World War. However, this secret was only released in 1941, two years after the war began.
Mary also predicted the rise and fall of Communism and called for the Consecration of Russia. The dissolution of the USSR only happened in 1991, so Mary might have predicted this correctly. Lucia would not have known this in 1941 when she wrote the secret down. But Lucia would have known about the rise of Communism in Russia that began with the February Revolution, and later on with the Bolshevik Revolution, a few months after the apparitions. Up to 1941 when she released this secret, Lucia would also be hearing about over 20 years of communism in the Soviet Union. Starting in 1932, Lucia and all of the Portuguese lived under the fascist rule of Antonio Salazar, a staunch Catholic who was opposed to Communism and believed its fall was inevitable. Therefore, this part of the second secret was a widely held belief and hope of many in Portugal.
The third secret was only released in 2000, over 80 years after it was told to the children by the Virgin Mary. However, it was allegedly written by Lucia in 1943 and only revealed later. If this is to be believed and we ignore the theories that the Vatican altered the document, then the third secret happened. The Virgin Mary predicted the persecution of Christians as the symbol of an attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. The document by Lucia was written 38 years before the attempted murder. However, if you believe that the document was altered the story is different. The Vatican’s release of the secret happened 19 years after the assassination attempt.
Regardless of your beliefs, whether you are a Christian or skeptical of these miracles, it is clear that the city of Fátima is a special place that arises curiosity in all of us. The Sanctuary of Fátima, a site with Catholic religious buildings was built in the place where the three children were visited by the Virgin Mary.
The first building built was in April of 1919 by the local people. They built a small chapel called the Chapel of the Apparitions in the exact location where the Virgin Mary would visit every month on the 13th. A statue of the Virgin Mary was then installed in the chapel in 1920 by locals. This angered the Roman Catholic church and the government, as the miracle had not yet been confirmed by them. This original chapel was thus destroyed in March of 1922. However, the Chapel of the Apparitions was rebuilt and functioning as a place of local mass by 1923.
The attitudes of the Catholic Church began to change as they conducted investigations on the miracle. In 1927, the Bishop of Leiria gave a religious service at the site.
In 1928, the basilica and colonnade started being built, a long construction process that only finished in 1954. During the construction, in 1930, the Catholic Church finally recognized the miracle and permitted the existence of the first cult of Our Lady of Fátima.
In 1953, the Church of the Sanctuary of Fátima was consecrated and a year later, it was given the title of Basilica by Pope Pius XXI.
Today, the Sanctuary of Fátima is made up of astonishing religious buildings, monuments, and statues of saints. Although the Chapel of Apparitions and the Basilica are the most famous, you can also visit the Perpetual Adoration Chapel and the Monument of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, among others.
Fátima Pilgrimages & Visiting the Sanctuary of Fátima
8 million pilgrims visit the city of Fátima every year to witness the place of the miracles. The sanctuary even sparks the curiosity of atheists and is welcoming to all religions, not just Catholicism. The most popular times to visit Fátima are on the 13th of the month between May and October when the apparitions occurred.
Many of those that travel to the sanctuary are facing terminal illnesses or bereavement and looking for religious guidance. They travel thousands of kilometers from all over the world to be blessed by the Virgin Mary. Many Portuguese also walk hundreds of kilometers to get there on these days, over 140 km from Lisbon and over 350 from Valença.
What to do in Fátima?
At the sanctuary, you can witness the large torch-lit processings led by Cardinals and Bishops. You can also light a candle for a loved one and say a prayer. We recommend standing in the middle of the sanctuary square to witness the beauty of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. This square is larger than the one in the Vatican!
You can also visit the houses of the three children that were visited by the Virgin Mary. There are two houses in the tiny village of Aljustrel, a kilometer away from the sanctuary: the “Casa de Jacinta e Francisco Marto” and the “Casa da Lucia”. The first house was where both Francisco and Jacinta died after the First World War of the flu epidemic. They lived here with their parents and three other siblings. The second house was Lucia’s house, who was the cousin of Jacinta and Francisco. Lucia survived the flu epidemic, became a nun, and lived until 2005, dying at the old age of 97.
Take a look at our full guide to the city of Fátima here.