THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT FATIMA
8. A Wonderful Mariophany
(Thursday, September 13)
AT dawn on September 13, all the roads leading to Fatima were crammed with people. Some curious ones, and an immense throng of pilgrims were walking to the Cova da Iria, reciting the Rosary. Around noontime, there were twenty-five to thirty thousand people waiting for the apparition.
« THE FAITH OF OUR GOOD PORTUGUESE PEOPLE »
« It was a pilgrimage really worthy of the name, a profoundly moving sight », a witness reports. « I had never in all my life seen such a great demonstration of faith. At the place of the apparitions all the men uncovered their heads and nearly everyone knelt and said the Rosary with evident devotion. » 1
The moving account of Sister Lucy describes for us a scene which could have been taken right out of the Gospel :
« September 13, 1917. As the hour approached, I set out with Jacinta and Francisco, but owing to the crowds around us we could only advance with difficulty. »
“ ALL THE AFFLICTIONS OF POOR HUMANITY. ” « The roads were packed with people, and everyone wanted to see and speak to us. There was no human respect whatever. Simple folk, and even ladies and gentlemen, struggled to break through the crowd that pressed around us. No sooner had they reached us than they threw themselves on their knees before us, begging us to place their petitions before Our Lady.
« Others who could not get close to us shouted from a distance : “ For the love of God, ask Our Lady to cure my son who is a cripple ! ” Yet another cried out : “ And to cure mine who is blind !… To cure mine who is deaf !… To bring back my husband, my son, who has gone to the war !… To convert a sinner !… To give me back my health as I have tuberculosis ! ” and so on.
« All the afflictions of poor humanity were assembled there. Some climbed up to the tops of trees and walls to see us go by. Saying yes to some, giving a hand to others to help them up, we managed to move forward, thanks to some gentlemen who went ahead and opened a passage for us through the multitude. »
“ HE SAW AN IMMENSE CROWD, AND HAD PITY ON THEM. ” (Mt. 14 : 14) « Now, when I read in the New Testament about those enchanting scenes of Our Lord’s passing through Palestine, I think of those which Our Lord allowed me to witness, while yet a child, on the poor roads and lanes from Aljustrel to Fatima and on the Cova da Iria ! I give thanks to God, offering Him the faith of our good Portuguese people, and I think : “ If these people so humbled themselves before three poor children, just because they were mercifully granted the grace to speak to the Mother of God, what would they not do if they saw Our Lord Himself in Person before them ? ” » 2
I. HEAVEN VISITS THE EARTH
« At last, we arrived at the Cova da Iria », writes Lucy, « and on reaching the holm oak we began to say the Rosary with the people. » 3 Lucy recited it in a loud voice, and the crowd answered.
« A LUMINOUS GLOBE COMING FROM THE EAST TOWARDS THE WEST »
Among the numerous testimonies describing the marvels which Our Lady wished to accompany Her coming, the most detailed is undoubtedly from Father John Quaresma, who later on became Vicar General of Leiria. He had come there incognito, with a suit coat on, with two of his friends, Fathers Manuel do Carmo Gois and Manuel Pereira da Silva, in the same dress. All three were at a distance from the crowd, on the raised part of the Cova, observing events. 4 In 1932, Msgr. Quaresma, in a letter to his colleague Msgr. Carmo Gois, recalls the prodigious event of September 13 in all is details :
« On a beautiful September morning we left ; Leiria in a rickety carriage drawn by an old horse, for the spot where the much discussed apparitions were to take place. Father Gois found the high point of the vast amphitheatre from which we could observe events without approaching too nearly the place where the children were awaiting the apparition… At midday (solar time) there was complete silence. One only heard the murmur of prayers.
« Suddenly there were sounds of jubilation and voices praising the Blessed Virgin. Arms were raised pointing to something in the sky. “ Look, don’t you see ? ” “ Yes, yes, I do… ! ” There was much satisfaction on the part of those who did. There had not been a cloud in the deep blue sky and I too raised my eyes and scrutinized it in case I should be able to distinguish what the others, more fortunate than I, had already claimed to have seen… With great astonishment I saw, clearly and distinctly, a luminous globe, which moved from the east to the west, gliding slowly and majestically through space. My friends also looked and had the good fortune to enjoy the same unexpected and delightful vision. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light, disappeared. Near us was a little girl dressed like Lucia and more or less the same age. She continued to cry out happily : “ I still see it… I still see it… Now it’s coming down ! ” » 5
… It then began to approach the holm oak of the apparition. Then the sun’s brightness diminished, the atmosphere became golden yellow, like the other times. Some people even reported being able to distinguish the stars in the sky. Lucy began to speak…
THE WORDS OF OUR LADY 6
TOWARDS OCTOBER 13…
– What does Your Grace want of me ?
– Continue to say the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war. In October, Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus in order to bless the world. 7
[« God is satisfied with your sacrifices, but He does not want you to sleep with the rope. Wear it only during the day. » 8]
THE REQUESTS FOR HEALING
– There is a little girl here who is a deaf-mute. Would not Your Grace wish to cure her ?
– Our Lady replied that, a year from now, the girl would be better.
– I have many other requests, some for conversion, others for a cure.
– I shall cure some, but others no, because Our Lord does not trust them.
– The people would indeed like to have a chapel here.
– With half of the money received so far, they should make litters and carry them on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary ; the other half can be used to build the chapel.
A CHARMING EPISODE
– Then Lucy said that she offered Her two letters and a small flask of perfumed water that had been given her by a man from the parish of Olival. As she offered them to Our Lady, she said to Her :
– They gave me this. Does Your Grace want it ?
– That is not suitable for Heaven, Our Lady replied. 9
The fourth Memoir adds :
– In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.
