In the year 1917, in a mountainous region at the center of Portugal, the Mother of God appeared six times to three young children. Elsewhere on the continent the “Great War” raged, that would cost Europe an entire generation, over 37 million lives. Besides sending her own sons to die (in France and North Africa) Portugal was in political chaos at home. There was a dizzy succession of governments following a revolution in 1910. The monarchy had been replaced by a republic, with a new liberal constitution separating Church from state. Government officials, under the influence of Freemasonry, were not sympathetic to the Faith. But for the people themselves, the Faith was the air they breathed, as in the village of Aljustrel, a collection of whitewashed houses on a dusty road in the parish of Fatima.
There Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were born and raised in homes where the catechism was their daily bread, stories from the Bible their recreation, and the word of the village priest was law. Lucia de Jesus Santos was born, the youngest of seven children, to Antonio and Maria Rosa Santos, on 22 March 1907. She was a plain child with sparkling eyes and a magnetic personality, a natural leader to whom other children looked with confident affection. Blessed with an excellent memory, Lucia was able to learn her catechism, and make her First Communion and Confession, at age six. She herself became a catechist at nine. Lucia would be the constant guide and companion to her first cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, through the trials that accompanied the apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Almost eight months had passed since the last apparition of the Angel. Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta continued to practice what the Angel had taught them, praying and offering sacrifices to the Lord. Lucia was now ten years old, Francisco would be nine in June and Jacinta had just turned seven in March, when on May 13th, 1917, they chose to pasture their sheep in a hilly depression owned by Lucia’s father and known as the Cova da Iria, or Cove of Irene. It was there, with one exception, that the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary appeared on six occasions in 1917, and a seventh time in 1920 (to Lucia alone).
As important as the place and the time is the situation of the world. At that moment the First World War raged in Europe, introducing mankind to the most savage forms of warfare seen to that date. In far off Moscow Lenin prepared the revolution that would overturn the Russian social order in November 1917 and eventually engulf almost half the peoples of the earth. It was in that context that heaven condescending to earth to provide the antidote to the moral and social evils of the world - the message of Fatima.
Message of Fatima
The most important dimension of the Fátima event was not the supernatural and preternatural phenomena but the content and the meaning of the message communicated to the children. By following this message their spiritual lives were elevated to the heights of sanctity, to which the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco testifies, and the hope and possibility of the conversion of the world from its ruinous course was offered to mankind.
This message can be seen as comprising two essential elements, to which all others can be related in some way. The first of these elements is the singular role of the Immaculate One in the economy of salvation, a dogmatic fact. God does not have whims, and so the request of the Almighty that devotion to the Immaculate Heart be established in the world must be founded on reality and presumes that such devotion is justly given to the Mother of God.
The second of these elements involves the practical order, the value of devotion to the Immaculate Heart for the individual life and for the future of the human race. To this element are connected the various spiritual practices encouraged by the Angel and by the Lady, as well as the prophetic content of the message, upon which the fate of the world depends. Without the first element, the dogmatic, the practical dimension of the message of Fátima would be entirely arbitrary.