THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT FATIMA VOLUME II
THE SECRET AND THE CHURCH
2.2 The Pilgrimage of Fatima,
the Fountainhead of the Portuguese Renewal
(1918 - 1926)
WHILE the Church suddenly recovered its liberty of action as if by a miracle, another miracle, discreet and hidden, but even more important, was beginning to take place in the recesses of men’s hearts. Under the influence of the pilgrimage which was spontaneously organised and developed, the profound conversion of the whole people was effected little by little, restoring to the Church a force and vitality which had long been lost. As Father Paul Denis observes: «In truth, a new element had overturned everything. At first it was imperceptible, then striking, as decisive as a change of current in the sails of a triple-masted ship. After several centuries of lethargy, the Church in Portugal regained its self-confidence. And this confidence was born of the simple fact that Portuguese Catholics, responding to the appeal of Our Lady, made the pilgrimage to Fatima over and over again. These enormous pulsations, the regular flow of an entire people back and forth from Fatima, played an essential role in the religious restoration of Portugal. Little by little the former inferiority complex was replaced by an attitude of pride, a beautiful and joyous assurance in the Church and in themselves...» 1
Before describing this wonderful Catholic restoration, before relating the story of how after 1926, Portugal emerged from its political and social chaos to enjoy – right in the middle of the twentieth century – forty years of peaceful living in Christendom, we must first go back to the initial years in which the event of Fatima, thanks to the Blessed Virgin, little by little imposed itself as a national event. For if the unquestionable religious renewal which Portugal experienced from 1917 to the 1960s is due in the first place to Fatima, the most enlightened minds, and first of all the president, Salazar, recognised that without Fatima, national restoration would not have been possible at all. This statement, Father Denis continues, «is considered obvious by an almost unanimous majority of the Portuguese: only the new atmosphere created by Fatima made the work of political recovery, and national and social reconstruction, possible and relatively easy...» 2 So true is this that as we shall see, the progressive development of the pilgrimage went hand in hand with the conversion of the nation and its political recovery. Thus it is a threefold history which we must recount: the pilgrimage, the religious renaissance, and finally the political and social recovery of the nation.
I. THE SPONTANEOUS PILGRIMAGE: 1917 1920
THE HEROIC YEARS: A SHOWER OF GRACES AND MIRACLES
Just as in the Gospel, for the most part it was the poor people, peasants and rural inhabitants, who were the first to hear the message of Heaven. Here is the most informed testimony, that of Maria Carreira, a believer in Fatima from day one:
«After the day on which the sun danced, there was an endless procession of people here, especially on Sunday afternoons and on the 13th of each month.
«There were people from hereabouts and people from other parts. The men came with their sticks and a bundle on their shoulders, and the women carried their children and there were even old people with very little strength. They all knelt near the tree where Our Lady had appeared and no one seemed weary or tired. Here nothing was sold, not a cup of water or wine – nothing! Oh, what good times those were for penance! We often wept with emotion.» (It was in fact with tears running down her cheeks that Maria Carreira told us about those first pilgrimages of which she holds such happy memories.)
«Here there were many tears and prayers for Our Lady, and when there were plenty of people we sang our favourite hymns. What wonderful times those were!... People did so much penance, and all with great joy. I think if I had died in those times, Our Lady would have taken me straight to Heaven. Now it’s over and I can’t help longing for those days!
«One day a woman from Alcanena came on pilgrimage, and she could not restrain her tears! “Ah, Fatima! Ah, Fatima!” she said... “There is so much religion here! All one can say about where I live is that there is no religion!... They have even burned down the church, along with all the images of the saints!” Poor woman!
«Everyone went home happy! They had come to ask Our Lady for miracles and She always heard their prayers. In those days I can’t remember anyone saying that Our Lady had refused a miracle. All who came, came with faith or found it here.
«One day a man who had come a long way was soaked with rain. I went to him and asked him if he felt any ill effects. “No”, he answered, “I am quite all right and have never passed such a happy night as this. I have come eleven leagues and yet I don’t feel at all tired. I am so happy in this place.” Apart from the rain, it was very cold, being winter, and the man had passed the whole night in the open air, because in those days there was no shelter here.» 3
Already the Rosary was being recited almost uninterruptedly on the spot of the apparitions. Encouraged by the shower of graces which Our Lady was pouring down so profusely on all the pilgrims, drawn irresistibly by the gentle, invisible presence which was felt in this blessed place, the flow of the faithful who hastened to the Cova da Iria continued to swell, although the Church authorities all the while said nothing.
THE HISTORY OF THE FIRST SANCTUARY
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CAPELINHA: AUGUST 1918. On October 13, 1917, the Most Holy Virgin had clearly expressed Her desire: « I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in My honour. I am Our Lady of the Rosary.» Since that time the months had passed, and the parish priest hardly seemed concerned about fulfilling the modest request of the Queen of Heaven.
But Her devout pilgrims, and especially the ardent Maria Carreira, were afflicted by this omission. We have already said how in spite of herself, since August 13, 1917, Maria Carreira became the custodian of all gifts left as offerings at the Cova da Iria: 4
«Every day she gathered the money into a little bag, and sold the corn bread, the little white bread, the baskets of potatoes or peas, everything that the women had brought to the Virgin of Fatima, in thanksgiving for graces obtained or the fulfilment of promises.» 5
Soon, the evil tongues began to murmur: «Naturally, the Carreiras are pocketing the money! Look at how the daughters of Maria Carreira have nice dresses now! Before long they will have shoes!»