Then Our Lady began to rise as usual, and disappeared. » 10
AN AMAZING “ RAIN OF FLOWERS’’
During the time of the apparition the majority of the pilgrims had enjoyed a marvellous spectacle : they saw falling from Heaven a shower of white petals, or round, shining snowflakes which slowly descended and disappeared as they approached the ground. Here are a few testimonies :
« Very high up we saw little white forms like snow in the air, coming across from the east to the west. One could say they were doves, but we could clearly see that they were not birds. On the slope, to the west, stood Father Joaquim Ferreira Gonçalves das Neves, parish priest of Santa Catarina da Serra… I turned towards him and asked him if he saw something. He said no. I indicated the direction to him, and suddenly he declared that he saw also. » 11
It was an unheard of phenomenon, which the witnesses were not able to describe very well : « One might think they were stars », declared Manuel Gonçalves, from the hamlet of Montelo. Others spoke of a rain of white roses, which vanished at the approach of the ground.
A MYSTERIOUS CLOUD
The Blessed Virgin wished to give the crowd gathered around the holm oak where She was appearing, another sign of Her presence :
« A pleasant looking cloud formed around the rustic arch which dominated the little tree-stump. Rising up from the ground, it grew thicker and went up into the air until it was five or six metres high ; then it disappeared like smoke that vanishes before the wind.
« A few moments later, similar curls of smoke were formed and disappeared in the same manner, and then a third time.
« Everything happened as though some invisible thurifers were incensing the Vision liturgically. The three “ incensations ” together lasted the whole time of the apparition, that is from ten to fifteen minutes.
« In his letter approving devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, the Bishop of Leiria declared this phenomenon “ humanly speaking inexplicable ”. » 12
THE LUMINOUS GLOBE GOES BACK UP TO HEAVEN
Not everything was over with yet. At the end of the Apparition, when the Blessed Virgin had finished transmitting Her message, Lucy exclaimed : « If you want to see Her, look over there ! » And she pointed with her finger towards the east. Then once again the luminous globe having an oval form could be seen, going up into the air and leaving the Cova da Iria in the direction of the east. Here is the conclusion of Msgr. Quaresma’s account :
« After a few minutes, about the duration of the Apparitions, the child began to exclaim again, pointing to the sky : “ Now it’s going up again ! ” And she followed the globe with her eyes until it disappeared in the direction of the sun.
« “ What do you think of that globe ? ” I asked my companion, who seemed enthusiastic at what he had seen. “ That it was Our Lady ”, he replied without hesitation. It was my undoubted conviction also. The children had contemplated the very Mother of God, while to us it had been given to see the means of transport which had brought Her from Heaven to the inhospitable waste of the Serra de Aire.
« I must emphasize that all those around us appeared to have seen the same thing, for one heard manifestations of joy and praise of Our Lady. But some saw nothing. Near us was a simple devout creature weeping bitterly because she had seen nothing.
« We felt remarkably happy. My companion went from group to group in the Cova and afterwards on the road, gathering information. Those he questioned were of all sorts and kinds and of different social standing, but one and all affirmed the reality of the phenomena which we ourselves had witnessed. » 13
II. THE MESSAGE OF THE SIGNS
Far from overwhelming the little seers with interminable discourses which they would not be able to remember, Our Lady showed an admirable pedagogy at Fatima. She contented Herself to humbly take up certain themes, all closely connected, and She repeated them from month to month, each time adding some new element. Thus on October 13 She repeats almost entirely, although in a different way, Her words of September 13. Thus it will be more fruitful to comment on Her last two messages at the same time…
Let us consider what constitutes the originality of this fifth apparition, that is the striking atmospheric signs which accompanied the coming of Our Lady and Her return to Heaven. To be sure, they were first and above all sensible proofs mercifully granted by Her, to convince still more the crowds of the faithful gathered in the Cova da Iria of the reality of Her presence. And in fact these signs would encourage innumerable pilgrims to return for the last rendezvous, to the point where there were almost twice as many, from 50, 000 to 80, 000 !
But the miracles of Our Lord and the signs accomplished by Our Lady of Fatima are not only extraordinary facts which bear witness to their supernatural origin, they are also symbols rich in meaning, the sensible expressions of a mystery… Thus all the surprising marvels of September 13, which filled with joy all those who had the privilege of contemplating them, were like a language, the discreet and veiled manifestation of the Immaculate Virgin who during this time appeared in brilliant light to Her three usual confidants. And first of all, this luminous globe which preceded the apparition…
THE IMMACULATE ONE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN
Yes, such was indeed the clearest conclusion spontaneously drawn by all those who had seen the mysterious luminous globe « slowly and majestically gliding into space, going from east to west », to descend finally on the holm oak of the apparition, before going back into space, in the direction of the east. The sign was simple, and its meaning was obvious to all : « It was Our Lady who came ! » exclaimed Father Gois. And Father Quaresma explained judiciously : « The little shepherds had seen the Mother of God Herself. To us it had been given to see the means of transport – if one may so express it – which had brought Her from Heaven to the inhospitable waste of the Serra de Aire. »
Why insist on an interpretation so obvious it seems to go without saying ? Because it permits us to shed light on a theological question which, until now, had remained in doubt, leaving us in a painful uncertainty : When the Virgin Mary appears, is it Her glorious body that manifests itself ? « Of course ! » answered certain theologians. « Impossible ! » others retorted. Tanquerey upholds this impossibility in his Précis de théologie ascétique et mystique : « When the Holy Virgin appeared at Lourdes, Her body remained in Heaven, and there was only a sensible form representing Her on the spot of the apparition. » 14
Well, since the principles by which they claimed to draw this bewildering conclusion remain very much open to question, it seems to us that the marvellous phenomenon observed by a multitude of pilgrims on September 13, 1917, permits us to shed a new light on the debate : Did not the Virgin Mary wish to manifest, with splendour, Her coming on earth and Her return to Heaven, in an aura of glory ? Does not the other hypothesis, which would reduce this marvellous symbolism to a grandiose but misleading stage production, seem unworthy of the divine veracity ? 15
Yes, at Fatima as at Lourdes, much evidence allows us to affirm that Heaven visited the earth, the Virgin Mary descended in person in Her risen body to appear to the three shepherds, to transmit Her message to them, and comfort the innumerable crowds with Her invisible presence. Then She went back up to Heaven, resplendent with Light, always towards the east from whence She had come.
