Now, in September, exhausted by trial, the children thirsted for the consolation of their Lady. There was no comparable nourishment. All hope and faith and love were one with the Lady who came dressed in the light of her Son. A scathing disrespect for the apparitions continued to thrive in Aljustrel, even though, beyond the parish, the faithful multiplied. The courage and constancy of the children before the mayor had affected many, as had the strange phenomena of light observed in the Cova da Iria the month before.
Today the pilgrims came in rather remarkable array, and by noontime there were 30,000 in the crude, natural bowl of the Cova da Iria. Even at dawn the roads near Fatima were reported blocked with the faithful, most of them devoutly reciting their beads.
A witness has told us:
It was a pilgrimage really worthy of the name. It was a profoundly moving sight. I had not in all my life seen such a demonstration of faith. At the place of the apparitions, all the men had removed their hats. Nearly everyone knelt and said the Rosary with clear devotion.
A young seminarist of the time, present in the Cova with a group of his fellow students, has recalled the day for us:
On the 13th of September our long vacation was nearly over and we didn’t want to go back to the seminary without having visited this place of which we had heard so much. A group of four or five of us set out on foot to see what would happen.
We returned, tired but very happy. There were quite a number of seminarists in Fatima that day – some thirty, perhaps from various seminaries. And this should not have been surprising, because the same idea brought all of them there.
For a long time we went along, jumping from rock to rock and climbing walls and stiles, watching everything that went on and talking about it among ourselves. One of the priests, however, called us over to him, and warned us to be prudent about this affair. It could all be of diabolical origin, he explained, and, in any event, it would most likely end in a great fiasco. That was the attitude of most priests, anyhow.
Among the Catholic clergy present in the Cova da Iria that day was Monsignor John Quaresma, Vicar General of the diocese of Leiria, who later became a member of the Canonical Inquiry into Fatima instituted by the bishop. A letter written by him in 1932, gives a detailed and moving description of the impressions he carried away:
Fifteen years have passed since the extraordinary events of Fatima. Heavy clouds hung over Portugal and her people, while sadness and despair reigned in our country. In the midst of this darkness innumerable prayers were offered to God, asking for help and for mercy.
Men hoped for a ray of light in the storm which human passions had provoked. The Lord heard the prayer of His servants, and in the sky of Fatima there appeared, like the rainbow after the flood, a vision of Peace. The vision spoke to three children, and at once the terrible clouds began to disperse and souls breathed again as the burden of sadness was laid aside. Eyes, longing for the light, searched the skies where the morning star shone.
Now, may it not be that these simple children were mistaken? May they not have been victims of an illusion? Yet it is always possible that our Lady may come to earth to bring us a message. Could there be some truth in what the children said? How explain these ever-growing multitudes that filled the Cova every thirteenth day of the month declaring that they witnessed extraordinary phenomena?
So on a beautiful September morning we left Leiria in a rickety carriage drawn by an old horse, for the spot where the much-discussed apparitions were said to take place. Father Gois found the dominating point of the vast amphitheatre from which we could observe events, without approaching too nearly the place where the children were awaiting the apparition.
At midday there was complete silence. One only heard the murmur of prayers. Suddenly there were sounds of jubilation and voices praising the Blessed Virgin. Arms were raised pointing to something in the sky. “Look, don’t you see?”
“Yes, yes, I do… !” Much satisfaction on the part of those who do. There had not been a cloud in the deep blue of the sky and I, too, raised my eyes and scrutinised it in case I should be able to distinguish what the others, more fortunate than I, had already claimed to have seen.
With great astonishment I saw, clearly and distinctly, a luminous globe, which moved from the east to the west, gliding slowly and majestically through space. My friend also looked, and had the good fortune to enjoy the same unexpected and delightful vision. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light, disappeared.
Near us was a little girl dressed like Lucia, and more or less the same age. She continued to cry out happily: “I still see it! I still see it! Now it’s coming down… !”
After a few minutes, about the duration of the apparitions, the child began to exclaim again, pointing to the sky: “Now it’s going up again!” – and she followed the globe with her eyes until it disappeared in the direction of the sun. “What do you think of that globe?” I asked my companion, who seemed enthusiastic at what he had seen. “That it was our Lady,” he replied without hesitation.
It was my undoubted conviction also. The children had contemplated the very Mother of God, while to us it had been given to see the means of transport – if one may so express it – which brought her from heaven to the inhospitable waste of the Serra da Aire. I must emphasise that all those around us appeared to have seen the same thing, for one heard manifestations of joy and praises of our Lady. But some saw nothing. Near us was a simple devout creature, crying bitterly because she had seen nothing.
We felt remarkably happy. My companion went from group to group in the Cova and afterwards on the road, gathering information. Those he questioned -were of all sorts and kinds, and of different social standing, but one and all affirmed the reality of the phenomena which we ourselves had witnessed.
