Friday, May 14, 2010

The children of Fatima

Lucia Santos (left) with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta in 1917

Our Lady of Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary, gave reported apparitions of her to three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal on the 13th day of six consecutive months, starting from May 13, 1917. The three children were Lucia Santos and her younger cousins Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto.

On Sunday, 13 May 1917, ten-year-old Lucia Santos, along with Jacinta and Francisco, was tending sheep at the Cova da Iria near their home village of Fatima in Portugal. Lucia reported seeing a woman ‘brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.’ Further visions were reported to have taken place on the 13th day of the month in June and July. In these, the woman exhorted the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. According to Lucia’s account, in the course of her appearances, the woman confided to the children three secrets, later known as the Three Secrets of Fatima.

Thousands of people flocked to Fatima and Aljustrel in the next months, drawn by reports of visions and miracles. On 13 August 1917, the provincial administrator, a self-professed atheist, Artur Santos, believing that the events were politically disruptive, intercepted and jailed the children. The administrator interrogated the children and attempted to get them to divulge the secrets, by telling them that he would boil them one by one in a pot of oil unless they revealed the secrets. But the children refused. That month, instead of the usual apparition in the Cova da Iria on the 13th, the children reported that they saw the Virgin Mary on 19 August at nearby Valinhos.

Later, Lucia who became a nun reportedly saw Mary in private visions periodically throughout her life. Most significant was the apparition in Rianxo, Galicia, in 1931, in which she said that Jesus visited her, taught her two prayers and delivered a message to give to the church's hierarchy. In 1947, Sister Lucia left the Dorothean order and joined the Discalced Carmelite order.

Lucia’s cousins Francisco (1908-1919) and Jacinta Marto (1910-1920) became victims of the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-20. Francisco and Jacinta were declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in a public ceremony at Fatima on 13 May 1989. Pope John Paul II returned there on 13 May 2000 to declare them 'blessed'. Jacinta is the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.

In 1941, Lucia claimed that the Virgin Mary had predicted the deaths of two of the children during the second apparition on 13 June 1917. Some accounts, including the testimony of OlĂ­mpia Marto, mother of Francisco and Jacinta, stated that her children did not keep the secrets and ecstatically predicted their own deaths many times to her and to the curious pilgrims. According to a 1941 account, on 13 June, Lucia asked Virgin Mary if the three children would go to heaven when they died. She said that she heard Mary reply, "Yes, I shall take Francisco and Jacinta soon, but you will remain a little longer, since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart." Lucia died on 13 February 2005 at the age of 97.

On Tuesday, 13th May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, who is marking the 93rd anniversary of the Virgin Mary's reported apparitions, visited Fatima, now one of the most popular Christian shrines in Europe. The chapel there is built on the site where Lucia Santos, Jacinta and Francisco claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917.

The site was also popularized by the late Pope John Paul II, who visited three times, believing it was Our Lady of Fatima who helped save him from an attempted assassination in 1981. On Wednesday, Pope Benedict prayed in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, who wears a gold and silver crown in which his predecessor placed the bullet which nearly killed him.

Off-the-track: note the number of times the number 13 repeats in this historical story. Does number 13 have any significance? Do you believe in miracles?

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