This last detail, very well attested by the seers, 16 is still another symbolic trait rich in biblical reminiscences : Does it not remind us of the Spouse in the Canticle of Canticles ? « Quae est Ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens… Who is She that comes forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array ? » 17
THE IMMACULATE ONE, ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT
During all the apparitions since June 13, many witnesses had noticed a thin white cloud, very pleasant to look at, forming above the holm oak. It remained there for the whole duration of the apparition, before gently going up in the sky towards the east, before finally disappearing. In August, almost everybody could see it. The same phenomenon took place on September 13, but in an even more lavish manner, since the unusual cloud formed and then disappeared three times in a row, during the ten minutes Our Lady had spoken to the children.
This mysterious cloud which enveloped the apparition, as if to manifest its presence while concealing it at the same time – does it not remind us once again of the great biblical theophanies ? Certainly, for from the giving of the law to Moses on Sinai 18 to the Transfiguration of Jesus on Thabor, 19 the cloud always appears in sacred history as the symbol and sensible expression of the divine Presence. But how can we explain the fact that a creature – even the most sublime, the Blessed Virgin – could manifest Herself in the glorious aura of a specifically divine attribute ?
The answer is rich in mystical significance and is taught in the Gospel of St. Luke, by way of allusion but still quite clearly : through a series of hints that the exegetes have perfectly grasped, the Evangelist identifies the Virgin Mary with the Ark of the Covenant. 20 This Ark, hidden under the Tent, was like a movable sanctuary, the place where Yahweh had fixed His residence, accompanying Israel in its wanderings ; and the Cloud manifested His presence. As soon as the Ark was introduced, we read in the Book of Exodus, « the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. » (Ex. 40 : 34-35) After the building of the Temple by Solomon, the Ark was solemnly carried in by the priests to the Holy of Holies. And finally, it is by the Cloud that Yahweh manifests that He is taking possession of His Temple, and establishes His abode there. 21
Now the symbolism is clear : by manifesting Herself in the cloud in each of Her apparitions, did not Our Lady wish to signify to us one of the most sublime aspects of Her mystery ? In these three clouds observed on September 13 and October 13, which also remind us of the triple incensation in the liturgy, the Immaculate Virgin shows us that She is the Abode and the Temple of God, the Sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, and the Ark of the New Covenant. 22 In addition to Her message, it seems that at Fatima the Virgin Mary wished to teach us, in an incomparable synthesis, and in both a sensible and symbolic manner, all the highest perfections of Her personal vocation, already chanted for many centuries by the liturgy of the Church : « Ark of the Covenant, pray for us ! »
THE IMMACULATE ONE, DISPENSER OF A SHOWER OF GRACES
As for the gracious shower of rose petals or snowflakes, the significance can be grasped immediately. The symbolism is so natural that the expression « a shower of graces » has become commonplace. For example, we need only recall the beautiful words of St. Therese of the Child Jesus who, planning to « spend her Heaven doing good on earth », said to her sister : « You’ll see, it will be like a shower of roses. » 23
At rue du Bac, Our Lady had declared to St. Catherine Labouré : « Come to the foot of this altar. Here, graces will be poured out on everybody who will ask for them with confidence. » 24 Is it not the same pressing invitation that Our Lady wished to express at the Cova da Iria, by the eloquent symbol of a preternatural rain ? Unquestionably yes. And as if to encourage the pilgrims to come en masse to this blessed place, where She showered Her graces profusely, She renewed the same prodigy of this mysterious rain on May 13, 1918, and one more time, on May 13, 1924 : this time Bishop da Silva of Leiria was at the Cova da Iria and could bear witness to it himself.
This incomparable series of wonderful phenomena, which in this month called to mind the sweet presence, at once radiant and merciful, of the Immaculate One – without any trait which might recall the awesome greatness and majesty of God, as on August 13 – filled the crowd of witnesses with inner joy and shouts of thanksgiving : « Everywhere one could hear shouts of joy and praise to the Virgin, Our Lady. » It is as if the crowd had received some reflections of the radiant apparition, contemplated only by the seers…
« BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND HAVE BELIEVED ! » 25
And yet, Msgr. Quaresma writes, « some people saw nothing at all. » « It seems that the proportion of those who saw nothing was about a third of the total », 26 Barthas remarks. Did Our Lady wish to try their faith ? It seems likely. Far from favouring only the believers, or those who intensely desired to finally see tangible proofs of the supernatural character of the events, many of them did not notice any extraordinary phenomenon that day. The privation of this consolation was a hard trial for them ! 27 It remained for them to have blind confidence in the words of Our Lady, and to continue firmly hoping to be more fortunate on October 13; for She had promised since July 13, and repeated this promise to the seers on September 13 : « In October, I will perform a miracle so that all may see and believe. »
III. WAITING FOR THE GREAT MIRACLE
The prodigies of August 13 and September 13, which thousands of pilgrims were enthusiastically talking about all over Portugal, silenced for the moment the scoffing of the masonic and anticlerical journals. After that, they decided it would be better to wait and see what happened on October 13.
At Aljustrel during this time, visitors of all sorts were looking for the seers : the pious pilgrims, the curious, fanatical adversaries, everybody wanted to see the children and interrogate them, if not tempt them, with wonderful promises or the most dire threats, to make them finally reveal the famous secret. This almost uninterrupted series of visitors presented some very painful difficulties for the families of the seers : by the middle of September, Maria Rosa and Olimpia had to resign themselves to selling almost their whole flock :
« At this time, my aunt and uncle, tired of the inconvenience of having people continually coming to see us and speak to us, sent their son John to take care of the sheep, and kept Jacinta and Francisco at the house. Not long after, they ended up selling the flock.
« Since I did not like going out with other companions, I began going out to take care of the sheep by myself. As I have already related, Jacinta and her little brother came to meet me, and if the pasture was far away, they would go and wait for me along the way. » 28
« I can say that these were truly happy days for me. Alone in the midst of my sheep, on top of a hill, or at the bottom of a valley, I would contemplate the beauties of Heaven and thank God for the graces He had granted me.