Maria Carreira recalls:
«That made me angry, and I went to find the parish priest to tell him: “Father, would you be so good as to take responsibility for the alms? I do not want to continue this way with all these persecutions!...” Then Father led me into his office, and read to me a letter from the Patriarch, which said that the money had to be kept carefully in a trustworthy house, but not at the house of the seers’ parents, until a new order was given. This time I went back to my house with more courage.» 6
Later on, the Tinsmith – deprived of his post under Sidonio Pais, he had recovered it when the republicans returned to power – as well as the Regedor of the parish would try to lay hands on Our Lady’s money. But our peasants were too clever: to head off such threatening covetousness, one fine day Maria Carreira pretended to be in the greatest distress. “My money from the Cova da Iria has been stolen”, she wailed! The word spread quickly, and so she felt more at ease. Here is her account:
«Some time passed, and when I saw that there was no more danger from the authorities in Ourem, I went to the priest and asked for his permission to begin building the chapel. I told him that we intended to put the statue of Our Lady in it and the gifts that the people brought which (in the past) were often spoiled by the rain. Father Ferreira answered as if he didn’t care one way or the other and finally said that he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. “If we build it with the money we have, shall we be doing anything wrong?” “I don’t think so”, he replied. He spoke like this because he didn’t want it to be said later that he had ordered the chapel to be built. He had orders from the Cardinal Patriarch not to take any part in the affair.
«For myself, I had heard enough and I went home happy. I told everything to my Manuel and he went and spoke to Lucy’s father because he was the owner of the land. Antonio dos Santos gave his permission and said we could make it any size we liked...
«The chapel took more than a month to build and everyone wanted to have a finger in the pie. Some wanted it one way, some another. Each one had his own idea, the more so because no priest would have anything to do with it. It became so difficult that I went and spoke to the mason, who was a man from Santa Catherina, a very good religious man and skilful at his work. “Don’t worry about it, woman”, he said to me. “If this is God’s work, there’s bound to be trouble at the beginning.” It was a dear little chapel when it was finished but it was not much more than a depository because it had nothing inside. No priest would come and bless it and it was only much later that this was done by Father Marques dos Santos. It had a little covered balcony in front, very tiny – with six people it was full. It was later enlarged to the size it is today.» 7
MAY, 1920: THE FIRST STATUE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA. Scarcely one month after the completion of the Capelinha, a merchant from Torres Novas, Gilberto Fernandes dos Santos, came to see Maria Carreira. He was very upset, because he had promised Our Lady to give all the funds necessary for the building of the first chapel at the Cova da Iria, but now it was already finished. Maria da Capelinha, as she was now called, then had a very felicitous idea: she suggested that he offer a statue to be placed there. He went home satisfied, determined to ask for the advice of his parish priest. One week later the matter was settled. The priest went over to the Fanzeres studio of Braga, which entrusted the work to a young sculptor, José Ferreira Thedim. As Maria Carreira recalls, Gilberto «returned to Fatima several times with the artist to question the children. Father Formigao, who was very friendly with the families of Ti Marto and Maria Rosa, accompanied them. At this time, Jacinta had not yet left for the hospital at Lisbon. Nevertheless, it was still quite a while before the work was begun...» 8
In the first few days of May, 1920, the work was finally completed and dispatched by train to the generous donor from Torres Novas. It was a beautiful statue of painted wood which quickly became very dear to popular devotion. Lightly retouched by the artist in 1951 or 1952, it is still venerated at the Capelinha, and thus remains our most moving souvenir of the first days of the pilgrimage. 9
In the year 1920, May 13 coincided with the feast of the Ascension. It was decided to take advantage of the concourse of pilgrims to install the new statue in the Capelinha. However, they had not counted on the tyranny of the authorities of the Republic, who would not hear of it. At Torres Novas, the statue was already attracting the curious and people filed into the donor’s house where it was displayed. What would it cause in the Cova da Iria, then? The Administrator of Torres Novas contacted Gilberto and forbade him to transport it to Fatima. For greater security, a group of soldiers guarded the house... no doubt without any enthusiasm, for this is what happened:
«On May 12, the donor’s father yoked together a pair of oxen and began loading the tools and various materials into his cart, as though he was going to work in the fields. He placed a chest there. But the soldiers, who saw nothing suspicious in this placid looking team of oxen, let it pass. When the cart was outside the village, some friends who were waiting placed the chest into an automobile and took it over to the parish church in Fatima.» 10
With the authorisation of Father Moreira, who was temporarily placed in charge of the parish of Fatima, the statue was blessed by the archpriest of Torres Novas, who at the time was with his family in the hamlet of Montelo, near Fatima. 11
THE CONFRONTATION OF MAY 13, 1920
A false rumour was circulating (spread by whom?) that for May 13, Jacinta’s body would be transported from her tomb at Vila Nova de Ourem to Fatima. The authorities had also gotten wind of the installation of the statue in the Capelinha, planned for the same day. An enormous concourse of pilgrims was expected as well.
