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- Part III

When Our Lady appeared at Fatima with her message for all mankind, she chose these three children — Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco, who were especially known for their truthfulness, to receive Her message. After Our Lady began appearing to them, the children grew in virtue and showed a greater love of prayer and they eagerly made sacrifices for the conversion of poor sinners.

Continued from Issue #6

Our Lady Appears to the Children

On May 13, 1917, the three children, Lucy and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco, were pasturing their sheep high up on the slope of the Cova da Iria. They had finished their lunch and said their Rosary, and were playing at building a little house of stones, when suddenly they saw what seemed to be a flash of lightning.

"We’d better go home," Lucy said to her cousins, "That’s lightning; we may have a thunderstorm."

"Yes, indeed!" they answered. And they hurried their sheep down the slope towards the road. They were almost halfway down the slope when they saw another flash of light. They had only gone a few steps further, when, there before them they beheld a Lady all dressed in white, and She appeared to be standing on the topmost leaves of a little holm oak tree. As Lucy describes Her in her memoirs:

"She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water when the rays of the burning sun shine through it."

"We stopped, astounded, before the apparition. We were so close, just a few feet from Her, that we were bathed in the light which surrounded Her, or rather, which radiated from Her."

Her face was indescribably beautiful, "not sad, not happy, but serious and kind. Her hands were together as in prayer and She held a Rosary with beads that shone like stars. She was dressed in white garments that seemed also to be made of light, a simple tunic falling to Her feet, and over it a mantle from Her head to the same length. It was edged with a brighter light that seemed to glitter like gold. It was almost impossible to look steadily at Her face as it dazzled their eyes like the sun and made them blink or look away.

"Don’t be afraid," She said. "I will do you no harm."

They felt no fear now, but only a great joy and peace. It was the lightning really that had frightened them before.

Lucy asked: "Where are You from?"

"I am from Heaven," the Lady replied.

"What do you want of me?" Lucy asked.

"I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time."

"Shall I go to Heaven too?"

"Yes, you will."

"And Jacinta?"

"She will go also."

"And Francisco?"

"He will go there too, but he must say many Rosaries."

Then Lucy asked about two girls who had died, who used to come to her house to learn weaving from her eldest sister. Our Lady replied that one was in Heaven, and the other, Amelia, who was only between 18 and 20 years of age when she died, would be in purgatory till the end of the world.

If a little child of Francisco’s age, and a young girl like Amelia were not yet worthy of Heaven, we can see how important it is to become purified of even our smallest faults before we go before the face of God, Who is infinitely holy.

Then Our Lady asked the children a question which was to have great importance for the rest of their lives, and their compliance with it would lead them to a heroic life of holiness.

"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and endure all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and to ask for the conversion of sinners?"

"Yes, we are willing," Lucy said for them all.

"Then you will have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort."

"As She pronounced these words, Our Lady opened Her hands," as Lucy describes in her memoirs, "communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from Her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God ... more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. Then, moved by an interior impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell on our knees, repeating ... ‘O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the Most Blessed Sacrament!’"

After a few moments, Our Lady spoke again: "Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."

Then She began to rise slowly and to glide away towards the east until She disappeared into the immensity of space.

For a good part of the afternoon, the children were silent, thinking about what they had seen and heard. Our Lady had given them a feeling of peace and joy. In her memoirs Lucy recalls that "while we remained thoughtful and rapt in wonder, Jacinta kept breaking into enthusiastic exclamations — "Ai, que Senhora tao bonita!" Oh, such a beautiful Lady!

All three children had seen Our Lady, but Francisco had been unable to hear Her. When Lucy and Jacinta told him all She had said, he was very happy, especially over the promise that he was going to Heaven. He said joyfully, "Oh my Our Lady, I will say all the Rosaries you want!"

As Jacinta kept repeating, "Oh, such a beautiful Lady," Lucy said, "I can see what’s going to happen. You'll end up saying that to somebody else."

"No, I won’t," she answered. "Don’t worry." The children agreed to tell no one.

But later that afternoon when Jacinta’s parents had returned from their journey to Batalha to buy a pig, Jacinta ran to meet her mother, Olimpia. And, as Lucy relates, "She was the one who, unable to contain herself for joy, broke our agreement to keep the whole matter to ourselves."

"Mother!" she cried excitedly, "I saw Our Lady today at the Cova da Iria!"

"That’s likely, isn’t it! I suppose you're a saint to be seeing Our Lady!"

"But I saw Her!" Then Jacinta described what happened that afternoon at the Cova da Iria. Her mother didn’t believe the story, but she asked her to repeat it to her father. All eight of the Marto children and the brother-in-law of Ti Marto (the father of Jacinta and Francisco) were present. Most of them enjoyed the story but did not believe it. But Ti Marto asked Francisco what he had to say, and the boy’s reply confirmed what his little sister had related. Ti Marto respected and understood his children, and it was plain to him that they were not playing a prank on him.

