Getting to know our Lady of Fatima

It is a great honor for St. Joseph the Worker parish to have been named the Diocese of Oakland's official pilgrimage site for the Fatima Centennial (1917-2017). The apparitions of Our Blessed Mother to three young shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, began from May to October of 1917.

As we prepare to celebrate this special series of events in our parish it helps for us to have a little background and so for the next few months we will be getting to know our Lady of Fatima with some historical background and stories compiled by Fr. Joseph Previtali, a priest from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and Adjunct Instructor of Dogmatics, St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park.

Fr. Prevatali: To understand Our Lady of Fatima, we must understand the situation of the world 100 years ago. In 1914, the Great War had begun in Europe. World War I, as we call it now, brought untold devastation to the world, with the newest weapons technologies being wielded unto the lowest depths of human moral depravity. Millions of men, on all sides, were mowed down in the trenches by machine guns, only to gain or lose a few yards on the battlefield.

Pope Benedict XV, through the promotion of the Holy Rosary, and Blessed Charles of Austria, the Holy Roman Emperor, through peace negotiations, sought a swift end to the senseless violence to no avail. Europe was in the process of losing her sanity and her soul. At the same time, the Bolshevik Revolution was brewing in Russia throughout most of 1917, which would become the first Communist country in the history of the world. Russia became Communist on November 8, 1917. Our Lady of Fatima had appeared to the children for the final time one month earlier, on October 13. The ceasefire of World War I was called on November 11, 1918. With Russia Communist and Europe shell-shocked by unprecedented violence, God had brought light into the darkness through the loving presence of His Mother.

Part II: We have the tendency to view human history as if God has no part in our affairs. This comes from the custom in our schools of discussing human affairs from a purely secular point of view for fear of offending people of different faiths. However, effects of Our Lady on our history are so clear that to ignore them is to distort reality until it appears irrational. The motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary is real and historical and it is the means through which Jesus Christ wishes to save us. He has made us His brothers and sisters, children of His Mother. The saints tell us that Christ wishes to triumph over the darkness of sin and evil especially through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lady of Fatima is part of this history. The story of Our Lady of Fatima begins in the spring of 1916 with three shepherd children. Lucia dos Santos, nine years old, was with her cousins, Francisco Marto, age eight, and Jacinta Marto, age six. Lucia tells us what happened in her own words:

"We went on that occasion to my parents' property, which is at the bottom of the Cabeco, facing east. It is called Chousa Velha. "About the middle of the morning it began to drizzle and we climbed up the hill, followed by our sheep, in search of a rock that would shelter us. And so it was that we entered for the first time into that blessed place. It is in the middle of an olive grove that belongs to my godfather, Anastacio. From there one can see the village where I was born, my father's house, and also Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra. The olive grove, which really belongs to several people, extends as far as these places.

"We spent the day there, in spite of the fact that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining in a clear sky. We ate our lunch and began to say the Rosary. After that we began to play a game with pebbles. We had only been at it a few moments when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day. And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.'

"He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say: ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.' "After repeating this prayer three times the angel rose and said to us: 'Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.'

"And he disappeared. He left us in an atmosphere of the supernatural that was so intense we were for a long time unaware of our own existence. The presence of God was so powerful and intimate that even among ourselves we could not speak. On the next day, too, this same atmosphere held us bound, and it lessened and disappeared only gradually. None of us thought of talking about this apparition or any pledge of secrecy. We were locked in silence without having willed it."

Part III: AS LUCIA RELATED, the children were deeply affected by this apparition from the heavenly messenger:

"I don't know why, but the apparitions of our Lady produced in us effects quite different from the angel's visitations We felt in both instances the same intimate happiness, peace and joy, but instead of the physical prostration the angel imposed, our Lady brought a feeling of expansion and freedom; and instead of this annihilation in the divine presence, we wished only to exult in our joy. There was no difficulty of speech when our Lady appeared; there was rather on my part a desire to communicate."

The three little shepherd children had encountered a celestial being who, in his purely spiritual nature, communicated to them something of the awesome holiness and transcendence of Almighty God.

"His words sank so deeply into our minds that we never forgot them, and ever after we used to spend long periods on our knees repeating them, sometimes until we fell down exhausted."

Later that year of 1916, in the summer, the children received a second apparition from the angel, as they were playing in the heat of day. Lucia relates:

"Suddenly we saw the same angel near us.

'What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.'

"'But how are we to sacrifice?' I asked."

'In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.'

The children were again deeply affected by the magnificence and awesomeness of the holiness of God, communicated through the Angel of Portugal. Francisco could only see the apparitions but he could not hear the words spoken either by the angel or by Our Lady the next year. Try as he might, he could not get the girls to tell him what the angel had said, so overcome were they by the holiness of the encounter.

"The Angels' words sank deeply into our souls like a gleaming torch, showing us Who God is, what is His love for us, and how he wants us to love Him too; the value of sacrifice and how it pleases Him; how He receives it for the conversion of sinners. That is why from that moment we began to offer Him whatever mortified us."

