The Spirituality of
Fatima and Medjugorje
Fr. Edward Carter, S.J.
Shepherds of Christ Ministries
PO BOX 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Fatima: The Setting
On October 13, 1917, there were more than 70,000 people gathered in the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal. They had come to observe a miracle which had been foretold by the Blessed Virgin to three young visionaries: Lucia dos Santos, and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. (1) Shortly after noon, Our Lady appeared to the three visionaries:
As the Lady was about to leave, she pointed to the sun. Lucy excitedly repeated the gesture, and the people looked into the sky. The rain had ceased, the clouds parted, and the sun shone forth, but not in its usual brilliance. Instead, it appeared like a silver disc, pale as the moon, at which all could gaze without straining their eyes. Suddenly, impelled by some mysterious force, the disc began to whirl in the sky, casting off great shafts of multicolored light. Red, green, blue, yellow, violet–the enormous rays shot across the sky at all angles, lighting up the entire countryside for many miles around, but particularly the upturned faces of those 70,000 spellbound people.
After a few moments the wonder stopped, but resumed again a second and a third time–three times in all–within about 12 minutes. It seemed that the whole world was on fire, with the sun spinning at a greater speed each time.
Then a gasp of terror rose from the crowd, for the sun seemed to tear itself from the heavens and come crashing down upon the horrified multitude…. Just when it seemed that the ball of fire would fall upon and destroy them, the miracle ceased, and the sun resumed its normal place in the sky, shining forth as peacefully as ever.
When the people arose from the ground, cries of astonishment were heard on all sides. Their clothes, which had been soaking wet and muddy, now were clean and dry. Many of the sick and crippled had been cured of their afflictions. (2)
The above describes the great miracle which brought to conclusion the series of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima which took place six times, from May to October 1917. The Miracle of the Sun was the sign God gave to the world in proof of the authenticity of the apparitions. The event was reported in newspapers around the world.
With one exception, Mary always appeared on the 13th of the month, above an holm oak tree in the valley named Cova da Iria. The only deviation from the 13th was the August apparition. During this particular month, Mary appeared to the children near the village of Valinhos on August 19. The children were in jail on the 13th of that particular month. The mayor, in an attempt to stop the events, had had the young visionaries kidnapped and imprisoned, but fearing violence on the part of the people, he soon released them.
Since the apparitions of 1917, millions of pilgrims have come to Fatima. Fatima is a small, rural town about 90 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal. It is situated within hilly terrain which is lined with numerous cedar trees. The Cova da Iria–grazing ground at the time of the apparitions–now appears as a huge, paved area which lies in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima. About 50 yards in front of the Basilica, and to the left as one faces the Basilica, is the Chapel of Apparitions. Here, within the sanctuary, is a glass-enclosed statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The statue is situated on the spot of the holm oak tree over which Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco.
In the middle of the great square, one sees a large statue of the Sacred Heart. The arms of Christ are outstretched, welcoming all to come to the refuge of His Heart. Above the entrance of the Basilica is a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two statues vividly remind us of the alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. As we shall soon see, this union of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart forms the very core of the Fatima message.
As is to be expected, the largest crowds of pilgrims gather on the 13th of the month from May through October.
I was privileged to be present at Fatima on a very special day, October 13, 1992. This date marked the 75th anniversary of the final apparition. It was, indeed, a most memorable occasion. On the evening of the 12th, there was the usual Rosary procession. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were present on this brisk October night. Pilgrims holding lighted candles, the praying of the Rosary, the procession with the Our Lady of Fatima statue–all this made for a very impressive and moving occasion.
The next day, the 13th, was obviously a very, very special time. The day was bright and sunny with an almost completely blue sky. It seemed no accident. It was a gift of Our Lady, the Woman Clothed with the Sun: Now a great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown (Rev. 12:1). We see, then, how fitting it was that the great miracle of Fatima described above was one involving the sun.
There were about a million people gathered in the huge square for this 75th anniversary occasion. The center of attraction was the Mass at the outdoor altar situated on the Basilica steps. Before and after the Mass, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was marched in procession. The pilgrims waved their white handkerchiefs at the statue, a time-honored custom at Fatima. The entire ceremony took over three hours, yet there was a pervasive silence throughout the gathering of pilgrims, which numbered about one million. Their deep devotion was obvious. It was one of the most impressive and moving scenes I have ever witnessed.
During a stay at Fatima, one can always observe pilgrims visiting the Apparitions Chapel for Masses and adoration visits. Leading down to the Chapel is a special walkway which stretches back about 100 yards into the great square. This path is used by many pilgrims who, in an act of sacrifice, walk on their knees the length of the walkway, ending their journey at the Chapel itself. The atmosphere at the Chapel is one of deep peace and devotion, a common trait at Marian shrines.
Pilgrims are also constantly entering the Basilica for Masses and visits. At the front of the Basilica lie the remains of two of the Fatima visionaries. Jacinta’s crypt is to the left, and Francisco’s is to the right. Pilgrims stop briefly and pray at the crypts in a spirit of deep devotion. As one prays at these crypts, it is easy to recall the words of Jesus: I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children (Matt. 11:25).
Central to the pilgrimage activities at Fatima are the many Masses which take place at the Chapel of Apparitions and the Basilica church. This, again, is a common occurrence at Marian shrines. Mary always leads to the Eucharistic Christ.