Today, May 13, marks the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. Of all Marian apparitions, those of Fatima are arguably the most consequential private revelations in the history of the Church.
Dressed in white, clasping a rosary, and “brighter than the sun,” Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, on six occasions between May and October 1917. She delivered messages that, to this day, converts hearts and casts shivers down the spine.
During these visitations, Mary described the dire consequences if the world continued to reject God. She foretold events that would soon come to pass. She showed them a vision of hell. And she taught them that God has designs for each of us.
Popes’ Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima
Six popes have since proclaimed her call to conversion and repentance. In particular, St. John Paul II had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a harrowing assassination attempt in 1981, he attributed his survival to her miraculous intervention. As a sign of gratitude for her protection, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in the crown of her statue at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
Likewise, Pope Francis has a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After his election in 2013, he had his pontificate consecrated to her. He also consecrated the world to her Immaculate Heart later that year. For the consecration, the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima was transferred temporarily from its home at the Shrine in Fatima to St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Pope Francis further underscored Fatima’s significance with a visit to the Shrine in 2017, to mark the centennial of the apparitions. During his visit, he canonized two of the visionaries, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who both died shortly after the visions.
The Message of Fatima
The heart of Our Lady’s message at Fatima is simple. First, offer up daily prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Second, tell others about this request. This message is a call from Our Lady to all of us to participate in the salvation of souls.
Often, the impulse is to focus on the supernatural aspects of this spectacular visitation of the “Lady from Heaven.” Our Lady’s warnings of the consequences if we did not pray and convert have proven to be sadly accurate. She warned of another, more terrible war (World War II). She spoke of great lights in the sky that would serve as a final warning before the terrible war. (They appeared all over Europe just before Hitler invaded Poland, in a stunning Aurora Borealis.)
Our Lady said that Russia would spread her errors, and that the Church would have much to suffer. She showed the children a vision of a pope who would be struck down.
“My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph”
Pope John Paul II firmly believed that he was meant to be the pope who was shot and killed in the children’s vision. When he survived the attempt on his life in 1981, he credited Our Lady of Fatima with diverting the bullet that day.
At Fatima, Mary mobilized the forces of change in the right direction. Thanks to the prayers of the faithful in response to her message, she intervened to spare John Paul II’s life. On his flight to Portugal to visit Fatima in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI explained, “in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil, and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history.”
Thus, the message of Fatima is a source of hope. When people choose to pray to God with a living faith, it has the power to change the course of history.
The 11th Commandment
The surviving Fatima visionary, Lucia Santos, became a Carmelite nun. Before her death in 2005, she would express frustration that the true message of Fatima was being ignored. Instead, people dwelt too much on Fatima’s miracles and secrets. Lucia often repeated that Fatima was about living in a way pleasing to God. That’s why Our Lady told the world to offer reparation for sin, pray the Rosary, and keep the 10 Commandments.
Known for her sense of humor and playfulness, Lucia used to say the easy way to keep the 10 Commandments was to obey her 11th Commandment: “Do whatever God tells you. This is what Our Lady wants.”
“More Urgent Than Ever”
Sadly, we continue to live in an age of tension, violence, and self-destruction. Our society lives as if there is no God. All the while, Our Lord, through Our Lady of Fatima, shows us the way out of this crisis. The answer is to pray, fast, and do penance for the conversion of sinners, and to make reparation for the sins of the world.
Our Lady’s message to the visionaries at Fatima is a message meant for each of us:
Jesus wants to use you to make me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to my Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by me to adorn his throne.
In the words of St. John Paul II, the message of Fatima “is more urgent than ever, when evil is threatening us through errors based on denial of God.” And in his 2010 homily at Fatima, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Fatima is the home from which Mary chose to speak to us in modern times… We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”
Pray with Our Lady for Peace
Above all, the most powerful way for us to live the Fatima message is with prayer. Our Lady asked us to pray for world peace and in reparation for offenses to her Immaculate Heart.
Rosary. Pray a Rosary daily while meditating on the mysteries, especially for world peace.
First Five Saturdays Devotion. In the third of her six apparitions at Fatima, Our Lady told the visionaries: “To save [sinners], God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Eight years later, she appeared again to Lucia with this request:
My daughter, look at my Heart encircled with the thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you at least try to console me and announce in my name that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to Confession and receive Holy Communion, recite the Rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary with the intention of making reparation to me.
You can find details on how to fulfill the conditions of the devotion here.
More Ways to Live the Fatima Message
Here are a few more ways that we can learn, live, and spread the Fatima message.
- Read a book about the apparitions and the messages of Our Lady of Fatima. Here are a few suggestions.
Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words (vol. 1 and 2) and Calls from the Message of Fatima. All three of these books were written by Lucia herself.
The Message of Fatima, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The full text of the Vatican statement regarding the Fatima message is available online here. It includes helpful theological commentary from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Fatima Mysteries, by Grzegorz Górny and Janusz Rosikon. This is one of the most comprehensive and thoroughly researched books on the Fatima apparitions, filled with stunning photos and images.
The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Though not strictly speaking a book about Fatima, it powerfully shows the connections between the story of Our Lady of Fatima and that of Pope St. John Paul II as a prophet of Divine Mercy.
- Watch a film about Our Lady of Fatima.
The Apparitions at Fatima (1992). This is a historically authentic and spiritually sensitive account of the visionary experiences of the three young Portuguese children, culminating in the miracle of the sun witnessed by thousands.
The 13th Day (2009). Also historically accurate, this film succeeds in being both artful and reverent. It has a silent-film feel, with simple, direct dialogue and vignette-like incidents, instead of a continuous narrative.
- Make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal.
Travel to sacred places allows us to open ourselves to spiritual experiences. Fatima remains one of the most important religious pilgrimage sites in the world. Each year, an estimated 4-5 million people visit the Shrine.
Help Change the Course of History
In short, our work is ahead of us. As Our Lord makes known through Our Lady of Fatima, we can lift up ourselves and others along the way. Through our prayers and by offering up our own sufferings, God will use them for the conversion of souls. Give Jesus and Mary a hand in the task of saving the world, and help change the course of history. Perhaps, if enough of us ask for her miraculous intercession, Mary will put an end to the coronavirus pandemic which afflicts our world today.
Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, pray for us.
© 2020 Maria Vickroy-Peralta. Image: L’Osservatore Romano.