by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac ~
It took no small miracle to make it to the 100th Anniversary of the visions at Fatima! With a road paved with obstacles, the greatest miracle was our belief that we would get there, despite the fact that the room we booked a year in advanced ,was cancelled weeks before our trip, the airfare reservations were cancelled due to a technical issue, yet we were there to witness miracles we never imagined!
We had booked wonderful accommodations in the neighboring medieval town of Ourem with the Bishop of Ourem. He had a wonderful guest house he rented to a handful of people who were lucky enough to find lodging a year in advance of the celebration! His newly appointed position at the Vatican, weeks before, left us (and his other guests) without a place to stay!
On top of that, due to a technical issue with our airline reservations, they were cancelled. Although they were happy to find us other reservations, it was not going to even be near the time of the anniversary celebration. I always remember Tonio saying, “if she wants us to come, she will find a way, just believe”. It wasn’t two weeks before we were suppose to leave, that Airbnb contacted me with suggestions for accommodations. One such home was also in Ourem, with a recently divorced young woman who happened to now have a room available! Booked! Two days after this, Tonio found a flight which took us through Madrid and then on to Lisbon for one-third the price of our original airline reservation! Booked!
Once in Lisbon, our gracious host, picked us up at the airport and drove the hour to Ourem. She had a beautiful home with a huge bedroom. There were double French doors that opened up to a wrap around terrace with a view of the spectacular hills and forests of this ancient land! She graciously drove us each day to Fatima, which was about a 15 minute drive and picked us up each evening after the procession.
One morning, she insisted on taking us to breakfast into the old city in Ourem. The main historical attraction of the municipality is the mighty Castle of Ourém, which dominates the skyline. At breakfast, we had the pleasure of getting more acquainted. Her divorce had left her lacking faith, in general and even more so in herself. She lived so close to Fatima, yet never went to the sanctuary or gave the place any reverence. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman with a 10 year old daughter. She was now left to care for a home and her child alone. Her verbally abusive husband had spent a decade degrading and belittling her and she seemed more like a shell of a woman, than the vibrant one she appeared to be on the outside.
We had such inspiring conversations after that day. Each day seemed more empowering than the next. She seemed to glean resurgence from the story of our lives as well as our undivided faith! On the day the pope arrived in Fatima, our host told us that her daughter really wanted to see the pope. We were so excited and the 4 of us were off to Fatima with the 2 million others who had come for the 100th anniversary of the visions, as well as, the sainthood of two of the child visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco.
I also realized that day, how easy it can be to loose faith without positive reinforcement in our lives. It is our faith that is nourished by love and attention. Faith is nourished through study of the words. Faith is nourished through lessons of grace. Without this, we tend to become overwhelmed by fear, negative energy and the clouds of doubt.
The Virgin’s inspiration came in the opportunity for both mother and daughter to bond together once again. They had a beautiful day, singing and praying together. The pope even blessed them as he walked by the massive crowds. They happened to be, right where they were suppose to be, to receive his graces! The next day, our host, who is an engineer by trade, but also an artist at heart, went home and sculpted an image of the Virgin Mary! She said she was so overwhelmed by those few hours…and found it so “life altering”, she needed to express how she was feeling! She later told us, that “the miracle for her, was us coming into her life to lead her back to the light”. It was a a gracious gift in return!
October, 15, 2011 – I’m lying on a stone fence, my body stretched out in peaceful repose, the Portuguese sun beating down on my face. I just said the rosary in front of a statue of the Angel of Peace and statues of Lucia, Jacinta and Fancisco, the three children of Fatima. Many may know of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to these children in 1917, but many may not know that the year prior to this, the children were visited by the Angel of Peace in order to prepare them for the coming and greater understanding of the messages from the Virgin Mary.
Now, here I rest, in the garden of Lucia, near the well where this event occurred. I can see sheep grazing gently in the hills. Up the road from me are the very simple family homes of the children, seemingly untouched since 1917. Yet, not too far away from here stands the most impressive Sanctuary devoted to these three simple children and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Rising over the knoll you can see a vast esplanade sloping down and out across the Cova da Iris. Making up the sign of the cross is the enormous Basilica in the North, the modern Holy Trinity church in the South, the Chapel of the Apparitions in the East and the conventual and hospital buildings in the West.
