Fatima in Lucia’s own words

Therese Bussen

The apparitions and miracles that occurred at Fatima, Portugal in 1916 and 1917 rocked the country at the time and the rest of the world soon after. This year, in the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady, is the perfect time to reflect on the events of Fatima — in Servant of God Lucia dos Santos’ own words.

 

An angel visits

Lucia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto were ordinary children, poor shepherds who were well loved by their community and families, each very pious in their own way. In the spring of 1916, an angel appeared to them in the Cova da Iria.

Lucia wrote, “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.”

He taught them to pray these words: “Oh My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. And I beg pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”

In her memoirs, Lucia noted that the presence of the angel was different from Our Lady’s: “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…There was no difficulty of speech when Our Lady appeared; there was rather on my part a desire to communicate.”

That summer, the angel appeared a second time, renewing the same feeling in the children. While Lucia and Jacinta could both see and hear him, Francisco could see, but not hear.

“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,” Lucia said. “That is why from that moment we began to offer Him whatever mortified us.”

Later that year, the angel appeared a third time, this time holding a chalice and bleeding host and offered them the Eucharist.

 

Our Lady’s first visit

Much of the world was suffering in 1917 when Our Lady appeared, eight months after the last appearance of the angel. World War I was wreaking havoc across Europe, and in Russia, turbulent revolution would later give rise to the Soviet Union. The apparitions, safe to say, were just what the world needed.

On May 13, when Lucia was 10, Francisco, nine, and Jacinta, seven, Our Lady appeared to the children with a flash of lightning.

She asked them, “Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend him? And for the conversion of sinners?”

They replied that they would. She then asked them to return to this spot every month.

Lucia describes the encounter, “We were bathed in a heavenly light that appeared to come directly from her hands. The light’s reality cut into our hearts and our souls, and we knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it. By an interior impulse of grace we fell to our knees, repeating in our hearts: ‘Oh, Holy Trinity, we adore You. My God, my God, I love You in the Blessed Sacrament.’”

Following the visit, the children told their families; the Marto parents were the first believers of Fatima, but Lucia’s parents would prove more difficult. Her mother believed her to be lying, while her father was not religious at all and was indifferent.

 

Secrets and sufferings

Between the second and fourth apparitions, the children suffered much at the hands of their families and the local authorities, who believed them to be lying. But the children remained steadfast, and with encouragement from Francisco and Jacinta, Lucia overcame her own doubts caused by her family’s disbelief.

The second apparition, June 13, revealed that Francisco and Jacinta would soon be taken to heaven; Lucia would remain on earth a while to tell the story of Fatima; but the third apparition would reveal much more.

On July 13, Our Lady revealed to them the “Secrets of Fatima,” the third of which would not be released until 2000 by St. John Paul II. The first was a vision of hell and a warning about World War II; the second, a warning about Russia.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published a special insert in 2000 on the secrets.

“The first and second parts of the ‘secret’…refer especially to the frightening vision of hell, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Second World War, and finally the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communist totalitarianism.”

The third secret was a prophesy. Lucia wrote, “[There was] a Bishop dressed in white, we had the impression that it was the Holy Father. Other bishops, priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big cross…before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain on his knees, at the foot of the big cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the cross there were two angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”

 

The ‘Miracle of the Sun’

Two apparitions later, tension was growing in Fatima; authorities were alarmed by the number of people flocking to the Cova da Iria (some 30,000 people attended the fifth apparition) and the children were being detained, even causing the fourth apparition to be delayed by a few days.

But the children, with help of consolation from Our Lady, were promised a miracle at the final apparition, which would take place October 13, so that the world would believe.

Lucia described the vision: “After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus seemed to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our lady; it seemed to me to that it was Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Carmel.”

Then came the miracle: the Sun “danced” to eyewitnesses, which were 70,000 in attendance.

“Opening her hands, she made them reflect on the sun, and as she ascended, the reflection of her own light continued to be projected onto the sun itself,” Lucia wrote. “Here…is the reason why I cried out to the people to look at the sun…I was moved to do so under the guidance of an interior impulse.”

 

Aftermath

After the apparitions of Fatima, the world changed. After canonical inquiry, the bishop of Leiria-Fatima declared the visions, which are private revelation, worthy of belief in 1930.

After the start of World War II, Pope Pius XII released the first two secrets of Fatima and consecrated the human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, specifically mentioning Russia. Pope Paul VI later renewed that consecration during his papacy.

St. John Paul II was arguably the most devoted to the message of Fatima; following his assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, he attributed Our Lady of Fatima to saving his life. He renewed the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary the following day.

 

For more information on the history of Fatima, visit ewtn.com/fatima/index.asp.

COMING UP: From Columbine to Christ: “Not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Every school day for almost two years, Jenica Thornby would spend her lunch hour in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Every day, except April 20, 1999.

