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Fatima was a small agrarian town in the decade of the 1910s. The population was approximately 2,300, compared to over 11,000 today. The majority of the people who called Fatima and environs home during this time were farmers; the farmers` children would routinely help with the chores as well. That`s exactly what Francisco Marto, his sister Jacinta Marto, and their cousin Lucia Santos were doing when they saw apparitions -- first in the form of an angel, and then in the form of the Virgin Mary.

Lucia reportedly saw her first apparition in 1915, with three other children, none of whom were Francisco or Jacinta. The first apparition the three of them saw together happened in the spring of 1916, in the area called Loca do Anjo, near their homes in the hamlet of Aljustrel. At the time, the area was an olive field that was owned by Lucia`s godfather. As they were herding their sheep, they stopped to allow them to graze. At the same time, the children decided to say the Rosary, and then they played a game with pebbles. Suddenly, a strong wind blew forcefully, and a white light emerged from the area of the olive trees. As the light moved forward, the children could see the apparition`s visage. It said, `Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.` The prayer was as follows: `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.` After the children repeated the prayer three times with the angel, he said, `Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.` He then disappeared, leaving the children mystified.

The second apparition the three of them saw together occurred in the summer of 1916, behind Lucia`s House, in the garden. The angel appeared once more, angry at the children for their lack of piety and persistence. `What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High`, the angel said. The children asked which sacrifices they should give to God, and the angel replied, `In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.` Francisco could not hear the angel`s pronouncements; he could only see him. This would be a recurring element in every apparition, even through 1917. Jacinta and Lucia were the ones who could inform him of the apparitions` wishes.

The third apparition in 1916 occurred either in late September or early October. At the Loca do Anjo again, the children began to pray, as Lucia reminded the siblings about the angel`s previous message. As they prayed, the Angel appeared again, holding a chalice. The angel knelt, towering below the small children, and he asked them to repeat this prayer three times: `Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.` He then raised the chalice and passed it to Lucia, then Jacinta, then Francisco. He asked of the three: `Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.` Afterwards, the angel recited the aforementioned prayer three times with the children, and disappeared.

The first apparition of the Virgin Mary occurred on May 13, 1917. Lucia Santos by this time was ten years old, the oldest of the three. Francisco Marto was nearly nine and Jacinta Marto was seven. They led their sheep to Fatima and watched them graze in the Cova da Iria, a field that was owned by Lucia`s father. After eating lunch and playing in the field, the three noticed lightning coming out of a completely clear sky. As they were deciding to take their sheep home, lightning once again struck, this time near a big holmoak. Lucia, writing in her memoir, wrote: 'A lady [was] dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light, just like a crystal goblet full of pure water when the fiery sun passes through it. We stopped astounded by the Apparition. We were so near that we were in the light that encircled her, or which she radiated, perhaps a meter and a half away [4-5 feet].`

The apparition said to the children, `Please don`t be afraid of me. I`m not going to harm you.`

Lucia said, `Where are you from?`

`I come from heaven,` the apparition said. They recognized the apparition as the Virgin Mary.

`What do you want of us?` Lucia asked.

`I want you to return here on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months, and at the very same hour. Later I shall tell you who I am, and what it is that I most desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time.`

Lucia asked if she would go to heaven if she followed the instructions. The Virgin Mary said she would. When Lucia asked about Jacinta and Francisco, the Virgin Mary told Lucia that both of them would go, but Francisco would need to say several Rosaries first. Lucia then asked about two friends who had died; one went to heaven, the other to purgatory. The Virgin Mary spoke again: `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?`

The children agreed. `Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you`, the Virgin Mary said to them. A light emanated from the apparition`s hands, and the children felt it was the light of God. They dropped to their knees in feverish prayer and repeated, `Oh Holy Trinity, we adore You. My God, my God, I love You in the Blessed Sacrament.` The Virgin Mary then told the children, `Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.` World War I was being fought in Europe, although they were far removed from such horrors in Portugal. The Virgin Mary then rose, ascending to the east, and disappeared.

When Lucia told her parents, her father believed her, but her mother did not. Her mother believed she was lying, and much worse, blaspheming. She sent Lucia to the parish priest, Father Ferreira; Lucia remained steadfast even as Lucia`s mother and Father Ferreira didn`t know what to do with her. In the coming days, word spread throughout Fatima and Aljustrel of their sighting. Many people disbelieved the children.

On June 13, 1917, the children slipped away for their second meeting with the Virgin Mary at the Cova da Iria. The feast of St. Anthony fell on that date, and the townspeople were celebrating at the church. To their surprise, a few people who had heard their story had already beaten the children to the spot near the holmoak. The Virgin Mary appeared once again, and told the children, `I want you to come here on the thirteenth of next month. I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day. And after each one of the mysteries, my children, I want you to pray in this way: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need. I want you to learn to read and write, and later I will tell you what else I want of you.` The Virgin Mary also revealed to Lucia that Jacinta and Francisco would be taken to heaven soon, but Lucia was to remain on Earth longer. The Virgin Mary told Lucia not to be sad, as She would always be with her. The crowd saw a flash of lightning, and some said they saw a hazy cloud near the tree, but none of them actually saw the Virgin Mary as the children did. Some were convinced that the story was true. Others, such as Father Ferreira, were not convinced.