This spectacular new demonstration in honour of Our Lady enraged the sectarians. They decided to prevent it at any price. Did the initiative come from below or from above? The fact is that the Tinsmith could exhibit orders in this sense coming from the cabinet of the interior minister! Not everything is clear in this affair in which, to mobilise the necessary forces, they undoubtedly were not afraid of spreading a few falsehoods. In any case, the prohibition of the gathering at the Cova da Iria took on the proportions of an affair of state! 12
On May 6, having summoned all the officials of his territory, the Tinsmith exposed the enormous danger Fatima presented to the Republic! His secretary at that time, Mr. Julio Lopes, who did not share his sectarianism at all, described it later on:
«When word began to spread that a great pilgrimage to Fatima was in the making, Artur de Oliveira Santos declared: “I want to put an end to this masquerade!” “You will do nothing of the kind!” I answered him. “I will mobilise all the artillery! Nobody will pass! Against force there is no resistance!” I well knew, added Julio Lopes, that there was a foolish idea!» 13
The following year, in his first work on the apparitions of Fatima, Father Formigao wrote a fascinating account of this memorable day. We can hardly do better than quote at length from this irreplaceable document. It lets us understand the atmosphere of the time perfectly. Along with a profound and enthusiastic piety for Our Lady of Fatima, there was the elation of pride rediscovered, and obvious satisfaction in daring to defy the foolish orders of the tyrannical freemasons:
«I arrived at Vila Nova de Ourem early in the morning on May 13 last. It was pouring with rain and a thunderstorm was in progress at the same time. When I left Lisbon, there were alarming rumours about Fatima, and people said that it was useless to attempt to go there because there were official orders to prevent transit through Vila Nova de Ourem. For this reason, many people who had arranged to come with me did not in fact leave Lisbon, but I took a chance on it and came to see for myself how much truth there was in the reports.
«On arrival I saw two ladies, one young and attractive and the other older but distinguished looking, both of whom I knew slightly. Poor things! In that torrential rain I was reminded of the verse in Genesis: Et apertae sunt cataractarum aquarum et fontes abyssi magni. But they did not complain and were full of faith and enthusiasm. Their only fear seemed to be that they might be prevented from arriving at the place of the Apparitions.
«With great difficulty we made our way to a little inn in front of the church, and there we rested until daybreak because it was quite impossible to get rooms.
«Very early in the morning, we heard a troop of horses passing, and ran to the window where we saw a squadron of cavalry of the Republican Guard which was proceeding at a gallop in the direction of Fatima. The rumours were not, then, without foundation. We asked a servant what was in the air but received the same reply. Nothing but rumours... rumours. That there were infantry, cavalry, machine-guns and I know not what besides. A general offensive seemed to be in progress, but against what, in the name of God! No one knew, said the woman. One thing was certain: from Ourem no one could go to Fatima. Transport was available and in great demand at $40.00 a cart, but all were eventually dispensed with to the intense annoyance of the owners, good Republicans all, but unable to see why peaceful citizens should be prohibited from an excursion which suited them so well.
«In Tomar, it seemed, the same prohibition was in force, also in several other districts whose authorities had forbidden the departure of vehicles.
«While we were talking, a young man, owner of a printing press in Lisbon, and shortly afterwards Dr. da Fonseca, a lawyer, who was defending a client in the local court, came up to us. We asked them if they knew anything. No more than we did apparently. People were being allowed to go as far as Fatima but no further. At about that time the rain stopped and I went out into the road where I watched the passage of carts and cars, lorries, foot-folk and horsemen – a regular excursion!
«I wondered to what purpose all the prohibitions had been. I had expected to see nobody and yet here was this constant stream of men, women and children.
«There were huge char-a-bancs drawn by mules, filled with people roaring with laughter, laughing apparently at the Mayor whom I could see in the middle of the road looking uncomfortable in a straw hat with a forced smile on his lips. There were carts decorated with flowers... motor cars blowing their horns, grand looking carriages, modest dog carts... men and women on foot, soaked to the skin and covered with mud, dripping with water but happy, smiling. All this unfolded before me like a long cinema film. Where did all these people come from? From all parts but mostly from Torres Novas I was told. And what was the Mayor doing flitting about in his straw hat? What new development was about to unfold? It was all most entertaining!
«I wanted to go to Fatima with all speed but there was Mass to be thought of. I asked what time it was said in the church and was told at eleven. After Mass, I lunched in great haste and set off on the steep road which winds uphill from Ourem to Fatima.
«Coming the other way was a car travelling fast in which I caught a glimpse of rifles, fanning out menacingly. It was the Mayor and his escort! “He’s up to no good”, observed a lad pedalling uphill on a bicycle. After climbing for an hour and a half we neared Fatima and the rain began to fall again. At last we entered the little square facing the church. Everywhere we saw carts, carriages and cars parked. A great crowd of people, numbering thousands, was blocking the square and the church. In the middle of the road a force of infantry and cavalry of the Republican Guard was preventing the people from passing and completing the remaining two miles which separate Fatima from the Cova. I asked some bystanders whether anyone had in fact passed. Until midday, I was told, everyone had gone through but then the Mayor had arrived and forbidden it. I asked the commandant whether one might go through but he informed me politely that he had allowed people to pass until the Mayor had given orders to the contrary. He was very sorry but he had to obey orders. I went back and mingled with the enormous crowd which was gathered inside the church and in the porch sadly commenting on the affair and unable to understand what threat to public order could possibly exist in the Cova da Iria and not in Fatima since the people were the same. It was perfectly ridiculous, everyone agreed.