With immense satisfaction we set off for home after this pilgrimage to Fatima, firmly resolved to return on the 13th of October for further confirmation of these facts.
The impressions of Monsignor Quaresma on this day were confirmed by thousands of eyewitnesses who beheld the identical phenomena This is not carelessly stated. It is legitimately known. Other manifestations, strange and moving, were observed by many but not by all. The sudden freshening of the atmosphere that had attended prior apparitions, the midday sun paling strangely until stars were visible in the daytime sky; a falling of flower petals that somehow disintegrated and were gone before they could reach the earth.
As for Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, it had been a busy day. From the first hours of daylight the Marto and Santos houses had been overrun by petitioning pilgrims who had come all kinds of distances to lay their miseries and afflictions before the mercy of the Lady of Fatima. Lucia, in her memoirs, has recalled for us the hour of departure for the Cova da Iria:
When the time came, I left with Jacinta and Francisco, but we were surrounded by so many people that we could hardly move along. The roads were packed, and it seemed as if every. one wanted to see us and speak to us. Ladies and gentlemen, as well as simple people, struggled to break through the crowd to us, and when they succeeded, they would fall on their knees before us, begging us to place their petitions before our Lady. Many who couldn’t get close to us, shouted from a distance.
“For the love of God,” I can remember one saying, “ask our Lady to cure my crippled son!”
“And mine who is deaf!” another would shout. “And mine who is blind!”
It went on like that. They asked to have their sons and husbands brought back from the war. They asked for the conversion of some particular sinner. They asked for the cure of consumption. They asked for everything. Every ailment of humanity seemed to be paraded before us. Some climbed up into trees or to the tops of the walls to see us go by. Closer by, we tried to answer some of the people and to help others out of the dust where they were kneeling. We would not have been able to move at all if some hadn’t worked hard to keep an opening in the crowd.
It was almost time now, and they came down through the crowd to the cleared space by the little oak tree, like champions to a place of contest. They were comically small, and almost tragically sincere. If this was make-believe, it had been carried to a point of agony.
They knelt on the ground, then Lucia, her rosary in hand, began to lead the prayers. The responses of the faithful came in cadenced and increasing volume:
“Holy Mary, Mother of God….”
Now, while the beads were being told, the crowd could see the children rise from their knees and face to the east, and see the wonder come alive upon their faces. A moment while the children waited, watching, watching, their eyes on the oak tree now, their joy like a flame. They had fallen to their knees again, and people, close to Lucia, heard her say:
“What do you want of me?”
But for Lucia and her cousins there were no people. Their senses could not wholly accommodate the Queen of Heaven standing in gentle courtesy above them. There was room for nothing more. Neither smiling nor grave, the Lady gave her simple, direct, and unadorned instructions:
“Continue the Rosary, my children. Say it every day that the war may end.“
“Is that all?”
No, there was more, because the Lady repeated all she had told them the month before, reminding them that in October they would see Saint Joseph with the Holy Child. God Himself would be seen and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Our Lady of Dolours would appear.
The Lady paused. Her triumphant beauty softened, her voice became more tenderly maternal.
“God is pleased with your sacrifices,” she said, “but He does not want you to wear the cords to bed. Keep them on only in the day.“
Lucia, whose eyes had been lowered during the Lady’s statement of God’s approval of their sacrifices, dared now to raise her glance.
“I have the petitions of many for your help,” she said. “Will you assist a little girl who is deaf and dumb?”
“She will improve within the year,” the Lady said.
“And the conversions that some have asked to have brought about? The cures of the sick ones?”
“Some I will cure,” the Lady said, “and some I will not. Our Lord does not trust them all.“
Lucia, obedient and satisfied, accepted this decision. She then remembered the desires of Maria da Capelinha and other pious women who had believed in the apparitions from the beginning.
“Would you like a small chapel to be built here with the money the people have left?” she asked.
“Yes. I would like a small chapel built in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary. But tell them to use only half the money for this. The other half is to be for the andors that you already know about.“
Lucia’s thoughts turned inward to personal problems.
“So many believe that I am an impostor and a cheat,” she said, “that they say I deserve to be hanged and burned. Will you please perform a miracle so that all of them can believe?”
“In October,” the Lady said, repeating her earlier promise, “I will perform a miracle that will permit everyone to believe.
The interview was over. The vision rose as before, and Lucia, beholding her Lady, called to the crowd, “If you wish to see her – look! Look!”
And they gazed, of course, as the child directed. They saw no Lady, but many did see the radiant globule of light that marked her path from the wretched little oak tree to the firmament, of which she was the Queen. In wonder they watched the ball of light move down the valley, gradually rising until it appeared to have joined the light of the sun itself. After a silence, their emotions overflowed, and the crowd noise poured like a wild surf over the parched heights of the serra. The children’s parents struggled to salvage them from the pressing weight of the mob. Long hours after, until and beyond the welcome fall of night, the frantically faithful besieged the three small children in their homes at Aljustrel.