The events at Fatima in 1917 were momentous. The apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima and the subsequent public Miracle of the Sun were events which were unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church. Not since the very public outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people of Jerusalem at Pentecost had people witnessed such a public miracle.
Many people had and still have doubts about the reality of the apparitions of Our Lady. As with previous apparitions of Our Lady the Church as made very clear that these are private revelations and which are not binding on the faithful. Private revelations are examined for doctrinal consistency with the Faith of the Church and if there is no contradiction, the faithful may believe in them without prejudice. It is a matter of purely human prudent judgement as to the supernatural nature of them, rather than the infallible grace of Faith.
But what is outstanding about the events at Fatima, is that the authenticity of the revelations were reinforced by an announced, dated and timed miracle made so evidently present to the 70,000 of the public. And the messages contained in the Secrets of Fatima involve historical events which impact not only interpretations of the terrible world wars of last century, but also point to the continuing non-resolved political and religious issues of this century – the spread of the “errors of Russia”.
There is a tendency among some 21st Century commentators on Fatima to treat the message of Fatima as complete with the fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 20th Century. However, Our Lady did not mention the word Communism, but the errors of Russia. The Church has been under constant and growing and seemingly victorious attack by the forces of irreligion and immorality for more than 200 years, and in some ways stronger now because of the wide public acceptance of the relativist secular modern state of the 21st Century. The prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima can be seen as a more insistent and urgent call from God – among a continuum of apparitions of Our Lord and Our Lady through the centuries – of how to meet these dangers, the latest of which had been the rise of Atheistic Communism, but which is part also of a continuum of the forces of irreligion.
The messages of Our Lady at Fatima remain just as urgent for us today. Fr De Marchi’s book details the events surrounding Fatima in such a way as to capture the authenticity of the children’s accounts.
Fr De Marchi details his narrative with conversations: direct and reported. He includes contemporary documents as well. This is important. We are given first-hand reports from different people on the same event. All this primary source material ensures that the reader is given the facts. Much use is made of Dr Formigao’s and Ti Marto’s observations, who were eye-witnesses to the events.
We have reformatted the text so that reported conversations and documented evidence are clearly set out from the main text. Furthermore, we have added a greater number of linked headings than was in the original, so that reader may find topics of interest more readily.
We have added three extra appendices: newspaper reports of the unknown light – the aurora of January 1938; the texts of the First and Second Secrets; and the text and commentary on the Third Secret, which was not included when this book was originally published.
Giovanni (John) De Marchi
The following is an edited account of Father De Marchi’s life and works from written by Father Giovanni Tebaldi in 2006 – three years after Father De Marchi’s death.
Our Founder [of the Consolata Missionaries IMC], Blessed Joseph Allamano had only just died when Giovanni De Marchi entered the minor seminary at Camerletto on November 15, 1926.
His whole life was a series of coincidences and chance encounters. He was born on July 21, 1914 in a small village, Belluno, Riva d’Arsie, in the diocese of Padua. He studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Institute of Propaganda Fide in Rome and was awarded a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (1933-1942). He was ordained to the priesthood on March 13, 1937. From 1943 to 1951 he was the superior and director of first Portugal and then the United States. From 1963 to 1970 he worked in the diocese of Nyeri as secretary to the bishop, Carlo Cavallera, and from 1970 to 1982 he was the first Consolata missionary working in Ethiopia.
In 1943 Father Giovanni De Marchi was sent by the Institute to establish contact with the Bishops of Portugal.
Father De Marchi went to the small village of Fatima as a solitary pilgrim; he was a guest of the Soledade sisters and Rosina Freitas who gave him Portuguese lessons. In times of inactivity he started writing two novels: Titiri (1945) and The Daughter of Bramane (1946). Aventino Oliveira was his close companion in those early days and recalls vividly how the people of Fatima would observe the young bearded priest who rode an old bicycle to nearby villages, went to the chapels each morning to celebrate Mass, and would seek out benefactors who would help him acquire land. Initial contact was limited to silent looks but soon became friendly dialogue.