«Many people tried to get through the fields without being seen, climbing walls and other obstacles, and managed to arrive at the place of the Apparitions, counting themselves fortunate to kneel there and say the Rosary. Perhaps it was this which put the Government in peril!
«Inside the church at Fatima, Father Cruz was delivering sermons and leading the Rosary, while many people were going to Confession. A blind woman who had come at the cost of much sacrifice from Aveiro was leaning on the arm of a friend in the pouring rain which had begun again. She made no complaint, but on the contrary entrusted herself with great faith to God and began walking towards the church. A bearded individual, who told me he was a doctor, was explaining the providential reasons for the prohibition to a crowd which had gathered round him. According to him, people had begun to turn the place into a sort of fair with music, etc., and obviously Our Lady did not want this. She had appeared in a deserted place precisely because She wanted to be loved and venerated in spirit and truth, without accompaniments more reminiscent of the less edifying festas, etc., etc. Prayer and penance, this and this alone was what She wanted, therefore by this prohibition the authorities were all unconsciously satisfying the desires of Our Lady!
«The rain began to fall torrentially again and everyone tried to find shelter underneath carts or in the porch of the church which was already crammed to capacity.
«At this moment I saw the Republican Guard dealing out blows right and left on some peaceful peasants who were sadly surveying the scene from under their umbrellas. Surprised by the entirely unexpected attack they fled without knowing why they had been set upon. Somebody went up to the guards to ask the reason for this. They complained that a man had tried to force a way through and that when they prevented him he threatened them and in the confusion that followed the innocent suffered with the guilty, as is the way of the world.
«After this explanation, and order having been restored, I began to talk to some peasants and prudently advised them not to make any attempt to pass, adding that there would be great merit in obeying orders however unjust, provided there was nothing against conscience in doing so. Then one of the guards said to me with the utmost sincerity:
«“If you only knew, sir, how I dislike this duty. I obey orders because I have to, but believe me, I hate it in my heart. I am religious myself and I cannot understand why these poor people should be prevented from going to the Cova to pray. It’s enough to upset a man. I have a sister whose life was saved by Our Lady of Fatima!”
«As he said this a drop of water rolled down his cheek, most certainly not from the rain which poured and dripped from his waterproof hood.
«After this I went to the presbytery whose veranda, designed in the old Portuguese style, was being assaulted by those trying to find shelter from the weather. Here I saw one of the ladies who had been my companions in the morning, and she confided to me in a whisper that she was going to find her way to the Cova by a secret path through the fields. I saw her set off in the soaking rain and mud, delighted at the idea that she was going to get the better of the modern Herods in the Government.
«At last our coachman warned us that the road was bad and that we ought to leave soon. We performed our last devotions, said our farewells and returned to Ourem and thence to our home.
«At the station, while we were waiting for the train, we met many people from different parts of the country who were returning home as we were. We saw the blind lady from Aveiro with a companion from Oporto, both of whom, in spite of being soaked to the skin, and in poor health, were none the less in splendid spirits. I saw a friend who was a jeweller in Lisbon and many other people from the capital...» 14
Now here is the account which Sister Lucy has left us of the same day. Faced with such unusual events, she certainly did not have the detached attitude Father Formigao could take. Such a deployment of armed forces and so many threats against her would ordinarily strongly shake up a thirteen-year-old child. Her calmness on this occasion is worth noting. It demonstrates an uncommon courage and equilibrium:
«Some time later, on May 13th, I don’t remember whether it was in 1918 or 1919, news went round at dawn that cavalrymen were in Fatima to prevent the people from going to the Cova da Iria. Everybody was alarmed, and came to give me the news, assuring me that without any doubt this was to be the last day of my life. Without taking this news too seriously, I set out for the church. When I reached Fatima, I passed between the horses which were all over the church grounds, and went into the church. I heard a Mass celebrated by a priest I did not know, received Holy Communion, made my thanksgiving, and went back home without anyone saying a single word to me. I don’t know whether it was because they did not see me, or that they did not think me worthy of notice.
«News kept coming in that the troops were trying in vain to keep people away from the Cova da Iria. In spite of this, I went there, too, to recite the Rosary. On the way I was joined by a group of women who had come from a distance. As we drew near the place, two cavalrymen gave their horses a smart crack of the whip and advanced at full speed towards the group. They pulled up beside us and asked where we were going. The women boldly replied that “it was none of their business”. They whipped the horses again, as though they meant to charge forward and trample us all underfoot. The women ran in all directions and, a moment later, I found myself alone with the two cavalrymen. They then asked me my name, and I gave it without hesitation. They next asked if I were the seer, and I said I was. They ordered me to step out on to the middle of the road between the two horses, and proceed in the direction of Fatima...