“I was sitting in my art class when all of the sudden I had this urge to leave school. I remember thinking, there is no way I am going to be talked into staying.”

Thornby found her friend that she always studied with and talked her into leaving too. As they drove away in a car her father had bought her just a week earlier, behind them they saw hundreds of other students running out of the school. Thinking it was maybe a fire drill, Thornby kept driving.

Back inside the school, two students had entered with guns, where they would kill 12 students and a teacher, and wound over 20 more people before taking their own lives.

In the days that followed, Thornby would learn that many of the casualties took place in the library, where on any other day she would have been sitting.

“I remember thinking, I always went to the library, and the only reason I wasn’t there was because I had this urge to leave. That was really hard to wrap my mind around, and so I really wondered, ‘What gave me that urge, why wasn’t I there?’”

Two decades later, Thornby is now Sister Mary Gianna, a religious sister of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre, she shared her story with the Denver Catholic of how God led her out of her high school that day, and through a series of events, led her into a deep relationship with Christ.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

SEARCHING FOR FULFILMENT

Sister Mary Gianna said growing up in Texas, California and then Colorado, she had loving parents, but as a family they did not practice any religion or faith.

After the school shooting, like many of her classmates, Sister Mary Gianna struggled coming to grips with what had happened. Coupled with emotional scars from bullying in her teenage years and other insecurities, she said she tried desperately just to fit in.

“I started drinking and going to parties, thinking if I was in a relationship, then I’ll be happy,” Sister Mary Gianna recalled. “I was searching for fulfilment.”

But near the end of her junior year a classmate of hers who seemingly had everything going for him committed suicide, and Sister Mary Gianna said her senior year she hit rock bottom.

“If he was in so much pain and suffering and took his life, what do I do with all my suffering and all my pain?” Sister Mary Gianna said she asked herself. “I thought I was going to take my own life by my 18th birthday.”

It was that year that a friend invited her to come to a youth group at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, where Sister Mary would meet a youth minister named Kate.

“I remember seeing something different in (Kate),” said Sister Mary Gianna. “She was so bright, so full of life. I could tell that she had something in her life that was missing in mine.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Kate and the youth group introduced her to a God that loved her, and that had a plan for her life.

“I felt like I was junk to be thrown away, and (Kate) would tell me you are made in God’s image and his likeness, and if God created you, how can you call yourself junk?” recalled Sister Mary Gianna. “I realized God did have a plan, and I love the words of St. Augustine: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” and I realized not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

RCIA, NET and DLJC

After high school graduation, with the support of her parents Sister Mary Gianna chose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville, where her freshman year she went through RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2002.

After college, she spent a year with NET (National Evangelization Team), sharing her testimony with teenagers across the country. At the same time, through the encouragement of others, she began to consider religious life.

“I felt God wanted to use me to lead others to Christ as my youth minister had led me to Christ,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “And I felt God was calling me to share how he had worked in my life, my personal testimony.”

Sister Mary Gianna said words in a book by Father Benedict Groeschel really impacted her.

“He wrote, ‘Instead of asking God why something happened, ask him, what would you have me do?’” Sister Mary Gianna said. “So instead of reflecting on my life and why did this happen or that happen, I began to ask God, ‘What would you have me do?’”

In 2010, Jenica Thornby entered religious life as a member of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, was given the name Sister Mary Gianna, and last year on August 4, 2018, took her final vows. She now serves at The Ark and The Dove retreat center in Pittsburgh.

CHAIN REACTIONS

Standing in the center of the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park, Sister Mary Gianna is drawn to the plaque that remembers Rachel Joy Scott.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Rachel was one of the first students shot on April 20, 1999, and after being wounded, one of the gunmen reportedly asked her if she still believed in God, to which Rachel replied, “You know I do,” before the gunman shot her in the head.

“Unfortunately the two boys talked about how they wanted to start a chain reaction of death and violence and destruction,” Sister Mary Gianna said. “However, Rachel had a theory that if one person could go out of their way and show compassion and kindness, we would never know how far it would go, it just might start its own chain reaction.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s story has become an inspiration to her, and coincidently, Rachel’s family played a role in her own conversion. Sister Mary Gianna said the day after the shooting she was at a friend’s house and her friend’s mom told Rachel’s aunt about how she had left just before the shooting began. Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s aunt replied, “God must have a plan for your life.”

It was one of the first seeds planted in Sister Mary Gianna’s heart, that started to grow, and as Sister Mary Gianna continued to say ‘yes’ to God, led her to the life she has today.

“Even when I didn’t know God that day at Columbine, he led me out of school, he protected me,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “He loved me so much that he drew near to me and has shown me this path of life.”

“Even in the midst of tragedy, God can bring good, God could bring life out of death. The worst tragedy was Jesus being put to death on the Cross, and it led to our salvation. And even in the midst of this tragedy of Columbine, God could bring good.”