What Happened at Fatima?

Welcome to the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima here on Freshly Brewed. As we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary, we hope the posts today and tomorrow help you enter more deeply into this beautiful story and how Mary wants to change the world still today!

Last summer, I had the opportunity to walk the Camino de Santiago with a brother seminarian, Luke Powers.  Although the main reason for the trip was the Camino, an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain to the tomb of St. James the Apostle, we made Mary the focal point of the trip by stopping at several of her shrines.  We flew into Paris and visited Notre Dame and the Miraculous Medal Shrine before taking a cab, two cramped trains, and a long bus ride to Lourdes.  After Lourdes we started the Camino and walked 35 days across a country before busing down to Fatima.  After Fatima we traveled to World Youth Day and ended our trip at Our Lady of Chestohova. 

Out of all of these places, we spent the most time in Fatima, resting our tired limbs for a week.  In this time, we had plenty of opportunities to explore the shrine and the meaning of Fatima.  We arrived on July 13th, the day that the visionaries were shone Hell.  At this time, Mary said to the three children: "You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go.  To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart.  If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace."  This quote kind of reflects my time at the shrine.  It was a time filled with great peace but it was also a challenging time, because the message of Fatima is pretty intense.  

That first night we checked into our hotel, our first AC for about a month! We rested a bit, had dinner, and made our way to the sanctuary (the general space of the shrine) to watch the candle light procession as we sat on the steps and prayed evening prayer. It was a peaceful end to a day of travel and the beginning of what I thought would be a time of rest.

The next morning, I made my way to the main basilica to pray my morning prayers. I had picked up a little pamphlet and began to read the story of Fatima. I was immediately blown away. I had the sense that Mary was intensely present, and that the message which she gave here is deeply important. I hope that I can do it justice. Basically, Our Lady appeared to three young shepherd children several times, each time praying the rosary with them and encouraging them to pray always, and to offer up sacrifices for sinners and so that “The War” would end, and to bring peace. The children were also visited by an angel who prepared them for Mary’s visits and taught them how to pray. My favorite prayer which he taught them is: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love you.” The children often repeated this prayer for hours while lying face down on the ground. I haven’t prayed it while prostrated, but I find the repetition of this prayer as deeply consoling and helps me to feel connected with God.

After visits from the angel, and especially from Mary, the children report being bathed in the light that surrounded the heavenly visitor. This light, they took to be the presence of God because while in it they were overwhelmed by love. They could not move. They did not want to move. So enraptured was the experience, since they saw themselves through God’s eyes and felt his intimate presence. They experienced the love that God has for us, and they were encouraged to love their God at a time when many people were falling away from the faith. Mary told them: "Do not offend the Lord Our God anymore, because He is already so much offended." By loving God they were to make reparation for the times when Jesus is disrespected.

At the first apparition, Mary had asked the children to come to the same spot every month on the 13th. The children always tried to go, but were at times stopped by the civil authorities. Once they were kidnaped and were threatened to be boiled alive if they did not say that they had lied about seeing a heavenly lady. Although they were tricked one by one to think that the others had been killed, they did not give in, but held to what they had seen. And mind you, these kids were seven, nine, and ten years old! As the visions gained popularity, the children were continually pestered by visitors who tried to bribe, threaten, flatter, and annoy the children enough that they would reveal the three secrets which Mary had revealed to them. In all of this, the children offered up the nuisances as penances and took the prayers of the devout pilgrims to Our Lady.

But what they desired most was to go off by themselves, to fast, pray, and remember the gifts that God had given them. All of these actions were a response to Mary’s question when she first appeared to them: "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the suffering He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?" The children embraced Mary’s request and by doing so, helped to establish the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary which Jesus wished to be established so that the world would come to Him through His mother.

During my time in Fatima, I tried to immerse myself in the story and I found myself crying at times while reading it. The children went through so much trouble from the crowds and those who did not believe them. They offered up so many prayers and sacrifices that put me to shame. And they received such beautiful gifts from God, such as the consuming light that I mentioned earlier, when they were surrounded by God’ presence.

Over all, my time in Fatima was challenging, because it is a story of three very young children radically living the Christian life. By their experiences they suffered so much even from their own family, but always stayed faithful to God and grew to love Him even more! They learned to live intimately with God through simple prayer and sacrifices, and in the process led hundreds of thousands of people to Christ through Mary. They knew that God was real, and they knew that they needed to respond to God’s love; that He had personally made a plan for them.

Fatima is a story that is relevant for all of us, especially young people. It reminds us that, as young people, we can be powerful witnesses to the world. As Lumen Gentium 40 and 41 reminds us:

“All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, (or whatever age!) are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity… Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.” 

So I encourage all of you to deepen your relationship with Christ by simple prayer, and especially by praying the rosary. It is through the rosary that we come to a deeper knowledge of Christ by meditating on his mysteries and we establish a relationship with Mary. She’s not just a name in a prayer, but a real mother with a human heart who loves us so much that she continues to reveal her Son to us.

Michael Wanta | Seminarian for the Diocese of Madison, Camp Gray Alum