On July 13, Lucia went with Francisco and Jacinta to the Cova da Iria, despite Lucia and Jacinta`s fears that Father might be right in thinking that the apparitions were really blasphemy and an attempt at control by the Devil. The Virgin Mary appeared again and told them three secrets. The first two were only revealed in Lucia`s memoir in 1941: The children were granted a vision into the portal of Hell, and then the Virgin Mary told of the rise of evil in Russia (which would later become the Soviet Union), and what was needed to prevent detriment to the world. The third secret was written down by Lucia and mailed to Pope Pius XII, unread by the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima. It would foretell the assassination attempt on a later Pope. (Specifically, the shooting of Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981, on the 64th anniversary of the first Marian apparition.)

Then the Virgin Mary said to the children, who had asked Her what they should do: `I want you to come back here on the thirteenth of next month. Continue to say the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, to obtain the peace of the world and the end of the war, because only she can obtain it.` The children then asked the Virgin Mary to show herself to the townspeople and other naysayers, so they will be vindicated. `You must come here every month, and in October I will tell you who I am and what I want. I will then perform a miracle so that all may believe.` Lucia then asked for resolution regarding the fates of two acquaintances. After the Virgin Mary answered, She closed with the following statement: `Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.`

The government believed that the children were working with the Catholic Church to perpetuate a fraud. At the time, the government was very secular and considered the religious beliefs of the working class a threat to national security. By this time, news had spread nationwide about the children`s visions. On August 13, the mayor of Fatima offered to drive the children to the Cova da Iria, with the explanation that it would be difficult for them to pass through the crowds of the curious faithful. Instead, he took them to Ourem, and demanded them to reveal the secrets the Virgin Mary told them, and also to admit that the entire story was a lie. They refused, even when threatened with physical harm and death. Crowds gathered at the Cova without the children, and the apparition arrived and departed, with the same vague physical characteristics seen by people who were not the children themselves. Two days later, they were dropped off at the parish church during the Feast of the Assumption. The government had given up trying to dissuade the children.

Four days after being returned to Fatima, on August 19, Lucia, her brother Joao, and Francisco Marto were herding their sheep in Valinhos, north of the Loca do Anjo where Lucia saw the angel the year before. In the middle of the afternoon, Lucia had a strange feeling that the Virgin Mary was about to communicate with them. Lucia sent Joao to Aljustrel to pick up Jacinta and bring her to Valinhos. Finally, as Jacinta arrived, the Virgin Mary appeared to the children again. `Come again to the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth of next month, my child, and continue to say the Rosary every day. In the last month I will perform a miracle so that all may believe,` She said.

The children asked the Virgin Mary what to do about the offerings of money the pilgrims gave at the Cova each month. `I want you to have two ardors [litters to carry statues] made, for the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. I want you and Jacinta to carry one of them with two other girls. You will both dress in white. And then I want Francisco, with three boys helping him, to carry the other one. The boys, too, will be dressed in white. What is left over will help towards the construction of a chapel that is to be built here,` She said. Finally, the children asked the Holy Mother to cure some people who cried out for relief from sickness and infirmity. `Some I will cure during the year.` She then looked sadly at the children. `Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.` She then disappeared.

By September 13, the word had spread so far and wide that nearly 30,000 people had arrived at the Cova for the next apparition. The Virgin Mary appeared as She had in months past, assuring the children that many who asked for cures to their ailments would be healed, while some would not. `Continue the Rosary, my children. Say it every day that the war may end. In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is pleased with your sacrifices, but He does not want you to wear the cords to bed. Keep them on during the day.` Finally, She said to come back next month, as She would perform a miracle that `all would believe`.

On October 13, tens of thousands of pilgrims packed the Cova, even though it had rained heavily the night before. The road between Fatima and Leiria was clogged with traffic from automobiles, horses and people simply walking to the Cova. Noon had come and gone, and no sign of the Virgin Mary. Eventually, a flash of light lit up the sky, and She appeared. The following transcript is as follows, related by Lucia Santos:

`What do you want of me?`

`I want a chapel built here in my honor. I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day. The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes.`

`Will you tell me your name?`

`I am the Lady of the Rosary.`

`I have many petitions from many people. Will you grant them?`

`Some I shall grant, and others I must deny. People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!`

`And is that all you have to ask?`

`There is nothing more.`

At this moment, the clouds, which had been gray and obscuring the sun due to the rainstorms, parted and a `soft spinning disk of silver` illuminated the sky. `Look at the sun!` Lucia cried. The children saw the apparition; the pilgrims (estimated at over 70,000) saw the spinning silver disk in the sky.

Lucia wrote in her memoir, `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 (Dolors). 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.` By this time, Francisco and Jacinta had died, and Lucia took the apparition she saw in 1920 as an urging to become a Carmelite nun.

The newspaper O Dia sent reporters to the event and published their account four days later, on October 17, 1917:

`At one o`clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in colour, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground....

`The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly, and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of the women. They were repeated on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.`