«When we reached a plot of ground that lies on the outskirts of Aljustrel, where there was a small spring, and some trenches dug for planting vines, they called a halt, and said to one another, probably in order to frighten me: “Here are some open trenches. Let’s cut off her head with one of our swords, and leave her here dead and buried. Then we’ll be finished with this business once and for all.” When I heard these words, I thought that my last moment had really come, but I was as much at peace as if it did not concern me at all. After a minute or two during which they seemed to be thinking it over, the other replied: “No, we have no authority to do such a thing.”
«They ordered me to keep on going. So I went straight through our little village, until I arrived at my parents’ house. All the neighbours were at the windows and doors of their houses to see what was going on. Some were laughing and making fun of me, others lamenting my sorry plight. When we reached my home, they ordered me to call my parents, but they were not at home. One of them dismounted and went to see if my parents were hiding inside. He searched the house, but found no one; whereupon he gave orders for me to stay indoors for the rest of the day. Then he mounted his horse and they both rode off.
«Late in the afternoon, news went round that the troops had withdrawn, defeated by the people. At sunset, I was praying my Rosary in the Cova da Iria, accompanied by hundreds of people. While I was under arrest, according to what we heard later, some persons went to tell my mother what was happening, and she replied: “If it’s true that she saw Our Lady, Our Lady will defend her; and if she’s lying, it will serve her right to be punished.” And she remained at peace as before.» 15 (In a letter of April 14, 1927, Lucy would remind her mother of this.)
«The Portuguese Federation of Free Thought» could congratulate its zealous representative at the Administrator’s office in Vila Nova de Ourem. In vain the Tinsmith gave it his assurance that in fact «on May 13 the forces of reaction suffered... a severe blow which reduced to naught the projected demonstration.» 16 The prevailing opinion was that the pilgrimage, with its thousands of faithful who had come from all parts, notwithstanding all the obstacles raised by the government, had been a new victory of popular faith against the stupid tyranny of the government officials. The latter once again were covered with ridicule. 17
Although the sectarians were powerless against the mass of pilgrims, they could nevertheless get their revenge by destroying the statue. Since the situation still appeared menacing, it was prudently left in the sacristy of the parish.
«We were so afraid of some profanation (says Maria da Capela) but at the same time we were longing to be able to venerate a statue of Our Lady in the very place where She had appeared. One day Gilberto came and said that he thought it would be a good idea to put a veil over the niche so that people would think that the statue was already there. Then we could see if anything untoward happened. So I put a towel over the niche and everyone thought that Our Lady was behind it. Nothing at all happened. So Gilberto brought the statue and put it in the niche (on June 13, 1920).
«Months passed and there began to be new rumours that the statue was to be stolen and the chapel burned down. So we thought it would be better to take the statue to my home and bring it to the chapel every morning. It must have been about the end of October when my husband brought Our Lady to our home in Moita. We arranged a little altar in the sitting-room and put the statue on it with two oil lamps burning.» 18
As we will see, this prudent precaution was far from being in vain.
II. 1920: FINALLY A BISHOP!
THE UNOFFICIAL RECOGNITION OF THE PILGRIMAGE
AND ITS WONDERFUL DEVELOPMENT (1920-1926)
At the moment the government was striving mightily, but in vain, to oppose the pilgrimage which was now in full swing, an event of the greatest importance took place. On this event would depend the future of Fatima. On May 15, 1920, Pope Benedict XV finally gave a Pastor to the diocese of Leiria, juridically restored more than two years before! Bishop da Silva was consecrated on July 25 in the Cathedral of Porto, and solemnly took possession of his See of Leiria on August 5. 19
Bishop da Silva was a highly cultured man. He was distinguished for his profound piety and his great love for the Blessed Virgin. He had a special devotion for Our Lady of Lourdes, having already gone there twelve times on pilgrimage. On August 15, 1920, ten days after his enthronement, he solemnly consecrated his diocese to the Blessed Virgin.
What did he think of the events of Fatima at the time? He himself later confided the answer to Canon Barthas:
«At first I did not want to be bothered with it, to the point – you will not believe this – that I did not even know where Fatima was. When the apostolic Nuncio called me to propose reconstructing the diocese of Leiria, I hesitated strongly. Judge for yourselves the state of the so-called diocese; in this village (Leiria) there is just one priest! To encourage me, His Grace the Bishop of Portalegre said to me: “You have Fatima, a new Lourdes!” “Oh, that means yet one more trouble”, I told him. All in all I was incredulous. However, once I had accepted my responsibilities, I resolved to wait on Providence for the signs which would guide my conduct.» 20
First, he desired to be informed. On September 15, 1920, he received Father Formigao who explained to him the urgent necessity of coming to a decision. 21 Father Faustino, dean of Olival, intervened in the same sense. But other tasks absorbed the new bishop: on October 30, he reopened a seminary at Leiria, with thirty students.