« When one of my sisters would interrupt my solitude, calling me to come back to the house to talk to such or such a person who was looking for me, I felt a profound vexation, and I consoled myself only by offering to God this additional sacrifice. » 29
It got to the point, Sister Lucy writes further on, that « one of my sisters did scarcely anything else but go and call me, and take my place with the flock, while I went to speak with the people who were asking to see me and talk to me. This waste of time would have meant nothing to a wealthy family, but for ourselves, who had to live by our work, it meant a great deal.
« After some time, my mother found herself obliged to sell our flock, and this made no small difference to the support of the family. I was blamed for the whole thing, and at critical moments it was all flung in my face. »
“ ALWAYS HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO SACRIFICE MYSELF. ” « I hope our dear Lord has accepted it all from me, for I offered it to Him, always happy to be able to sacrifice myself for Him and for sinners. On her part, my mother endured everything with heroic patience and resignation ; and if she reprimanded me and punished me, it was because she really thought that I was lying. She was completely resigned to the crosses which Our Lord was sending her, and at times she would say : “ Could it be that all this is God’s work, in punishment for my sins ? If so, then blessed be God ! ” » 30
IN ANGUISHED EXPECTATION
The total loss of the Cova da Iria, its pasture and the vegetables cultivated there, along with the loss of the flock which had to be sold, was an immense worry added to Maria Rosa’s shoulders as the fateful date of October 13 approached. After August 13 and its extraordinary signs noticed by almost everyone present, she had hoped that the following apparition would be decisive. But on September 13, she herself had seen nothing. Nor had her sister-in-law Olimpia and Ti Marto seen anything : « The good Lord, perhaps to give us the opportunity to offer Him yet another sacrifice, permitted that no ray of His glory should appear on this day ; my mother lost heart once more, and the persecution at home began all over again. » 31
« My family (Maria dos Anjos tells us) was much preoccupied. As the 13th drew nearer we kept on telling Lucy that it would be better if she did not keep up the affair any longer because ill would come of it to her and to us and we would all suffer because of the things she had invented. My father scolded her very, very much. When he had been drinking he was very bad, but he did not beat her. It was my mother who did that most…
« It was said that they were going to put bombs down to frighten us and the children. Some people told us that if it were their children they would shut them up in a room until they carne to their senses. We were all very much afraid. We wondered what would become of us all and said so behind Lucy’s back. The neighbours said that the bombs would destroy our houses and our belongings. Someone came to my mother and advised her to take Lucy right away where nobody would know where she was. Everyone said something different and gave different advice until we didn’t know what to do for the best.
« My mother said : “ If it really is Our Lady who appears, She might have done a miracle already – made a spring come up or something. When it rains there is a tiny drop of water there but nothing more… Oh, where will all this end ! ” Only the children didn’t seem to mind at all. » 32
THE STAY AT REIXIDA. At the beginning of October, Mrs. Maria do Carmo Menezes 33 permission from the Marto and dos Santos parents to take Lucy and Jacinta with her to her home at Reixida, so that they could have an eight day rest. During this stay one of the most moving photographs of the two seers was taken. Very quickly their presence became known and the visits began all over again.
« Seeing this flow of visitors, and the fanaticism that motivated some of them, the generous hostess said to the little girls : “ My children, if the miracle that you predict does not take place, these people are capable of burning you alive ! ” The little children, ever cheerful and pleasant, answered : “ We are not afraid, because Our Lady does not deceive us. She told us that there would be a great miracle so that everyone would have to believe. ” 34
“ I AM CERTAIN THAT THE LADY WILL DO ALL THAT SHE PROMISED. ” In this waiting period, so full of anguish, the seers showed signs of an extraordinary assurance. « Are you not afraid of what the people will do if nothing extraordinary happens on that day ? » Canon Formigao asked Lucy on September 27. « I am not at all afraid », Lucy answered firmly. 35
« The rumour had spread (Lucy writes in her Memoirs), that the authorities intended to explode a bomb quite close to us, at the very moment of the apparition. This did not frighten me in the least. I spoke of it to my cousins. “ How wonderful ! ” we exclaimed, “ if we were granted the grace of going up to Heaven from there, together with Our Lady ! ” My parents, however, were very much afraid… » 36
Let us not be too quick to smile at this anguish, which in hindsight it is easy for us to judge excessive… The era was a troubled one and passions were unchained… The bombing attempt, which four years later would blow up the little chapel of the apparitions, shows that not all the fears of the peasants of Aljustrel were illusory. Any fanatic could have done as he wished, and be assured of impunity…
It must also be remembered that the intimidation was also the policy of the Administrator, who was insistent in spreading the most alarming rumours to discourage the pilgrims (and who knows perhaps the seers themselves ?) from coming to the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth.
« There was such acute apprehension at Aljustrel that hardly had dawn broken on the 12th when Maria Rosa jumped out of bed and went to wake her daughter, saying : “ Lucy, we had better go to confession. Everyone says that we shall probably be killed tomorrow in the Cova da Iria. If the Lady doesn’t do the miracle, the people will attack us, so we had better go to confession and be properly prepared for death. ” “ If you want to go mother, I’ll come with you ”, said Lucy placidly, “ but not for that reason. I am not afraid of being killed. I’m absolutely certain that the Lady will do all that She promised tomorrow. ” No one spoke any more about confession.