On October 3, 1944, before construction work had begun, he opened a minor seminary dedicated to Saint Joao Brito for some twelve boys. He began to write about the Fatima apparitions: Foi aos pastorinhos que a Virgem falou, Seminario das Missoes de Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Cova da Iria, Fatima, 1945; The Crusade of Fatima, Minnesota 1948; Fatima, The Facts, Cork 1950; The Shepherd of Fatima, N.Y. 1952; The True Story of Fatima, Minnesota 1956; The True Story of Our Lady of Fatima – The Immaculate Heart, N.Y. His major work was Era uma Senhora mais brilhante que o sol – 18 editions in Portuguese, 15 in Italian, 13 in English, 11 in Spanish, 8 in French and 1 in Polish, edited by Father Witold Malej, Matka Najiswi rosmawiaa pastuskmi (1988).
In 1949 Father De Marchi traveled with the Pilgrim Virgin to the United States and with the help of friends and benefactors he raised funds for building a seminary. The Archbishop of Aveiro, Msgr. Joao Evangelista de Lima Vidal inaugurated the first part of this new seminary and congratulations reached Father De Marchi from as far away as Mozambique.
The Institute was well established in Portugal: on March 31, 1948 there were thirty-five high school students. After attending the 1949 Chapter, Father De Marchi went to the US, visited the missions in Africa, prepared publicity material, and sent aid to the people of Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. In the United States he gave talks in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston and founded the Rainbow Mission News newsletter. In May 1950 he returned to Portugal.
[At the end of his missionary life in the late 1980s] Father De Marchi’s health began to decline. In an interesting article Father Aventino Oliveira repeats something De Marchi said in confidence: “When I am no longer able to work, may Our Lady make me blind so I can go back to Fatima and spend the rest of my life listening to pilgrim confessions.” And this is what happened. As he had wished he died at Fatima on January 1, 2003, on the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. He was 88 years old, a professed religious for 69 years and a priest for 65.
What others say …
Father Norberto Ribeiro Louro in the name of the General Council wrote to the Regional Superior of Portugal, Father Luis Tomas: “…The man who has left us was genuinely charismatic, he was a missionary pioneer on three continents who overcame the greatest of difficulties with ease. At the same time he could recede into the background with a modesty that knew no pretensions. He had the simplicity and Gospel innocence of children and doves. He looked upon his own enormous accomplishments as insignificant and of little consequence. He was right in not wanting to leave Fatima. He shared the message of Senhora mais brilhante que o Sol [The Lady who was brighter than the sun.] His own life reflected the simplicity and transparency of those shepherds to whom Our Lady spoke. With the name of Our Lady of Fatima in his heart and on his lips, and with the simplicity of the young shepherds in his heart he penetrated hearts and areas that were closed to others.”
“In a relatively brief period in 1945 he prepared a book on the Fatima apparitions, Era uma Senhora mais brilhante que o Sol. Father De Marchi was revealed as a skillful, moving, passionate and brilliant writer. Without exaggerating this book was historically important and became a best-seller. There were numerous translations. Father’s account of events was the definitive description of the Fatima apparitions.” (Father Giuseppe Mina).
Through no gift of the author’s, but by the divine power, this is one of the very great stories of modern times. The remarkable events occurring near Fatima, Portugal, in the months from May to October, 1917, gain significance and new meaning with every passing day; the friends and followers of Our Lady of Fatima, for whom this volume speaks, increase each year by numberless legion in prayerful certitude that what we are revealing here is true.
The author is a witness to this truth, having lived at Fatima for many years, and this plain book’s pretension to importance is that it is able to present for the first time to Americans the full and documented background against which God has written His own prescription for peace.
Much of this account is lovely and can be counted on to fulfil almost anyone’s story-book expectations, as it tells of the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. But it is also a divinely serious narrative recalling, to the likely discomfort of many, the reality of heaven and hell, and bringing to necessary attention other primary matters too often and too long placed out of mind. It is hoped that this book, in its completeness, will provide a kind of text on Fatima, and the author feels obliged, in the face of such ambition, to list the documents on which it has been based.
I have used the Portuguese newspapers of the period, especially the Seculo, the Diario de Noticias, and the Mundo, all at the time important pro-government journals, anticlerical [secularist] in both policy and tone. They describe the drama of the reported apparitions from a purely secular, non-religious point of view, giving a graphic, if at times a somewhat tongue-in-cheek coloration to those initial pilgrimages to the field called the Cova da Iria, near Fatima, when it was first alleged that the Mother of God had appeared to three peasant children. It is worth noting that the Catholic press at this time was hardly less sceptical.
A considerable portion of this book is based on the writings of the Portuguese priest, Dr Manuel Formigao, whose first work on the subject, entitled Os Episodios Maravilhosos de Fatima (The Marvellous Events of Fatima), appeared in 1921. It is a faithful, painstaking account of the good priest’s many interviews with the children, and of the impression they made upon him.