Father De Marchi, an expert on Fatima, reports Ti Marto’s words as follows: "I always found Francisco truthful, and Jacinta even more so." And their father reasoned that "For ages Our Lady has been appearing to the world at different times and in different ways for reasons most holy, and if She had not come so often to the world in the past, it would be worse off than it is now — bad as that might be. The power of God is very great and even if we do not understand His reasons, we must not oppose His will."

Ti Marto later expressed his thoughts on the truthfulness of the children by the following words: "From the beginning I somehow felt that the children were telling the truth. Yes, I think I believed from the first. I was impressed because the children had received no instructions whatever about these things of which they spoke. How could they have said such things if Providence had not assisted them? And why should they lie so outrageously now, when they had always been truthful children?"

Jacinta’s story quickly spread through the village of Aljustrel. The account was enjoyed as a story by most of the adults, but few believed it.

Early the next morning, a neighbor told Maria dos Anjos, an older sister of Lucy, the story that Jacinta had told her mother. Maria dos Anjos went to find Lucy outdoors under a fig tree, and she said, "Oh, Lucy! I hear you have seen Our Lady at the Cova da Iria! Is it true?"

"Who told you?" asked Lucy.

"The neighbors are saying that Jacinta came out with it to Olimpia."

"And I asked her not to tell anyone!" said Lucy, on the verge of tears.

Then her sister questioned Lucy because she did not believe the story, and she went into the house and told her mother, Maria Rosa, all that had been said.

Lucy was summoned promptly before her parents. Lucy’s father dismissed the whole affair with a laugh. "Silly women’s tales!" he said. Lucy’s mother was upset. "This was all I needed for my old age! To think that I always brought my children up to speak the truth! And now this one brings me a wild story like this!" And her mother gave her a scolding.

Lucy sorrowfully went out to let out the sheep. How suddenly the world had changed from joy to misery! The children led their flocks again to the Cova da Iria, and friends and neighbors greeted them with mock applause and taunted them about the Lady they had seen. Jacinta was grieved at the pain and trouble her revealing what they had seen had brought to Lucy. When they reached the pasture, Jacinta sat down on a stone and looked remorseful, holding her chin in her hands.

"All right, Jacinta; let’s forget it and play." Lucy said, trying to cheer her up.

"I don’t want to play today."

"I'm not angry, Jacinta. Honestly. Why won’t you play?"

"Because I’m thinking. That Lady told us to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. So from now on, when we say the Rosary we must say the whole Hail Mary and the whole Our Father! And the sacrifices, how are we to make them?" Francisco had an idea. "We'll give our lunch to the sheep," he said. Later in the afternoon the children were very hungry and they looked around for something to eat. They found that the acorns of the azinheira trees were not bad tasting, so they ate these. On other days, they gave their lunches to the poor children, and ate acorns and fruit from the fruit trees. One day Jacinta decided it would be more of a sacrifice to eat a different kind of acorn that tasted bitter. When Lucy told her, "Don’t eat those, Jacinta! They are very bitter!" Jacinta said simply, "It is for the bitterness that I eat them, to convert sinners." An important aspect of the children’s sacrifices was they made them secretly with only God and Our Lady to see them, and not for other people to see and admire them.

One morning Lucy’s mother tried to make her say she was lying about having seen Our Lady at the Cova da Iria, and scolded her, telling her she must go and tell everyone who heard the story, that she had lied. When Lucy met her cousins Francisco and Jacinta that morning, they saw she was crying, and she told them what her mother had said. Then Francisco said to Jacinta: "You see, it was all your fault because you told!" And Lucy relates in her memoirs: "My little cousin begged our forgiveness on her knees and said: ‘I did very wrong but I will never tell anything to anybody again’!"

When Maria Rosa saw that she could not get Lucy to say that she had lied, she decided to take her to the parish priest, Father Ferreira, and she told Lucy to tell the priest she had lied, and to beg forgiveness, or else her mother would lock her up in a dark room. Lucy was afraid. But even when she talked to Father Ferreira, Lucy did not say she had lied. Lucy was beginning to see what Our Lady had meant when she said, "You will have much to suffer."

But in the midst of their sufferings, the children had some consolations. One day two visiting priests stopped to speak encouragingly to Lucy and to ask her to pray for the Holy Father. The children didn’t know who the Holy Father was, and one of the priests explained. And from then on, the children added three extra Hail Marys to their daily Rosary for the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter. It gave them a feeling of importance to think that they could do something, even though they were so far away, to help the Vicar of Christ.

Since the apparition of Our Lady, Francisco accepted and seemed to love sufferings. "Our Lady told us we would have much to suffer," he would say. "That doesn’t matter to me, I will suffer everything as much as She wants!" And, like many of the saints, Francisco began to have a love of solitude. He would go off by himself and when the others asked him what he had been doing, he said, "I have been thinking of God, Who is so sad because of so many sins. If only I could give Him joy!" And one day, after they had been amusing themselves by singing a popular song, Francisco remembered Our Lady, and the Angel who had appeared to them earlier, and he said, "Since we saw the Angel and Our Lady, I don’t care about singing."

The things of Heaven were beginning to mean much more to the children, and the things of the world held less and less attraction for them.