Part IV: THE CHILDREN RECEIVED a third apparition from the angel in September or October of 1916. Once again, the children were out in the pasture with their flocks at the place where they had seen the angel before, called "The Head" (Cabeço in Portuguese). At this holy place, they were inspired to remember the instruction of the angel about the necessity of prayer, and so they began to pray the prayer he had taught them: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You." Lucia tells us what happened as they were praying:

"After we had repeated this prayer I don't know how many times we saw the shining over us a strange light. We lifted our heads to see what was happening. The Angel was holding in his left hand a chalice and over it, in the air, was a host from which drops of blood fell into the chalice. The Angel leaves the chalice in the air, kneels near us and tells us to repeat three times:

'Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.'

Then, most extraordinarily and by a great miraculous gift of God, the angel gave to the children their First Holy Communion.

"After that he rose, took again in his hand the chalice and the host. The host he gave to me and the contents of the chalice he gave to Jacinta and Francisco, saying at the same time, 'Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.'

"Once more he bowed to the ground repeating with us the same prayer thrice: 'Oh, Blessed Trinity etc.' and disappeared. Overwhelmed by the supernatural atmosphere that involved us, we imitated the Angel in everything, kneeling prostrate as he did and repeating the prayers he said."

They didn't know it at the time, but the visits of the angel to the children in 1916 were preparing them for the visits of the Mother of God in 1917.

As we celebrate The Fatima Centennial at St. Joseph the Worker thru November 26, 2017, it helps for us to have a little background, and so for the next few months we will be getting to know our Lady of Fatima with some historical background and stories compiled by Fr. Joseph Previtali, a priest from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and Adjunct Instructor of Dogmatics, St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park.

Part V: AS THE CHILDREN OF FATIMA, instructed by the angel, passed the autumn and winter months of 1916-1917 in prayer and penance, Europe fell deeper into blind and senseless war, with the United States soon to enter the fray on Good Friday of 1917. Meanwhile, with the death of the demonic Rasputin and the abdication of the eviscerated Czar Nicholas II, the foundations of Russia were crumbling quickly, allowing an opening for the Communist revolution. On April 15, 1917, Easter morning in the Julian Calendar, Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia.

One bright light in the darkness was Blessed Charles II of Austria, who became Holy Roman Emperor at the end of 1916. Blessed Charles would do his best in 1917 to achieve peace in Europe and an end to the war, to no avail. Eventually, left without a state by the Treaty of Versailles, he would die in 1922 in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Fifty years later, his body was found incorrupt and he was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2004. The cause for the canonization of his devoted wife, Zita, is also in process.

Charles and Zita prayed the Rosary together daily. Pope Benedict XV, who denounced the Great War from its beginning in strong and eloquent preaching and writing, also turned to the Holy Rosary as the instrument for bringing peace to the world. He had especially asked for the children of the world to pray for peace, a plea which reached the shepherd children of Fatima through their faithful local priests. Lucia added three Hail Mary’s for the intentions of the Holy Father to their daily Rosary.

On May 5, 1917, the Month of Our Lady, Pope Benedict XV solemnly directed that the title "Queen of Peace" be added to the Litany of Loreto. In that act of his supreme and universal authority as Shepherd of the Flock of Christ on Earth, he invoked the Mother of God, omnipotent by grace," and entrusted to her special intercession the peace of the world. Eight days later, she came, in person, to bring peace.

Part VI: MAY 13, 1917, BEGAN a glorious spring Sunday in the heart of rural Portugal. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta attended Holy Mass at their parish church in the morning and then had taken their flocks to pasture in the little grassy valley among the hills, called the "Cova da Iria." They played as children do, as the sheep fed on the grass. They had their lunch and then began to pray the Rosary in their shortened form of it, saying only the first words of the two parts of the prayers.

They were then startled by what Lucia described as "lightning in a clear sky." They thought a storm must be approaching and debated returning to town with their sheep. "And we began to go down the slope driving the sheep towards the road," Lucia explained. "When we were half-way down, near a holm oak tree, we saw another flash of lightening, and after a few steps we saw on a holm oak a lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light, just like a crystal goblet full of pure water when the fiery sun passes through it. We stopped astounded by the Apparition. We were so near that we were in the light that encircled her, or which she radiated, perhaps a meter and a half away."

The lady's face was brilliant with a dazzling white. Lucia described her beautiful countenance as "not sad, not happy, but serious." Her hands were joined in prayer and a Rosary hung from her right hand. Her voice was low, musical, and gentle.

"Please don't be afraid of me, I'm not going to harm you."

Lucia asked the lady, "Where are you from?"

"I come from heaven."

Lucia was not afraid or overcome, but filled with great peace and confidence. "And what do you want of me?"

"I want you to return here on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months, and at the very same hour. Later I shall tell you who I am, and what it is that I most desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time."

"And shall I go to heaven?"

"Yes, you will."

"And Jacinta?"

"She will go too."

"And Francisco?"

"Francisco, too, my dear, but he will first have many Rosaries to say."