« In the Marto household things were more peaceful. Ti Marto was convinced of the reality of the apparitions and nothing could shake his faith. He awaited events with the utmost calmness. » 37
“ I’M LONGING TO SEE OUR LORD AGAIN ! ” As for Francisco, he was filled with joy because the Lady had said that on October 13 Our Lord would also come :
« “ Oh, how good He is ! I’ve only seen Him twice, 38 and I love Him so much ! ” From time to time, he asked : “ Are there many days left till the 13th ? I’m longing for that day to come, so that I can see Our Lord again. ” Then he thought for a moment, and added : “ But listen ! Will He still be so sad ? I am so sorry to see Him sad like that ! I offer Him all the sacrifices I can think of. Sometimes, I don’t even run away from all those people, just in order to make sacrifices ! ” » 39
THE ATMOSPHERIC PHENOMENA FROM MAY 13 TO SEPTEMBER 13
The extraordinary signs noticed during each of the apparitions of Our Lady, from May 13 to October 13, are one of the most remarkable and specific distinctive traits of the miracle of Fatima. In no other of Her apparitions did the Blessed Virgin surround Her coming with so many spectacular and varied signs. To grasp their significance, it is important to set aside very clearly the great solar miracle of October 13. This was the only miracle promised and announced in advance by Our Lady, with this clear understanding that everyone would be able to see it : « In October… I will work a miracle so that all will see and believe. » Let us therefore set aside this particular miracle which we will cover later on, and consider only the phenomena observed during the previous apparitions, whose essential characteristic seems to have been that they were noticed only by part of those who were present. The apparition of September 13, in which there were more signs than ever, and the largest crowd was present, imposes itself quite especially on our attention.
THE FACTS : AN UNQUESTIONABLE MIRACLE
A NATURAL PHENOMENON ? To ask this question is already to answer it. Indeed how is it possible to interpret as an ordinary physical phenomenon this luminous globe, majestically moving through space, in a perfectly blue sky without any clouds ? How can we explain the cloud forming and disappearing three times in a row, above the holm oak ? What physical cause can we assign to the mysterious shower of snowflakes, which disappeared as soon as they reached the ground ?
Now it is estimated that all these phenomena, which cannot be considered as having natural causes, were witnessed by two thirds of the crowd that had gathered at the Cova da Iria. Since there were between twenty and thirty thousand persons present that day, that makes a myriad of witnesses ! Moreover, the fact that about a third of those who were there declared that they had seen nothing at all, irretrievably rules out all hypotheses based on any sort of natural explanation.
A COLLECTIVE HALLUCINATION ? Next comes the hypothesis of a purely subjective cause : could it have been a collective hallucination ? For anybody who has taken the trouble to give even the slightest study to what this ambiguous expression means, to explain the solid testimony of fifteen to twenty thousand people in this way is senseless ! 1 Gerard de Sede himself, in his systematic attempt to eliminate all miracles, prefers not to have recourse to this explanation. He is content to elude the difficulty… simply by denying the facts ! 2
We must also point out a remarkable fact, which allows us to affirm with certitude that the testimonies of the immense crowds who saw the signs cannot be explained by any sort of auto-suggestion. Indeed, many who had desired to see it saw nothing at all, while others, who were merely curious or even incredulous, were privileged to see the ravishing spectacle. Such for example was Inacio Antonio Marques, a postal employee, who having admired the “ rain of flowers ”, was still not convinced : « I returned to my house, my mind preoccupied with the event, and looking for a solution… I did not want to believe in this apparition. » He had to go down to death’s door, and be healed in extremis by a miracle of Our Lady of Fatima on Christmas of 1917, before he would consent to believe in the apparition. 3 This witness at least – and how many others like him ! – could not have been under the effects of a sort of pathological auto-suggestion when he saw the prodigies he had related !
On the other hand, many others who already believed in the apparitions and hoped intensely to see a sign which would strengthen them in their faith, could see nothing. Thus for example José Alves of the hamlet of Moita, who was a fervent friend of the seers : « I did not see the signs that the others were speaking about. It didn’t even occur to me to take off my hat », he declared in 1924 before the commission of inquiry. 4 Another example : Carlos Mendes, the young lawyer, so enthusiastic about his visit to Aljustrel six months before, returned home on the thirteenth terribly disappointed : « At first, I heard people shouting, claiming they had seen an extraordinary light, petals falling from Heaven, etc. As for myself I saw nothing, and yet I was right beside the children. » 5 Finally, Maria Rosa and Olimpia, who were separated by a short distance, noticed only the cloud which went up above the holm oak. As for Manuel Pedro, he declared in the canonical process that he had neither seen nor heard anything, but, he continued, « I heard talk of certain people seeing extraordinary things in the atmosphere. » 6
In short, if it was neither a case of ordinary natural phenomena, nor of illusory phenomena which could be explained by purely subjective causes, only one solution remains…
AN UNQUESTIONABLE MIRACLE. Indeed, if we grant the thousands of witnesses the just credit that they deserve, we must conclude that extraordinary happenings indeed took place at the Cova da Iria, which can only be reasonably attributed to Divine Omnipotence. The reality of the miracle compels our acceptance as an undeniable fact. The astonishing disparity of perceptions is an equally undeniable fact. Far from placing in doubt the reality of the miracle, it merely renders it more mysterious for us, more baffling to our attempts at a scientific reasoning, so far does it go beyond the framework of our natural experience. For it is stupefying that in the midst of such a large and varied crowd, the majority of witnesses could contemplate the extraordinary spectacle, while the others would not notice anything abnormal – without this difference in perception corresponding to a decisive natural difference between the seers and the non-seers.
We must even add that among those who had the privilege of seeing, not all perceived these extraordinary phenomena in exactly the same way. Alongside Fathers Gois and Quaresma, whose witness we have already quoted, a little girl Lucy’s age continued to contemplate this luminous globe moving through space, when it had already disappeared from the two priests’eyes. From his own vantage point, Canon Formigao, who attended the apparition for the first time, remarks : « Some people observed the phenomenon longer than others. As for myself, I did not see it, which troubles me. » 7 Such are the facts, which are solidly attested, and which must not be distorted at any price, on the pretext of facilitating the rational explanation.
THE EXPLANATION : REFLECTIONS OF THE APPARITION ?