In 1919, when Bishop Jose Alves Correia da Silva took possession of the newly restored diocese of Leiria, embracing, among other mountain villages, the parish of Fatima, he set up without delay a canonical inquiry into the apparitions, and the most important testimony supplied in the succeeding months and years were these:
The interrogations of the three children by their local pastor, Father Manuel Ferreira, after each of the apparitions from June to October, 1917. These interviews had been carefully recorded by Father Ferreira at the time, and provided a most valuable reference. It should perhaps be mentioned that the puzzled pastor, while performing this chore for posterity, believed in the apparitions no more than he believed in Santa Claus.
The official canonical questioning of Lucia followed in 1924. New information broadened the picture. A letter written to his fiancée by Dr Carlos Mendes on September 8, 1917, was helpful.1 Many other witnesses appeared, testifying with amazing consistency to the human, if not the supernatural drama, described in this book. Lucia, during these years of close investigation, had entered the College of Vilar, at Oporto, Portugal, which was directed by the Congregation of Dorothean Sisters. Later she joined their community at Tuy, Spain, and it was here, as a lay sister, that she wrote her memoirs in obedience to the orders of the bishop of Leiria. One could not possibly overvalue these documents, which are four in number and were written in 1936, 1937, 1941 and 1942. The first of her memoirs is mainly a biography of her beloved cousin, Jacinta, granting to a serious student only the barest reference to the apparitions.
[1. A Letter From Dr Mendes To His Fiancée, written in September, 1917, See appendix.]
In the second of her memoirs we first find a detailed account of supernatural experience, and then, almost casually, in 1937, a first reference to the apparitions of the angel. After twenty years of total silence, this particular revelation did not fall lightly, but rather like a bomb.
Lucia’s third memoir was richer still. From it many new facts emerge, among them a reference to the famed aurora borealis of January 25, 1938, which in her own view was the sign preceding the outbreak of the Second World War, foretold by our Lady in the apparition of June, 1917.
Finally, having been ordered by the bishop to set down a definitive and complete account of everything she remembered, Sister Lucia, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of that same year, 1942, after imploring the grace to write with precision and exactitude, began the fourth and most extensive of her memoirs, including all the circumstances and all the details of the apparitions of the angel as well as the more celebrated visits of our Lady to the Cova da Iria in 1917.
It might seem that such abundant assistance from the one most qualified to speak would have been sufficient for a critical history of the apparitions. Yet there still remained some points of obscurity that prompted a series of interviews with Sister Lucia by serious students of Fatima.
Unquestionably the one marked virtue of the book you are about to read is that it has been checked for truth and exact detail by Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, who is today (having transferred from the Dorothean Order) a Carmelite nun, and appears almost certainly destined to be a saint of God. [Sister Lucia died on February 13, 2005.] She is the author’s friend, and she has walked with him in that blessed countryside where once, within the lifetime of so many of us now living, she talked with Mary, the Mother of God.
In writing this book, the author enjoyed the incomparable privilege of living at Fatima from 1943 until 1950, and for this reason was able to question at undisturbed length the most important eyewitnesses to the great events of 1917. I would like to express my gratitude to all of the many who helped me.
In these pages you will meet Senhor Manuel Pedro Marto, the father of Jacinta and Francisco, who will be known throughout the text as Ti Marto.2 He’s a sweet old man whose health, like an old mahogany tree, has conquered the years. [Manuel died on February 3, 1957.] Living with him still, and my valued friend, is his wife, Olimpia [who died on April 13, 1956.] Others among my friends and collaborators are Senhora Maria dos Anjos [who died on August 26, 1986], the eldest sister of Lucia; her sisters, Carolina and Gloria, and lastly, among my most indispensable assistants, Senhora Maria Carreira, known in these pages as Maria da Capelinha, or Mary of the Chapel, who died in March of 1949. Still living, and holding me in his debt, is her son John, at present the sacristan of the Chapel of the Apparitions.
[2. The title, or designation, Ti, is a customary form of address in the country villages of Portugal, appropriate to a man who is of the village and its traditions; it is not a form held suitable to men of wealth and education, or, for that matter, touring Americans.]