THE PURCHASE OF THE LAND AND THE FIRST AUTHORISATIONS OF PUBLIC WORSHIP
Finally, after a year of waiting, during which he was able to listen to the most varied opinions, the bishop formed his own opinion, which was decisively in favour of the apparitions. In June, 1921, he made sure that Lucy was removed from Aljustrel to assure her formation in the college of Vilar at Porto. 22
At the same time, he decided to take under his surveillance the spontaneous cult that was proceeding at the Cova da Iria without any control by the clergy. On September 12, 1921, he himself went to Fatima for the first time. There he recited the Rosary at the Cova da Iria, and he met some of the local peasants, some of whom had already donated lands they possessed at the Cova da Iria and the vicinity. The faithful Maria Carreira was able to give him the substantial sum of money kept by her since August, 1917. Two days later, September 14, the acts of the donation or sale were signed before a notary. 23
On October 13, the people celebrated the fourth anniversary of the last apparition. With the permission of His Grace, the chapel was finally blessed by Canon Marques dos Santos, and Mass was celebrated for the first time. From then on, the bishop permitted the celebration of a «low Mass with sermon on days of great concourse of pilgrims». 24
A MIRACULOUS WELL?
One month later, an unexpected solution was found to the difficult problem of water. On September 12, the good bishop had realised on the spot the urgent necessity of remedying the lack of water:
«I asked the villagers (Bishop da Silva recounted later) how the pilgrims were managing to obtain water for their drinking and washing. They told me that it was a cause of disputes between the pilgrims and the villagers, because the villagers refused to allow their wells to be emptied. I told them, I do not want members of my diocese arguing among themselves, especially regarding the Most Holy Virgin. And I asked the ever devoted Mr. Carreira to dig out a well at the lowest part of the ground which forms the Cova.» 25
His Grace’s order could not be obeyed until November 9, 1921, when the digging began. 26 Maria Carreira has left a charming account:
«At the beginning, the men thought of digging the well at the foot of the fig tree, eighty metres from the Capelinha, the little chapel. But finally the idea of José Alves was adopted. Father Marques dos Santos, the parish priest of Santa Catarina, and the archpriest of Olival were there. “In my opinion”, said José Alves, “we will never dig a well here!” “In that case, where?” asked the archpriest. “There!...” and José Alves showed them the place where the Cova would be at its deepest point. “Even if there is no rain for a month or more”, he said, “here there is always some dampness and a few reeds.” Later he had the habit of saying with pride: “Yes, this is the place where they dug the well, by my will and good pleasure!”
«But, after only half a day of hard work, they were obstructed by stone. “Now what are we going to do?” asked the priests. “Now, we will blow out the stone!... I will immediately get the necessary tools.” Before they got their tools, all by itself, plenty of water appeared. But the well stayed unfinished and uncovered. It stayed like that until the next year.»
«“Did the water come miraculously?” asked Father de Marchi. This was in any case the impression of the local inhabitants and also of the pilgrims, who came in greater and greater numbers to draw water from the providential well. Certainly on this dry land no one could have expected to find water so easily.
«“They would come here”, relates the good José Alves, “with bottles and urns that were filled and brought back home for the sick to drink or to wash their wounds. Everybody had great confidence in that water, and Our Lady, as a reward, would make the pain disappear and their wounds heal. Never did Our Lady work so many miracles as at that time...”
«“Many came here – it was pitiful – with pus running down their legs. They would wash themselves and leave their dressing there, because Our Lady healed them. Others knelt down to drink this muddy water, and felt themselves healed of their internal pains.”
«One could say (comments Father de Marchi) that the Most Holy Virgin, in Her Motherly tenderness, was playfully making sport of men with their precepts of hygiene, accomplishing miraculous prodigies with means that, humanly speaking, could only have been a cause of infection and complications.» 27
1922: A NEW YEAR OF GRACES
From this time on, the felicitous events marking the growth in devotion to Our Lady of Fatima followed each other almost uninterruptedly. The final efforts of the sectarians to place an obstacle to this great, irresistible movement also contributed to these events...
MARCH 6, 1922: THE CAPELINHA DYNAMITED. «During the night of March 5-6, 1922, a powerful explosion awakened the inhabitants of the hamlets of Moita and Lomba d’Egua. Guided by the glow of a small fire, they arrived in front of the Capelinha, which was in flames. Only the walls which were badly shaken remained, and part of the framework was consumed by the flames.
«Providentially, the statue of Our Lady had been removed the night before. The bandits (Maria Carreira says quite simply, “the freemasons”) had perforated the wall in four places, and had placed there four explosive devices. A fifth one, placed on the trunk of the holm-oak, had not exploded.» 28
Indignation was widespread. Even the liberal paper O Seculo joined in the chorus of indignation. Summoned to parliament, the minister concerned promised to open an investigation, which of course never took place. A widespread rumour quickly designated the guilty parties: the friends of the Tinsmith. In following months, two of them saw their sons commit suicide. Was it the chastisement of Heaven? One of the two guilty parties was converted while the other left the country. 29
The new parish priest of Fatima, Father Agostinho Marques Ferreira, organised a procession of protest for March 13. The procession left the church of Fatima and went right up to the place of the apparitions. Before the Capelinha, Mass was celebrated in the presence of ten thousand of the faithful, who had responded to the parish priest’s appeal. This is an indication of how the good people of the area were already unanimous in their fervour and prompt to manifest it.
The bombing was to have another fortunate consequence. It undoubtedly made Bishop da Silva, always overly prudent and slow to make up his mind, resolve to become more actively involved in the affairs of Fatima...
MAY 3, 1922: OPENING OF THE CANONICAL PROCESS. Finally giving in to the numerous pleas of Canon Formigao, he decided to open the canonical inquiry which could culminate in the official recognition of the apparitions. In one month, thanks to the devoted work of the first historian of Fatima, everything was decided, the commission was appointed, and on May 3 an ordinance from the bishop announced the event.