How is such a disparity possible ? It is a mysterious question. Let us point out, however, that the same question could be asked about the apparition itself, which only the three seers could contemplate, among a crowd of witnesses who could not perceive it. We might also recall that Francisco himself did not hear the words of Our Lady. If this fact does not cast doubt on the objective character of the apparition, which is undoubtedly the manifestation of a glorious body making itself present in the place of its appearance, it highlights to what extent the vision of this celestial being, naturally invisible, is itself a supernatural perception. 8 In other words, the object which appears is of the supernatural order, and the subject which perceives it cannot do so without a sort of particular grace, which is also supernatural.
THE GLORIFIED BODIES AND THEIR MYSTERIOUS CAPABILITIES. Rather than vainly scrutinize “ the how ” of these extraordinary phenomena which almost entirely escape us, let us look at them instead from the theological point of view. A consideration of the extraordinary perfections of glorified bodies is in fact very illuminating here. Although it does not let us explain how such a disparity of perceptions is possible, at least we will be able to discover the meaning of this disparity and the reasons for it.
The Gospel itself teaches us that the “ spiritual body ”, having become the perfect instrument of the person, enjoys the marvellous privilege of becoming visible or invisible at will, and even visible to some and invisible to others, in the same time and at the same place, as in the apparition to Saul on the road to Damascus. Thus, while our physical body, because of its pure materiality is always necessarily visible, it seems that the glorious body, the perfect instrument of relations with other persons, does not undergo this servitude and manifests itself only according to the decision of its free will. Thus, at Lourdes or at Fatima, while the glorious body of the Blessed Virgin was really present in a completely objective manner, it nevertheless enjoyed the power of manifesting itself only to witnesses chosen by Her, and to the exact degree that She wished.
THE IMMACULATE, THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN, IS ALSO THE QUEEN OF HEARTS. Were not the atmospheric phenomena that accompanied each of the apparitions of Our Lady in some way the prolongations or secondary manifestations of the apparition to the three seers ? Then it could be said that, in the immense crowd at the Cova da Iria, the majority had the privilege of themselves participating in the wonderful apparition that ravished the three seers. It was like the crumbs from the table at a feast, and everyone could benefit from them in a special way, according to his capacity and the good pleasure of the Queen of Heaven, who is also the Queen of hearts.
Instead of beating our heads against an insurmountable obstacle to our feeble reason, let us rather admire, in the great light of faith, the unlimited power of Jesus and Mary, who are able to carry on a unique relationship with every single person ! She is the Mother of all, and enjoys an unimaginable power of being near to each one of us, distributing to each one of us, according to our prayers and Her mercy, the particular grace that we need. Thus it is not impossible that in an inferior order, to some of those in this immense crowd gathered in the Cova da Iria, She may have given the sensible consolation of seeing as it were the folds of Her glorious mantle. To others She gave perhaps the still greater grace of a pressing invitation to believe without seeing, relying on the witness of others. For the signs given have their value for all, for those who saw as well as those who believe. Indeed it is not necessary for all to have seen ; once the fact is solidly established by the testimony of enough people, it takes its value as a supernatural sign for all.
In October, as we shall see, the great miracle will be of a different nature. It will no longer be, as in previous months, a sort of gratuitous favour given to some and not others. It will be the striking, indisputable proof that all without exception will be able to see, in short the one great miracle promised by Our Lady on July 13 : « In October, I will work a miracle so that all may see and believe. »
CANON FORMIGAO, FIRST HISTORIAN OF FATIMA
In spite of the prohibitions of the parish priest, Father Ferreira, a small number of priests (historians have discovered the names of at least eight of them), and a large group of seminarians were among the crowd. « The summer vacation was not yet finished », Canon Galamba tells us, « and we seminarians did not wish at any price to return to the seminary without seeing on the 13th this village of Fatima which the people were talking about everywhere, especially in the neighbouring villages. So at four or five in the morning, we went on foot to see what was going on at Fatima. We came back fatigued, but happy. There were almost thirty seminarians from different seminaries. » 1
FROM LOURDES TO FATIMA
Among these priests was the one who would become the most important instrument of the official recognition of the apparitions, and the first priest to propagate the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
Manuel Nunes Formigao Junior was born at Tomar in 1883. After studying at the patriarchal seminary at Lisbon, he went on to the Gregorian University at Rome, from 1903 to 1909. He emerged a doctor of canon law and theology. In 1908, he decided to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. 2
It is important, even from the critical point of view, to understand how such a man became the first priest to be convinced of the authenticity of the apparitions of Fatima. He himself told Canon Barthas how it happened :
« In 1908, I returned to my diocese. As I was passing through Lourdes, I had intended to stay only three days. In a train station I came across an Italian pilgrimage on its return journey. Among them were three sick people who had been healed. I was filled with such great enthusiasm by everything I had seen and heard at Lourdes… that I resolved to stay longer.
« Thus I remained a whole month as a nurse at the Hospital of the Seven Sorrows. I thought to myself : “ Here in Portugal a committee must be formed in each diocese, just as in France, to organize pilgrimages to Lourdes. ” Before leaving, I promised the Blessed Virgin to dedicate my life to spreading devotion to Her in my own country, especially by organizing pilgrimages to the Grotto.
« When I was appointed professor at the major seminary, the study of certain new matters prevented me from keeping my promise. Alas ! During the following year came the Revolution which persecuted the Church, and it became impossible to organize pilgrimages. Nevertheless, in July of 1914 I was able to lead an important delegation of Portuguese people to the International Eucharistic Congress. Right after that the war broke out, closing borders and making it impossible once again to carry out my promise to Mary.
« I was waiting impatiently for the time when I could fulfil this promise, when in 1917 I heard of the apparitions of Fatima.
« At the beginning, I was incredulous, and I must admit that when I went there for the first time, on September 13, it was to try and find a way to put an end to this fraud.
« I spoke with the seers, with their parents, and with the local people. I was convinced that the children were not lying, that they were perfectly normal and sincere, and also that nobody in their entourage was “ coaching ” them to say the things they did. Moreover, at that time, the majority of the people in the village believed them. 3
« A few days later, I encountered Msgr. John de Lima Vidal, apostolic administrator of the Patriarchate in the enforced absence of Cardinal Mendes Belo. He told me : “ Continue to observe and take notes. ” Thus I went back to Fatima around the end of September and stayed with the Gonçalves family, from the hamlet of Montelo; hence the pseudonym I used for my publications.