I was fascinated by the nature and foliage of Fatima. The climate makes it just the right conditions for a host of unique trees I have never seen in person before. Towering along side the esplanade are beautiful juniper trees. Their needles have a deep green color with a slight bluish-tinge. The trees were rich with ripened berries releasing an aromatic resin scent. Behind the basilica were rows of eucalyptus trees. These scented long shiny leaves filled the orchard with their pungent aroma. Also, dotted throughout the area where Olive trees. This tree along with its fruit, and its oil, all have special meanings in the Bible. The olive tree is one of the symbols for Israel and/or her people. Olive oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The fruit is considered good deeds. Olive oil is used for anointing, as well as for burning in Jewish and Christian ceremonies. The wood is often use for making crosses and rosaries.
The apparitions of Fatima began on May 13, 1917 and continued each month on the 13th day through October (except in August, when the Virgin appeared to the children on the 19th, due to the fact that they were taken by the police for inquiry.) The first vision came to the children in the Cova da Iria, while the children were watching over their sheep. Appearing in the branches of a holm oak tree. Lucia spoke, “What do you want of me?” The Lady answered, “I want you to come here for sixth months in succession. Then I will tell you who I am and what I want”. The Lady also directed the children to pray every day for peace and for the end of the war that was then destroying Europe, and then she disappeared in a blinding light.
The day of the second apparition, June 13, The Lady, visible only to the three children, again told them to pray and also predicted the deaths of Jacinta and Francisco. The children again went to the Cova da Iris on July 13, accompanied by several hundred peasants from the local area. Lucia asked that a divine sign be shown. In response, The Lady promised that in October she would reveal her identity and she also told the children three secrets.
The August apparition did not appear on the 13th as the children were unable to go to Cova da Iris because the authorities had detained them. The children were interrogated separately, but the children neither recanted nor changed their story. When they were released, the Lady appeared and repeated her promise of performing a miracle in October. She also asked for a chapel to be built at Cova da Iris.
The Miracle of the Sun
The October 13th apparition drew nearly 70,000 people from all parts of Europe. The day was dark and rainy. The apparition announced to the children that she was in fact Mary, the mother of Christ. She asked that prayers be said for the end of World War I and that a church be built in her honor. She then vanished in a blazing light as Lucia cried out, “look at the sun” which, many of the observers testified they saw wondrous things in the heavens. The rain clouds parted, the “sky opened up” and the sun seemed to spin in the sky, changing colors, or go completely dark for several minutes, before appearing to plunge towards the earth. Mysteriously, after the spinning of the great body of light, the crowd found its clothing completely dry and the rains stopped.
The Three Secrets
On July 13th, the Virgin is said to have revealed the Three Secrets of Fatima to the children, consisting of prophecies about the future. The first secret described a horrifying vision of Hell.
The second secret foretold the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II and called for the “Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Many believe Pope John Paul II fulfilled this request in 1984 by giving a blessing over the world, including Russia, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Sister Lucia, she believed this was not enough to fulfilled the request of Mary.
The Vatican kept the third secret under wraps until Easter 2000 – despite Lucia’s declaration that it could be released to the public after 1960. The officially released text of the third secret was unspecific in nature, leaving it open to various interpretations. The secret speaks of a pope being killed by soldiers at the foot of a cross on top of a mountain, along with many other bishops and priests. The Church’s interpretation is that this predicts the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in Saint Peter’s Square. John Paul himself credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life, saying he saw her intervening to deflect the gunman’s arm and he maintained consciousness on the ride to the hospital by keeping his mind focused on her. There are other theories that this last secret is actually about the apocalypse.
I have wanted to go to Fatima for such a long time and my trips to Lourdes only encouraged my desires. I found Fatima to be an awe inspiring place. It transports you back in time. It leaves you with a sense of caring, wonder and religious fervor. We found ourselves praying the rosary twice a day, going to mass twice a day and looking forward to the candlelight procession at 8:30 each evening. The procession is a miraculous event that takes place each night, offering mass, the rosary and then the honoring of the Virgin with candles and song. Fatima is a place that offers you self discovery. It is a soul satisfying journey I would suggest to anyone wanting to learn more about themselves.