MAY 13, 1922: THE GREAT CEREMONY OF REPARATION. For May 13, the fifth anniversary of the first apparition, a crowd of sixty thousand pilgrims – as many as for the great solar miracle – surrounded the Cova da Iria. An altar was built before the Capelinha, whose roof had been blown up. The parish priest of Fatima celebrated Mass, and Father José Pedro Ferreira preached a sermon on devotion to the Most Holy Virgin. At the museum of the vice-postulation for the seers’ cause of beatification, one can see a moving photograph of the scene.
Mr. de Sousa Leitao, who at the beginning of the previous year had succeeded the Tinsmith as Administrator of Vila Nova, received at the last moment a telegram from the government ordering him to interfere: «Reactionary gathering at Fatima absolutely forbidden.» Freemason though he was, our man was not devoid of good sense and he told the prefect to disobey this order, since it was impossible to execute. Lisbon soon withdrew its prohibition of the demonstration. «Disgusted with all this, Mr. de Sousa Leitao resigned his office. Four days after the thirteenth, he transferred his powers over to Mr. Antonio de Sa Pavilon», whom we shall have occasion to mention again later. In the meantime, the sect had just suffered yet another stinging setback. Things had changed decidedly since 1917; now everything was going against it!
“I HAD OUR LADY AT MY HOME!” After the bombing of March 6, the influx of pilgrims to the Cova da Iria was even greater. They were drawn there neither by the seer, who the year before had already left Fatima, nor by the beauty of the place, nor by the clergy (which although it now permitted the pilgrimage still did not encourage it), nor by the chapel, which unfortunately was badly damaged. Only the sweet presence of the Immaculate Virgin – a presence invisible, yet palpable and so efficacious – could irresistibly draw a regular flow of pilgrims for each anniversary of the apparitions. When he was congratulated later on for the magnificent success of Fatima, Bishop da Silva could say in all truth: « I didn’t do anything. It was the people and the Holy Virgin who did everything before my arrival.»
«We wanted to repair the chapel at once (relates Maria Carreira) but the Bishop said we were not to do so till he gave permission. This made us very sad. It depressed us very much to see the chapel in such a state and we didn’t like to stay by it. We used to go there, say our prayers, and come away again. The people used to come to our house instead and pray by the statue. Among them were Father Marques and Father Formigao. People used to kneel by the door and pray. There were always people there and Our Lady answered them just the same so that people should have more faith. I was very happy to have Our Lady in my house. But now, Father, it upsets me to see people getting worse and worse.
«On the 13th of each month, a great many people gathered to take the statue in procession to the Cova da Iria. We had no bier but everyone wanted a turn at carrying it. There were many promises to do this, and so each one carried it a little way. We sang and prayed as we went, and when we arrived there, we spent the afternoon at our devotions and had a procession; then we returned to my house. Oh, what happy times those were! As Our Lady passed, the people knelt in the road as they do for the Blessed Sacrament. It was beautiful in those days to see so many people thinking only of holy things. There was so much prayer, in fact we would spend a whole day from early morning onwards in Our Lady’s company. Many came to fulfil their promises and light candles; others came to ask for certain graces, but everyone went away happy.» 30
THE “VOICE OF FATIMA”. On October 13, 1922 there appeared three thousand copies of a review specially devoted to the pilgrimage. With the authorisation of the bishop and under the direction of Canon Formigao, the “Voice of Fatima” was soon to inform all of Portugal about the message of Fatima and the wonderful miracles of graces, healings and innumerable conversions worked there by Our Lady of the Rosary. By 1925, the circulation of this journal had grown to 50,000 copies, by 1929 it was 100,000, in 1934 it was 200,000 and by 1937 it was 300,000. It was a tremendous success. 31
On the same day, October 13, 1922, there were forty thousand pilgrims at the Cova da Iria and forty Masses were celebrated there. Once again it was the saintly Father Cruz, so popular, who did the preaching. Here is Father Formigao’s enthusiastic account:
«When the Mass was over, the Reverend Doctor Francisco Cruz of Lisbon mounted the pulpit. He pronounced a few words which were simple and without elaborate preparation, but which penetrated to the bottom of our hearts. It is a saint who speaks. His emaciated and ascetic figure, his friendly and calm demeanour, his sweet and angelic unction, his reputation as a man of surprising virtue, these alone have the value of a long and substantial sermon.
«For about half an hour he discourses with an utterly apostolic eloquence about devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary and extols the need for prayer and penance. After the instruction, many of the pilgrims leave. But the majority find it quite difficult to tear themselves away from this little corner of Heaven, which wins souls over and captivates hearts.
«I estimate the number of pilgrims at forty thousand people. Thousands of images of Our Lady of the Rosary and copies of the “Voice of Fatima”, welcomed with transports of joy, are distributed free. Little by little the carriages, cars and trucks move out, while the first shadows of the night descend upon the mountain.