« The vision of the “ sign of God ” on October 13 confirmed me in my belief in the apparitions. I began to wonder whether my mission was to bring the Portuguese to Lourdes or to make Our Lady of Fatima known and loved. You know what happened next. » 4
A WHOLE LIFE IN THE SERVICE OF FATIMA
What happened next was the publication of the first serious and informed works on Fatima, 5 active participation in the canonical process and the creation of the review “ Voz de Fatima ”. As a professor at the patriarchal seminary of Santarem, and Canon at Lisbon, he then founded the Congregation of Sisters of Reparation of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, in the same spirit as the Message of Fatima. We shall have more to say later on about this immense work. Canon Formigao died at Fatima on January 30, 1958, with such a reputation of sanctity that Father Alonso could conclude the biography he dedicated to him with an insistent request for the opening of the informative process in view of his beatification. 6
The credence that a man of this stature gave almost immediately to the three seers is still another weighty testimony in favour of their credibility, along with that of the dean of Olival and Father Cruz, who were also unanimously considered level-headed men, and men of God.
After the apparition of September 13, having confided to Msgr. John de Lima his favourable impressions – although Canon Formigao himself did not notice any extraordinary phenomenon other than the diminution of the sun’s light – he was charged by the latter in a semi-official manner to pursue his inquiry in the service of the patriarchate.
THE VALUE OF THE FORMIGAO INTERROGATIONS
In this spirit he returned to Aljustrel to interrogate the seers on September 27 and October 11. To assess the definite, although relative value of these interrogations, it is important to note that the replies of the seers were not transcribed word for word at the very moment of the interview. At the time the Canon was content to « take notes » which he later wrote down. We know that the interrogation of September 27 was put down in final form on September 29 and the other interrogations later on, before the end of 1917. This is still a guarantee of its fidelity, but it explains at the same time certain critical difficulties raised by several replies of the seers. This also diminishes the value of all the objections against the authenticity of the apparitions based on discrepancies in details, which are usually drawn from these interrogations, as though they were the only source of the history of Fatima.
Father Alonso, already revealing the conclusions of his great critical study, insists on their relative value, which must neither be minimized nor exaggerated. In short, they should always be compared with the other sources. « For the essential… although they almost always lose the folk characteristics of the people of the Serra de Aire, we may not believe that the Formigao documents essentially transform the contents of the true words of the children. » 7
THE FIRST SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR OF THE CHILDREN
Besides being a wise and conscientious investigator, Dr. Formigao had one additional merit. As soon as he was persuaded of the sincerity of the seers and the authenticity of the apparitions, he was able to step out of his narrow role as historian to exercise his ministry : with goodness and zeal, he became in some way the first spiritual counselor of their souls. This was an immense source of comfort for the seers :
« His interrogation was serious and detailed (recalls Lucy). I liked him very much, for he spoke to me a great deal about the practice of virtue, and taught me various ways of exercising myself in it. He showed me a holy picture of St. Agnes, told me about her martyrdom and encouraged me to imitate her. His Reverence continued to come every month for an interrogation, and always ended up by giving me some good advice, which was of help to me spiritually.
« One day he said to me : “ My child, you should love Our Lord very much, in return for so many favours and graces that He is granting you. These words made such an impression on my soul that, from then on, I acquired the habit of constantly saying to Our Lord : “ My God, I love You, in thanksgiving for the graces which You have granted me. ”
« I so loved this ejaculation, that I passed it on to Jacinta and her brother, who took it so much to heart that, in the middle of the most exciting games, Jacinta would ask : “ Have you been forgetting to tell Our Lord how much you love Him for the graces He has given us ? ” » 8
In conclusion, we must quote the few lines in which Canon Formigao summed up his first impressions of Lucy, at the end of his first interview with her, for it is one of the most precious testimonies in favour of the seer : « Half an hour after the end of the interrogation of Jacinta, Lucy appeared. She came from a little property belonging to her family where she had been helping with the vintage. Tall and better nourished than the other two with a clearer skin and a more robust, healthier appearance, she presented herself before me with an unselfconsciousness which contrasted in a marked manner with the shyness and timidity of Jacinta. » 9
« Simply dressed like the latter, neither her attitude nor her expression denoted a sign of vanity, still less of confusion. Seating herself on a chair at my side, in response to my gesture, she willingly consented to be questioned on the events in which she was the principal protagonist in spite of the fact that she was visibly fatigued and depressed by the incessant visits and the repeated and lengthy questionings to which she was subjected. » 10
(1) Quoted by De Marchi, p. 111.
(2) IV, p. 171. Here Sister Lucy gives a charming excuse for her long digression. which however was highly interesting : “ Well, none of this was called for here ! It was a distraction of my pen, leading me away where I did not mean to go. But, never mind ! It’s just another useless digression. I am not tearing it out, so as not to spoil the notebook. ”
(3) IV, p. 172.
(4) Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 149.
(5) Quoted by De Marchi, p. 112.
(6) The dialogue is entirely borrowed from the two source-texts of the Fourth Memoir (p. 172-173), and the report of Father Ferreira (Documentos, p. 501.)
(7) The Ferreira Report : “ On the last apparition, St. Joseph will come with the Child Jesus to give peace to the world, and Our Lord will come to give His blessing to the people.
(8) II, p. 79; IV, p. 172.
(9) From the Ferreira report.
(10) IV, p. 172.
(11) Quoted by Dom Jean-Nesmy, p. 115. Here is one witness who can hardly be suspected : the parish priest of Santa Catarina had warned his parishioners against the apparitions. For sometimes he declared from the pulpit, “ the devil disguises himself as an angel of light. ” Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 225.
(12) Barthas, Fatima, Unprecedented Miracle, p. 203-204.
(13) Quoted by De Marchi, p. 112-113. See the account of Canon Galamba, Altar do Mundo, Vol. II, p. 90-91.