It was through these good people, more than through books, that I came to know the true flavour and the undercurrents of the real Fatima story. For instance, every Sunday, for six consecutive months, after he had recited his Rosary at the shrine, old Ti Marto would come and talk with me of his Jacinta and Francisco. Certainly he never spoke of them as saints, nor with a penny’s worth of pious posturing. He would just talk of the children he had fathered and loved, and in a very practical, non-sentimental way, of other characters who populate this book, of the parish priest “… his reverence, who didn’t believe and didn’t want the rest of us to believe”; of the mayor-administrator, a valid villain in those distant days, still living, and perhaps improving, but toward whom Ti Marto in his charity holds no bitterness. These and other subjects he would pursue with great and scrupulous care for the truth. “We must not exaggerate, Father, nor squeeze out of this any more than is really there,” he would caution me.
Rarely does Ti Marto hear a chapter or a passage read from a book on Fatima without either correcting some small detail, or else adding a helpful note. “It wasn’t exactly like that!” he will interrupt, and then go on with a calm resume of what really occurred. When I asked him if he did not feel a certain pride in being father to such privileged children as Jacinta and Francisco, the old man sincerely shrugged this distinction away. “Our Lady just happened to choose this part of the world,” he said, “when she could well have appeared to others. They just happened to be mine, that’s all.”
It is very possible that Ti Marto’s narratives may contain some slight confusions and mistakes. Indeed, to claim a kind of infallibility for this good old man would be absurd. Yet I can assure you that to the best of his ability he has been accurate, and I can further testify that everything I have been able to check with independent witnesses supports him. In this respect the distinguished work on Fatima by the German priest, Dr Luis Fischer, Die Botschaft unserer lieben Frau von Fatima, underscores the memory and reliability of Ti Marto. A professor at Hamburg University, Dr Fischer visited Fatima some seventeen years ago to investigate the facts and to write his own scholarly account. Reading it now, we find no contradiction between his testimony and that of Ti Marto. More remarkably, however, we find the same hesitation and difficulty over small and unclarified details, the same words giving trouble – eloquent testimony, it seems to me, that where memory or detail have defeated Ti Marto, no compulsion to be a prophet or an expert has tempted him to gloss over these difficulties. Of his wife Olimpia, of Maria dos Anjos, of Senhora Carreira and the others, I can say the same.
Now it should be kept in mind that most of these good people are illiterate, and entirely subject to what they hear. Suspecting that their own experiences might well have blended through the years with things they had heard, I was alert to detect any mixture of fact and legend. The truth is that none of them, even the older ones, have tripped into confusion between their own personal experiences and what has recently come to light through Lucia’s memoirs. When questioned about these new disclosures, the invariable reply was simply, “I know nothing of that.” And yet, of course, it would have been so natural for certain suggestive processes to have been set in motion by all the recent disclosures of the children’s private penances, their heroic sanctity, the apparitions of the angel, and other matters. “We knew nothing of these things,” Ti Marto declares. “Nothing about the cords they wore to bed, nor about their going without food in the fields, Father… nothing, nothing. Even after the apparitions of our Lady, I always thought that the children were very little different from other children.”
But as time and accruing evidence make manifestly clear, there occurred in Fatima in 1916-1917 a series of great supernatural events. Three small children saw an angel three times, and they received eucharistic Communion from his hands. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ appeared to them at least six times, and spoke with them as a friend and mother, and confided to them a secret of universal interest and importance.
But what of this child, Lucia, now grown to womanhood, upon whose disclosures so much of this story depends? What is she like? What, indeed, must anyone be like, who is confidante to the Queen of Heaven? Ethereal? Wispy in nature? Soft and white as angel cake? A little bit crazy?
The mature Lucia is my friend. She has an absolutely normal personality and is as real as a plate of cookies. As this book will make clear, she is neither gifted nor beautiful by the usual standards, and if I were obliged to point out her outstanding natural characteristic I would say it was her gaiety. No one has been able to detect in her the least sign of morbid temperament or exclusive self-concern. Her daily life, by the testimony of her superiors, presents nothing singular.
“She is an eminently practical religious,” I have been told. “The negation, we may say, of poetic idealism.”
Actually, I can testify that the impression of nearly everyone who meets Lucia for the first time is one of disappointment, since we are all so impatiently eager to detect some trace of a halo or else to presuppose some other strange mark of the supernatural. In Lucia, if in anyone, the idea of pseudo-mysticism must be rejected.3 Her manner of speech and of expression, whether by the spoken word, or her handwriting, which is certainly commonplace, all testify to complete psychological balance and a mentality entirely free from odd neuroses. To my utter belief in Lucia as a truthful witness, I feel obliged to add the acuteness of her memory, a faculty I have tested numerous times. I recommend her to your complete confidence.
