On May 13th, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter’s square on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. One of the bullets missed his heart by just inches. John Paul II credited his survival and the offering of his suffering as Providence and said, “one hand pulled the trigger and another guided the bullet,” recognizing Our Lady of Fatima for protecting him.
The next year he gave the bullet that had nearly killed him to the shrine in Fatima to be placed in the crown of Our Lady.
So who is this Lady of Fatima?
May 13th marks the anniversary of Our Lady appearing to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. She appeared to Lucia at age nine, and her cousins Francisco, who was eight, and his sister Jacinta, who was just six. But before Our Lady appeared to the three children, they were first visited by an angel.
These apparitions started in 1916 during World War I. During one of these apparitions, in the backyard of Lucia’s house, the angel said to the children, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.” He forewarned them that they would experience great suffering and pleaded with them to offer up this cross in order that more souls would be won for Christ.
Messages from Our Lady
When Our Lady finally appeared to the children, she appeared in the pasture where they were shepherding their flocks, next to a holm oak tree. The area was known as the Cova da Iria, or Cove of Peace. She appeared “more brilliant than the sun” and told the children that she came from Heaven. She wore white with a gold-edged mantle. In her hand, she held a Rosary, a prayer which the children would all pray when she appeared to them on the 13th of the month for six consecutive months. (It is believed that the Rosary began in 1214 when Our Lady appeared to St. Dominic and presented him with both the beads of the Rosary and the prayers which accompanied them.) She came to the children asking them to “pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.”
During her third apparition she gave the children a vision of hell saying, “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”
She also told the children that in October she would perform a miracle so that all would see and believe.
Miracle of the Sun
On her sixth apparition on October 13th, she told the children that she wanted a chapel built in the place of her appearance and to be built in her honor. She identified herself saying “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” (The month of October had previously been dedicated to the Holy Rosary in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII.)
70,000 people were in attendance in order to witness the promised apparition. This Miracle is known as the Miracle of the Sun.
The Miracle or “dancing of the sun” included the sun changing in color while swirling in the sky and even coming towards the earth. The ground which had been soaked in rain, and even peoples drenched clothing had been completely dried. People reported physical healings of the blind and crippled and numerous witnesses made public confessions and committed their life to Christ. It was reported that the miracle of the sun was even seen up to twenty-five miles away.
These proofs led the Bishop to approve the apparition in 1930 and it has now been approved by the Church.
Over seven years ago, while studying abroad in Rome, a few friends and I made a pilgrimage to The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal where there are many different places to pray.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima stands at the site where three young shepherds saw a sudden flash of lightning on May 13th, 1917. The Basilica holds chapels with the remains of Blessed Jacinta, Sister Lucia, and Blessed Francisco. There is also a 200-column Colonnade in the Sanctuary. In order to accommodate a growing number of pilgrims, a new church called the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity was built and dedicated in October of 2007.
Between the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Most Holy Trinity is a large prayer space and one of the most important sights to see, the Chapel of the Apparitions.
The Chapel of the Apparitions is the place where Our Lady spoke to Jacinta, Lucia, and Francisco and where she asked that a chapel be built in her honor. The space which occupies Our Lady’s statue is the location where she appeared to the shepherds.
It is common for pilgrims to walk to the Chapel of the Apparitions on their knees, while praying the Rosary. I have a specific memory of this from my own pilgrimage.
When I visited Fatima, it was not warm and balmy but rather dreary and cold. My friends and I said goodbye to any chance of looking like polished travelers and piled on as many layers as we could. For me, that meant I wore leggings, jeans, and sweatpants. With that attire, I made my kneeling pilgrimage on padded knee...and it still hurt. But that’s not the point of this story.
What stood out to me from this kneeling pilgrimage was the woman in front of me. A very thin, bony and elderly woman was making the kneeling pilgrimage in front of me...but with her jeans rolled above her knees. As she slowly knelt her way to the Chapel, her dear husband held her hand all the way through.
The sight of her and her spouse made my perspective radically change. I focused less on my own aching knees and instead knelt in awe of the deep spiritual strength and devotion that this woman had, and the loving support of her husband.
There Will be Peace
This couple I witnessed in Fatima were clearly supporting one another in their goal of salvation, of eternity in Heaven. They were supporting each other in what the message of Fatima emphasizes.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states that the central meaning of the message of Fatima is this, “The exhortation to prayer as the path of ‘salvation for souls’ and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.”
He goes on to encourage us in the faith, because we have the freedom to choose the good and “the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word.”
Let us walk with Mary in confidence and devotion to her Immaculate Heart (you could event start with this daily devotion), and like she promised, “there will be peace.”