(14) P. 934, no. 1491. Desclée (1928).
(15) Without getting into a theological discussion here, let us point out that in 1955 Father R. Laurentin maintained the same thing with respect to Lourdes : “ I know that this point is disputed ”, he wrote, “ but various reasons lead me to believe that the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette in her own body, and not in some other way. ” (Sens de Lourdes, p, 107-108; Lethielleux, 1955.)
(16) Cf. Formigao in De Marchi, (Orig.), p. 170, and IV, Fr., p. 167.
(17) Cant. 6 : 10.
(18) Ex. 19 : 9; 24 : 16; 16 : 10, etc.
(19) Lk. 9 : 34; Mk. 9 : 7; Mt. 17 : 5.
(20) This is one of the conclusions solidly established by Father R. Laurentin in his admirable exegetical study : “ Structure et Théologie de Luc I-II, (Gabalda, 1957), and again, quite recently, in his monumental and fascinating work, Les Évangiles de l’enfance du Christ, p. 70-75 (DDB, December 1982).
(21) I Kings 8 : 10-13; “ When the priests left the sanctuary, the cloud filled the temple of Yahweh… the Glory of Yahweh filled the temple of Yahweh ! ”
(22) To prove that we are in the purest spirituality of Fatima here, we will give an excerpt of a letter where Sister Lucy, commenting on the Ave Maria, boldly shows that this prayer is addressed to God Himself, of whom Mary is the temple : « You, O Mary, are the first living temple of the Holy Trinity, in you abides the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (“ The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, therefore the Child shall be holy and shall be called the Son of God. ” Lk. 1 : 35.) And now that You are a living Tabernacle, a Monstrance, a living Temple, the permanent abode of the Most Holy Trinity, Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us poor sinners now and at the hour of our death. » Letter of April 12, 1970, on the Rosary, published by S. Martins dos Reis, Uma Vida, p. 372-373.
(23) Derniers Entretiens, June 9, 1897, p. 226 (Desclée, 1971).
(24) Apparition of July 19, 1830.
(25) Jn. 20 : 29.
(26) Fatima 1917-1968, p. 148.
(27) We will examine these testimonies in an appendix, showing that they in no way detract from the supernatural character of the phenomena observed by the immense majority of pilgrims.
(28) II, p. 78; cf. I, p. 38; IV, p. 145.
(29) II, p. 78-79.
(30) II, p. 80.
(31) II, p. 79-80.
(32) De Marchi, p. 127-128.
(33) Later on his brother, the scholar Marqués da Cruz, was to write a poetic work on Fatima. Regarding the date of this sojourn, see S. Martins dos Reis, Sintese Critica, appendix, p. 12.
(34) Quoted by Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 125.
(35) De Marchi, p. 124.
(36) II, p. 82.
(37) De Marchi, p. 128.
(38) Here Francisco is undoubtedly alluding to the apparitions of June 13 and July 13 : when Our Lady directed towards them the reflections of the divine light which shone from Her hands, the three seers felt as though they were absorbed in God ; and then, in a mysterious vision, it was also given to them to contemplate Our Lord and His immense sadness because of the sins of the world.
(39) IV, p. 135.
(1) To avoid repeating ourselves, we will save for our chapter on the solar phenomenon the detailed study of this hypothesis. What we will say goes equally for the extraordinary phenomena observed from June 13 to September 13.
(2) De Sede, p. 113 : “ Since however nothing extraordinary happened that day, they spread a rumour that a rain of flowers had fallen from the sky. ” And then, with a false reference, he quotes a testimony which does not even concern the phenomenon of September 13 ! Concerning the luminous globe, and the mysterious cloud, he prefers to say nothing. Although the procedure is facile, it is hardly convincing.
(3) Quoted by Dom Jean-Nesmy, p. 115.
(4) Quoted by Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 154.
(5) Barthas, Fatima, Great Miracle of the Twentieth Century, p. 324.
(6) Quoted by Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 155.
(7) Conversation with Canon Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 150.
(8) On this question one can consult the article of Father R. Laurentin : “ L’objectif et le subjectif en matiére d’apparitions ” (Nouvelles de l’Institut catholique de Paris, Feb. 1977, p. 54-72.) There are some interesting remarks, while many points in this study are very much open to question.
(1) Fatima, Altar do Mundo, II, p. 90-91. Originally from Olival, about nine miles from Fatima, our seminarian was fourteen at the time. Canon Galamba became the intimate friend of Bishop da Silva of Leiria, who played an important role in spreading the message of Fatima. In 1938, he was the first to publish long excerpts from the Memoirs of Lucy, in his book Jacinta.
(2) J. M. Alonso, Historia da Literatura sobre Fatima, p. 9.
(3) Here Canon Formigao undoubtedly is referring to a conversation with Manuel Gonçalves, from the hamlet of Montelo :
“ What do the inhabitants of Fatima think of the children’s affirmations ? Do they believe them ? Do they think they are lying or perhaps victims of a hallucination ? ”
“ At first the people did not want to go to the Cova. No one believed the children. At present a large proportion of the people think that the children are speaking the truth. For my own part I am convinced of this. ”
(Conversation of October 11, 1917; Quoted by De Marchi, p. 122.)
(4) Quoted by Barthas, Fatima 1917-1968, p. 274-275.
(5) In June, 1921 : Os Episodios maravilhosos de Fatima (70 pages), and in September, 1927 : As Grandes maravilhas de Fatima (412 pages). Both appeared under the pseudonym Viscount of Montelo because the apparitions were not yet officially recognized.
(6) O Dr. Formigao, Homen de Deus e Apostolo de Fatima, p 490-492, Fatima 1979.
(7) J. M. Alonso, Historia da Literatura sobre Fatima, p. 916.
(8) II, p. 76.
(9) Lucy writes : “ Thank God, human respect and self-love were, at that time, still unknown to me. For that reason, I was as much at ease with any person at all, as I was with my parents.
(10) Interrogation of September 27, 1917. De Marchi, p. 118.