[3. My years in the priesthood have more than once afforded an opportunity for the study of pseudo-mysticism, and I can affirm with every confidence that false mystics and Sister Lucia are strangers far apart.]
Now what of Fatima, the place, which has become in recent years one of the great shrines of Christendom? Knowing well that in Europe there are shrines as old as the footprints of the apostles, we must realise that Fatima, against this ancient calendar, is almost as new as jet propulsion or nylon shirts. It belongs to our era and it treats of our problems, as the following chapters will disclose. Yet Fatima, the modern shrine, holds a look of great age, resting as it does in the timeless hills of a people whose pedestrian culture was old before America, as a nation, was ever born.
The village is small. Except in times of special pilgrimage it is likely that its population could be loosely lodged in a large New York hotel. The pilgrim in pursuit of quaintness will most certainly be rewarded. He will find donkeys and oxen moving around with the calm assurance of four-legged Chevrolets, and observe among the people customs far older than anyone’s memory. The pilgrim will see ladies walking barefoot on their country paths with queenly straightness, all the while supporting on their casual coiffures jugs of wine that well might test a strong man’s back, or oranges in heaps that you would not at first believe. Fittingly enough, it resembles a movie set done with Hollywood thoroughness, with the script ripped boldly from a Bible history book.
There must be some reason then, why Fatima, which appears as undisturbed a place as any in the western world, has been able to draw to itself on certain days more pilgrims than have ever crowded, as excess population, the city of Rome itself – with Rome’s great treasures, glories, and long tradition as the heart and mind of the Church. A million people (a number equal to one-seventh of the total Portuguese population) have assembled within and about the rocky field near Fatima that is known as the Cova da Iria.
There are no hotel accommodations nor any other shelter for those who come to Fatima at these extraordinary times. There is only this open field and the surrounding slopes of the simple countryside to provide a resting place. Customarily, on these few great occasions, the pilgrims arrive the night before the scheduled devotions. Often it has rained the length of the night, as though to test the fibre of the faithful. It seems fair enough, on the evidence, to say that Christian devotion has never in modern times exceeded the fervour of these demonstrations in the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth day of May or October in any of recent years.
There are not many striking or ornamental sights to see. At Fatima the edifice of greatest interest is perhaps the least of the structures there. This is the Chapel of the Apparitions – simple, surely inexpensive, and likely enough no larger than your living room at home. Its glory exists in nothing but the events it commemorates. The lone touch of grandeur at the Cova da Iria will be found in the great basilica that has risen above the humble land. This is a crowning structure in the manner of the Italian Renaissance, stately and reverent in its setting, and built of the stone, the labor, and the love these hills have returned to their Lady for the visits she paid them less than 40 years ago.
In the classic pattern of great Catholic shrines, remarkable and documented cures have been effected at Fatima. People seem either unduly devoted to miracles or else made furious by stories concerning them, but a great shrine without miracles would be to many like a song that lacked a lyric.
There is clinical certainty that at Fatima the blind have had sight restored, while men and women stretcher-borne have risen from their litters to cry hosannas to the Power that can in one moment banish cancer, loosen the fist of the tightest paralysis, or render whole and clean the shrunken lungs of abandoned tuberculars. More than a hundred contradictions of the natural physical law have been registered at Fatima, and held to be valid only after the most exhaustive and scrupulous examination of all available evidence. The author has himself been present at many miraculous cures, but to those who do not require the spangles of visible prodigy to know that God is in His heaven, the spiritual message of Fatima remains of infinitely greater importance.
The true meaning of Fatima is that God has spoken to us through Mary, the Blessed Mother of His Son. We should pause long enough to reflect that it is not strange for God to speak to us, since He loves us far more than the best of us loves Him. Through all human history He has given His counsel to the conduct of our lives, His light to our doubts, and finally, through Calvary, the blood of His only-begotten Son as a ransom for our sins. Angels and prophets and saints have spoken for Him, but the most glorious of His messengers has been Mary.
At Fatima the world has received, through Mary, God’s own prescription for peace. As to another Bethlehem, all hope and charity are carried in her to the lonely Portuguese hills, and to the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, whose total and wonderful story I am privileged to tell.
John De Marchi, I.M.C.