A small village in Portugal's Santarem district, Fatima has become a popular destination for pilgrims from all over the world.
How Fatima Got Its Name
What is interesting is that this small village got its name from the Islamic, Fatimah, the name of the daughter of the Founder and Prophet of Islam.
Legend tells of the capture of a Moorish princess by the Portuguese knight, Gonsalo Hermigues, who brought her to the Serra de Aire hills. And here, the story has developed several versions.
The Catholics say that the Princess fell in love with her captor and converted to Catholicism. The Muslims claim she was forced to convert just like many captives during that period of the Reconquista.
Whichever you believe in, the place has become special because of the apparition that mesmerized many as early as the Spring of 2016 to 2017.
Today, Fatima continues to attract millions of pilgrims every year especially during the celebration of the apparitions of October 13 and May 13.
Why May 13 and October 13?
It was on these days, when the most prominent of the apparitions took place for there were several. It was on May 13, 1917, when 3 children, Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Franciso Marte, were tending their sheep in Cova da Iria, reported that they had seen a Lady dressed in white shining with bright light.
These 3 children lived in Adjustrel, about a kilometer away from Fatima. But even as early as 1916, an angel appeared twice to them in Loca do Cabeco, just west of their village.
This, however, came only to be known in 1930 when Lucia published her memoirs.
These 3 shepherds claimed that the Lady appearing in a blaze of light gave to them the message of prayer, repentance and consecration and thereafter visited them every 13th of the month.
After the Bishop had investigated the children's stories and assured himself that they were not fraudulent, pilgrims began to come.
Where is Fatima?
In October of 1917, over 70,000 pilgrims had congregated and witnessed what was called "The Miracle of the Sun".
The unusual flash of sunlight seemed to twist and turn, and the spectacle was reported to have been seen by others as far as 40 kilometers away.
This event was called a miracle by some eventhough prominent scientists offered an explanation. Nevertheless, devout Catholics considered the event to be a Marian apparition.
To mark the place of the apparition, a wooden arch and a cross was placed in Cova da Iria. In 1918, after the Church proclaimed the apparition as worthy of belief, a Chapel was built which eventually became the present day Basilica, the Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima.
Today, pilgrims from all over the worl flock to the place with candles and flowers kneeling all the way to the Sanctuary to offer penance and prayers.
The Secrets of Fatima
Sadly, two of the three children to whom Our Lady appeared, Jacinta and Francisco, died of the plague between 1919 and 1920. Lucia eventually entered the Convent and died only in 2005.
In her memoirs, Lucia told of the secrets Our Lady entrusted to them. The first secret was a vision of hell, where without prayer, the sinful would dwell. The second was a call for the conversion of Russia and the world at risk of a great disturbance. Many interpreted this disturbance as the WWII.
The third secret was held from the public as the Church hierarchy thinks it might be opened to misinterpretation. Later, it was published but many doubted its veracity. They think that the Church revised the published version.
Lucia was not allowed to publish her own account but had made her comments from which you can deduce the nature of the third secret. Two Fatima scholars, Father Joachin Alonso, a former official archivist of Fatima, and Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité in their 850 page thesis have quoted Lucia and provided insights into the meaning and contents of the Third Secret. You can read this in here.
For many, those discussions were not the motivation for the pilgrimage. They come to pray and do penance as Our Lady directed the 3 children.
I had visited the Shrine once before so when I returned to Portugal this time with my husband, I was no longer interested to go there. My husband has not been there but not being a Catholic, this was not high in his agenda.
As we were staying in Coimbra, we drove to all the places of interest in the area and often saw the signs to Fatima but just did not bother to follow it. After several days of this sighting, my husband said let's go and check it out.
So we went into the Shrine and did the usual lighting of candles and peering about the Sanctuary. As we did this, we were able to watch the pilgrims who had come and we felt really privileged to be in the middle of such strong belief and devotion.
Maybe, someday, you, too, will be led there. When you're there, do go not just to the Sanctuary but also to the houses where the 3 children were born. Maybe, they will bless you with an understanding of the Third Secret.
If you are interested in reading more about the apparitions in Fatima, here's the link.
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