Ryan Murray knew “the basics.” His wife, Lauren, had a “vague” idea of what happened at Fatima. Really, they knew about as much of the town in Portugal as many Catholics do, and that knowledge was this: Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, appeared to three children there.
The Murrays’ understanding changed in 2015, though, when Ryan, a field agent for the Knights of Columbus, was invited to one of that organization’s trips for employees and spouses.
As she walked to the site where Mary appeared to three children in 1917, Lauren—who converted to Catholicism in 2009—had no idea that the village was named in the 12th century for a beloved Muslim princess who converted to the Church and married a Catholic knight, Goncalo Hermingues.
As he first surveyed cases of valuables on display at Fatima, Ryan didn’t know that people from throughout the world had been sending their personal treasures as a sacrifice for decades.
But they learned about the story and traditions of Fatima. And today, from the courtyard at their parish, St. Patrick in Fayetteville, they can talk about the tangible aspects of Fatima as well as how it changed them personally.
While on the pilgrimage, the couple prayed the Rosary where Mary first appeared to the children and celebrated Mass with their group at the chapel. Led by Archbishop William Lori, they also toured the site with the group.
For Lauren, 33, a memorable moment happened when she looked to a statue of Mary and saw a bullet in its crown. “[Pope] John Paul II placed there. It was the bullet they removed from him after his assassination attempt. And when he made a pilgrimage there he brought that bullet with him. And he tucked it up inside of her crown,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Is this real?’ You don’t ever think that you will get to go somewhere that’s such a blessing and so beautiful and to see a piece of history in front of you, and a place where our blessed mother decided she had a message and chose these three children to hear it. It was amazing.”
For Ryan, it was amazing to see pilgrims—in devotion to Mary—on their knees moving along a distance longer than a football field.
“What got me was that they have a statue in the middle … and marble groundcover and people get on their knees and go that whole way to where the actual apparition happened,” he said. “When you see the people, some gravely sick, there doing that … you know something is above you, and you just have that feeling inside of you when you’re there. It’s hard to describe it.”
It was an experience they took home in their hearts, they said. It compelled them to take more time to pray the Rosary together and to teach their son Matthew, now 4, to pray it with them as well.
The story of Fatima
During World War I, Pope Benedict XV made repeated, but forlorn, pleas for peace. Finally, in May 1917, he made a direct appeal to the Blessed Mother to intercede for peace in the world. Just over a week later, Our Lady began to appear at Fatima, Portugal, to three shepherd children: Lucia dos Santos, age 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 9 and 7. However, it was in the previous year, 1916, that the children had their first supernatural encounters with an angel as a means of preparing them to receive the Queen of Heaven.
The Angel of Portugal
In the spring of 1916, as the three shepherd children tended their sheep in a property called Old Chousa, a drizzling rain began to fall, so they climbed the hill to find shelter in the crevices of a rock. Suddenly a strong wind began to shake the trees. They looked up and saw coming toward them a dazzlingly beautiful young man, seemingly made of light, who told them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.”
Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground and had them repeat three times: “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.”
Then, rising, he said, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.” Leaving them absorbed in a supernatural atmosphere, the angel disappeared.
The angel appeared to them again later in the summer and in the fall, encouraging them to pray and to make sacrifices for the reparation of sin.
The first apparition of Mary
On May 13, the three children took their flocks out to pasture in the area known as the Cova da Iria. After lunch and the rosary, they suddenly saw a bright flash of light, followed quickly by another flash in the clear blue sky.
They looked up to see, in Lucia’s words, “A lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water lit by burning sunlight.” She said, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you. I come from heaven.” She asked them to come to the Cova for six months on the 13th day of the same hour.
She ended the visit by saying, “Say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war,” and began to rise serenely towards the east until she disappeared.
Mary continued to appear to the children throughout the months and encouraged the children to pray the Rosary for the reparation of sins and the conversion of Communist Russia. As word spread, large crowds gathered to witness and pray.
The Miracle of the Sun – during the October apparition
The greatest miracle to occur since the resurrection is also the only miracle ever precisely predicted as to date, time of day and location. It is popularly known as “The Miracle of the Sun” and October 13, 1917 has come to be known as “The Day the Sun Danced.” The miracle was viewed by 70,000 or more people at the Cova that day, and is reported to have been seen from as far as 25 miles away. Doubters and skeptics had become believers. Even the secular newspaper O Seculo’s chief reporter, Avelino de Almeida, who had written satirically before, now reported affirmatively, and stood by his story later on in spite of harsh criticism.