«A few rare groups of inhabitants of the region still remain in prayer near the commemorative monument. Meanwhile, farther away, on the roads and mountain trails, the pilgrims return to their households after a long and arduous expedition, murmuring their praises and chanting their religious canticles, their souls overflowing with a joy which is not of this world, cherishing the sweet hope of visiting again soon this incomparable centre of devotion, where they have left a little bit of their heart.» 32
Finally, on December 13, with the permission of His Grace, workers began repairs on the damaged Capelinha, adding a roof for the celebration of Masses.
How many happy developments for the pilgrimage in one year!
THE YEARS 1923-1925
In 1923, the new administrator, Antonio de Sa Pavilon, sought a new pretext for intervening in the well at the Cova da Iria: «It will cause infection! It must be stopped! It is a disgrace!» declares Francisco Alves, Deputy of Public Health, who was consulted right away. A series of orders came, but the parish priest of Fatima did not budge. The zeal of the Administration was of course very much open to question: everywhere in the region there were similar wells, cisterns or even ponds where peasants drew water, without His Honour being in the least disturbed. Besides, the water from the Cova, far from harming public health, was actually healing the sick! What more could they want?
Nevertheless, Father de Marchi reports:
«The Bishop of Leiria gave the order to complete the well, deepen it and cover it.
«While the work was going on, the Administrator showed up, accompanied by the Deputy for Public Health and the parish priest, because word had been spread that the well was poisoned. A bucket of very clear water was drawn out, which Mr. Alves declared drinkable.
«After the Capelinha, the well was the first work completed on the spot of the apparitions.» 33
In 1923 and 1924, the authorities attempted once more to forbid access to the Cova da Iria, but in vain. The comical episodes from these final attempts should be read in Barthas. Among others was this highly significant fact. The Administrator «had left the soldiers beside the farm called da Carreira... they then joined the pilgrims, buying medals and Rosaries, touching them to the venerated image just like the other “delinquents”.» 34
Within a few years, Our Lady of Fatima had rendered totally ineffectual the anticlerical rage of the Masonic authorities who had been in place for a century and a half, almost without interruption. In short, little by little the people were converted, and government edicts were futile.
A MYSTERIOUS SHOWER OF FLOWERS. On May 13, 1924, a greater concourse of pilgrims than ever before was noticed: two hundred thousand faithful, – three times as great as for the solar miracle – hastened to the feet of Our Lady. And although Bishop da Silva still did not officiate, he was present among his sheep. Did the Queen of Heaven wish to show Her satisfaction? In any case, as had already happened on September 13, 1917 and May 13, 1918, the crowd witnessed the atmospheric spectacle of a shower of flowers, flakes or mysterious petals – they can hardly be described – which graciously fell from Heaven and disappeared from sight when they reached the soil. Bishop da Silva himself attested to this fact. 35
“THE SERVITES OF OUR LADY.” Another important event in this same year: since the sick were becoming more and more numerous, on June 14, 1924, “the Association of the Servites of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima” 36 was founded.
THE BUILDING. On October 13, the laying of the cornerstone of the hospice for the sick took place. Let it be said now, that from this time on, the work at the Cova da Iria was uninterrupted, going on for decades and occupying more than a hundred workers. And the spontaneous gifts of the faithful left upon the tree trunks always sufficed to finance them, without there ever being any need to organise collections. This fact is singular at the very least! 37 This wonderful generosity of the Portuguese people, which had been unfailing since August 13, 1917, gives unquestionable expression to the faith, fervour and filial gratitude of the “faithful nation” towards its Heavenly Patroness.
As Cardinal Cerejeira wrote so well on the subject of this first period of the pilgrimage:
«In spite of the reservations of the Church and the obstinate, ridiculous opposition of those in power, Fatima continued to move the religious conscience of the country. Without the Church and against the power of the State, the light of the miracle shone more and more brightly in the sky of Portugal, and the fire of the crowds’ enthusiasm spread to the entire country.» 38
So true were the Cardinal’s words that this profound movement of conversion finally made possible the political and social recovery of the nation, which had been attempted so many times, but until then always in vain. This time the enterprise was to succeed. No, the “Portuguese jinx” would not last forever. It was not an inevitable necessity, and finally light could be seen at the end of the tunnel. Why this sudden, unexpected change? Because since 1917, the powerful Virgin had promised to help Her people, «if Her requests were heeded». She kept Her word.
(1) Father Denis, O.P., Professor of Theology at the convent of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima. Quoted by G. Renault, Fatima, p. 218 (Plon, 1957).
(2) Op. cit. p. 220.
(3) De Marchi, p. 230-231.
(4) Cf. our Vol. I p. 240-242.
(5) De Marchi, p. 233.
(6) De Marchi, p. 233-234.
(7) De Marchi, p. 235-237. What date must be assigned to this construction? According to Barthas, April 18, 1919 (Fatima 1917-1968, p. 184); according to Dom Jean-Nesmy “at the end of 1919” (La Vérité de Fatima, p. 152); De Marchi remains imprecise.
In fact, a text of the parish priest, Father Ferreira, dated August 6, 1918, indicates to us that the work began at that time. It was an erroneous interpretation of this document, sent to the patriarchate on April 18, 1919, that provoked the confusion (cf. Martins dos Reis, “ Sintese”, Apêndice Documental fotográfico; Francisco Pereira de Oliveira, Para a historia da urbanizacâo da Cova da Iria, p. 14-15