From the earliest times, the history of the Church is studded with appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One such apparition happened when Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in the small hamlet of Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal.
She appeared to the children on several occasions, requesting that they pray often, especially the rosary, and offer penance for sinners and in reparation for the offences to her Immaculate Heart. She promised the children that on October 13, 1917, a miraculous public event would occur and it would inspire the belief of those who were present.
Below is a short description of the Miracle of the Sun. It is an except from the Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life Study.
More than 70,000 people gathered at the Cova da Iria on October 13th. It was a rainy and windy day and the parents feared the children would be killed if no miracle took place. Though she still did not believe in the veracity of the apparitions, Maria Rosa accompanied Lucia to the Cova for the child’s protection. Umbrellas dotted the landscape as the children knelt to pray. For a reason she does not know, Lucia encouraged the crowd to close them.
When the Blessed Mother appeared, Lucia asked her one last time, “What do you want of me?”
Our Lady responded, “I want to tell you to have them build a chapel here in my honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Let them continue to say the rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.” Many people had come to the Cova seeking to be healed. The Blessed Mother assured them that some would receive a healing but others would first need to amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. She said, “Let them offend Our Lord God no more, for He is already much offended.” These would be Our Lady’s last words at Fatima. She opened her hands again, and light shot to the sky.
“Look at the sky!” shouted Lucia. The miracle had begun. As the crowd looked up into the sky, the clouds rolled back to reveal the sun. Suddenly, it was a white disc of light, its brilliance shrouded, so that all could gaze upon it. While this was happening, the children saw a tableau in the heavens, with one scene after the other depicting the mysteries of the rosary. They saw the Holy Family with the Christ Child in the arms of St. Joseph, who blessed the crowd three times. Lucia saw Our Lady of Sorrows and then Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The sun began to dance in the sky, twirling and whirling, shooting rainbow-colored rays all over the earth. The crowd and the landscape were bathed in green, then violet, then red as the sun continued its spinning dance. Shouts of praise and worship rose up to the heavens as the crowd delighted in the light show they were seeing.
Then suddenly, the movement of the sun began to change. It plunged toward the earth, falling ever closer to the panic-stricken people. They dropped to their knees to beg God’s mercy. Just as the sun seemed about to touch the earth, it began to recede, eventually assuming its normal position in the sky. To the astonishment of every one gathered at the Cova, their rain-drenched clothing as well as everything about them was bone dry. Truly, it was a “Miracle of the Sun.” The children were carried home on the shoulders of some strong men, who made certain they would be protected from the crowd.
Soon after the apparitions ended, Maria Rosa and Jacinta’s mother sent their girls to school so they could learn to read. Francisco declined the opportunity, knowing that his life would be a short one. He spent most of his time praying at the Church of St. Anthony at Fatima. On April 4th, 1919, he died of bronchial pneumonia. He was almost eleven years old. Jacinta was already sick by the time her brother died. She had developed pleurisy the summer after Francisco’s death and she died on February 20, 1920. Lucia stayed at home with her family until she was fourteen years old.
In June 1921, she left to go to a school run by the Sisters of St. Dorothy at Porto. She joined that order in 1925, eventually leaving it to become a cloistered Carmelite in Coimbra. She took the name Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart.
The apparitions at Fatima were recognized as “worthy of belief” in 1930. The Blessed Mother had given three secrets to the children. Two of them were shared immediately and the third was not to be revealed until 1960 or upon the death of Lucia, whichever came first. Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI both read the third secret. Pope John Paul II read it as well following the assassination attempt on his life on May 13th, 1981. He visited Sister Lucia the following year to the day. Afterward, he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in collegial union with the bishops of the Church. Pope Pius XII had done something similar in 1942.
On June 26, 2000, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the third secret in its entirety. The shrine at Fatima, Portugal remains one of the most visited apparition sites in the world with millions of visitors every year. On February 13, 2005, Sister Lucia Marto died at the age of 97. One can only surmise that she is now united with her beloved Jacinta and Francisco, enjoying the company of the Beautiful Lady who had visited them in time so many years ago.
This is an excerpt from the Women of Grace® Foundational Study Guide, “Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life”