Fatima: a timeline
1915 – 9-year-old Lucia sees a figure in white suspended in midair
Spring 1916 – The Angel of Peace appears to Lucia and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco
Summer 1916 – The Angel of Peace appears a second time, announcing himself as the Angel of Portugal
Fall 1916 – The Angel of Peace appears a third time
May 13, 1917 – First apparition of Our Lady of Fatima at the Cova da Iria
June 13, 1917 – Second apparition of Our Lady of Fatima
July 13, 1917 – Third apparition of Our Lady of Fatima — three-part secret revealed to the children
August 19, 1917 – Fourth apparition of Our Lady occurs in Valinhos near the village of Aljustrel
September 13, 1917 – Fifth apparition of Our Lady of Fatima
October 13, 1917 – Sixth apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, Miracle of the Sun occurs before 70,000 witnesses in the Cova da Iria
Fall, 1918 – Francisco and Jacinta Marto contract the deadly influenza
April 4, 1919 – Francisco dies from influenza
April 29, 1919 – First Capelinha, “Chapel of Apparitions,” is built at the site of the apparitions
February 20, 1920 – Jacinta dies from tuberculosis and bronchial pneumonia
June 13, 1920 – The first statue of Our Lady of Fatima, sculpted by José Thedim according to Lucia’s description, is placed at the Capelinha
June 15, 1921 – Our Lady appears to Lucia a seventh time and tells her to follow the path the bishop wants her to take. She departs to a school in Porto led by the Dorothean Sisters, taking the name Maria das Dores
May 3, 1922 – Bishop Jose Alves Correia da Silva opens an official inquiry into the events at Fatima
October 24, 1925 – Lucia joins the Dorothean Sisters in Spain
December 10, 1925 – Our Lady and the Child Jesus appear to Sister Lucia in the convent chapel and request the propagation of the First Saturday Communions of Reparation
February 15, 1926 – The Child Jesus appears to Sister Lucia, asking what is being done to spread the First Saturday devotion
June 13, 1929 – Sister Lucia receives a vision of the Holy Trinity in the chapel. Our Lady appears and requests the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart by the Holy Father and all the bishops
October 13, 1930 – Bishop da Silva issues pastoral letter approving the apparitions at Fatima
October 3, 1934 – Sister Lucia professes final vows with the Sisters of St. Dorothy, becoming Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and
the Immaculate Heart
September 13, 1939 – The bishop of Leiria makes public the request for the First Saturday devotion
December 2, 1940 – Sister Lucia writes to Pope Pius XII requesting the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart
October 13, 1942 – Coronation of Our Lady of Fatima statue with a crown of jewels donated by Portuguese people, in thanksgiving for being spared during World War II
September, 1943 – Bishop of Leiria orders Sister Lucia to write the third part of the secret, fearing she was dying
January 3, 1944 – Our Lady appears to Sister Lucia giving permission to write the third part of the secret. The contents are delivered to the bishop of Leiria for safekeeping
1947 – Msgr. Harold V. Colgan co-founds The Blue Army with John Haffert and pledges it will oppose the Red Army of Communism.
March 25, 1948 – Sister Lucia enters the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal
January, 1950 – The first issue of Soul magazine is published to spread the message of Fatima. A million signed pledges are buried at the Fatima Shrine
July 7, 1952 – In special apostolic letter, Pope Pius XII consecrates the Russian people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
August 17, 1959 – Pope St. John XXIII reads the contents of the third part of the secret, but discerns it is not the right time to release it
March 27, 1965 – Pope Paul VI reads the contents of the third part of the secret and decides not to publish the text
March 25, 1984 – Pope St. John Paul II consecrates the world (and implicitly Russia) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with the Catholic bishops of the world and some Orthodox bishops; Sister Lucia confirms this consecration “was accepted by heaven” and fulfills Our Lady’s request
May 13, 1989 – Pope St. John Paul II declares Jacinta and Francisco “venerable”
March 15, 1990 – the Vatican establishes diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, following a meeting between Pope St. John Paul II and President Mikhail Gorbachev
May 13, 1991 – At Fatima, Pope St. John Paul II thanks Our Lady for the fruits of the 1984 collegial consecration and renews the consecration of the world to her Immaculate Heart
May 13, 2000 – Pope St. John Paul II beatifies Francisco and Jacinta, declaring them “Blessed”
June 26, 2000 – The Vatican publishes the third part of the secret of Fatima
February 12, 2005 – Sister Lucia dies
February 19, 2006 – Sister Lucia’s body is transferred from the Carmel to the Basilica of the Shrine of Fatima and laid to rest by the tombs of Francisco and Jacinta
October 13, 2013 – Pope Francis consecrates the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that is flown to Rome for this occasion
2016-2017 – The World Apostolate of Fatima celebrates the centenary of the apparitions at Fatima
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to three young visionaries in the town of Fatima in Portugal. This report is excerpted from Fatima, 100 Years of Grace by the World Apostolate of Fatima, U.S.A. – Our Lady’s Blue Army.