Innocence, joy, and expectation, remained for Francisco and Jacinta, but for Lucia it did not. Doubt multiplied with every reference by her mother or Father Ferreira to the devil and his sharp connivance. On the eve of the great day, with the pilgrims coming from all sections of the mountainside, her despair had mounted to such proportions that she announced to her cousins her decision not to go to the Cova da Iria on the following day. The children were shocked; they looked betrayed; only their love for their Lady was able to rally them to defiance of Lucia, who had guided all their actions till now.
“We will go anyhow,” Jacinta said. “And if you’re not there to do it, I will speak to the Lady.”
Lucia said softly, “Why are you crying, Jacinta?”
“Why? Why do you think?” Her tears, as big as lemon drops, continued to fall. “Because you won’t come with us, that’s why.”
“I’m afraid to go.”
“But why be afraid? The Lady will expect you, Lucia.”
“I know that she will.”
Lucia had never really doubted that the Lady would be there. The question that held her in terror was not one of presence, but of identity. Who was the Lady? And by whom was she sent?
“If she asks for me, Jacinta, you tell her why I’m not there. Because I am afraid it is the devil who sends her to us!”
She turned from them and raced back to the seclusion of her own darkened room, away from her cousins’ tearful pleas, away from her own mother’s scolding and everlasting questions, away from Father Ferreira’s grim authority, away from the devils who plagued her days, and even invaded her dreams.
But on the next day, suddenly, like some dusty crepe raised from the corpse of hope, Lucia’s doubts were mercifully dissolved. She could not explain it, nor was she especially anxious to trace the source. The important thing was that faith and joy and hope were restored to her. Exactly when it was time to leave for the Cova da Iria, she ran, free of fear, to her cousins’ house.
“I’m coming!” she shouted. “I’m coming with you – wait!”
Olimpia Marto, the mother of Jacinta and Francisco, is today, in her eighties, a happily adjusted lady, free of all imagined care. She is by her very nature a genial assassin of gloom, and we are certain that in 1917 she was rarely, if ever, the victim of foolish fears.
Nonetheless, on this 13th day of July, with her youngest children gone from the house, she confessed her sudden terror. Long before noon the roads and lanes of the serra were crowded with pilgrims. It is likely that never before in her life had she seen an assemblage of so many people in one place. What if, among the thousands, there was one fanatic who might try to hurt her children? What if, among the thousands, there should prove to be, as Father Ferreira’s concern implied, one truly evil one? She ran in a kind of panic to Lucia’s mother.
“We must go after them, do you hear?” she pleaded with Maria Rosa. “We must go now, or perhaps we will never see them again!”
The more excitable, less optimistic Maria Rosa appears for some reason to have ridden this emotional storm with greater calm than her sister-in-law.
“Olimpia,” she said, “if our Lady really appears to them, she will look after them – no? And if not?” Here Maria Rosa shrugged her inability to deal with matters beyond her understanding, but her statement, as it stands, seems to be her first concession that there might, after all, be some truth in Lucia’s story. She decided to go with Olimpia to the Cova. To conceal their identities, they tossed their overskirts over their heads and approached the scene by a back road that was little used. Arriving there, they concealed themselves behind some rocks, each holding in her hand a blessed candle. “Because,” Olimpia has explained, “if we had seen anything evil, we were prepared to light them.”
Ti Marto also made this journey to the Cova da Iria, but in faith rather than fear, and openly, along the road where the press of the traffic was greatest.
This day I left home determined to see what would happen. I could not believe the children were telling lies. How many times I had said to my sister-in-law, “Maria Rosa, if people say all this is just the invention of the parents, you and I know it is not true. We have never encouraged them one bit, and even Father Ferreira says it could be the work of the devil!”
But what a crowd of people were there that day. I could not see the children, because there were so many people in the Cova by the tree. I kept getting closer to them, and then I could see two men, one of them from Ramila, and the other from Fatima, trying to make a barrier around the children so they would not be crushed. These men saw me and grabbed my arm and they called to the crowd, “Here is the father, let him through!” And so, down by the oak tree, I got close to my Jacinta. Lucia, I could see a little way off. She was saying the Rosary and the people were responding aloud. When the beads were finished, she jumped up suddenly. “Close your umbrellas,” she called to the people who were using them to shade the strong sunlight. “Our Lady is coming!” She was looking to the east and I was too, but I could not see anything at first. But then I saw what looked like a little greyish cloud resting on the oak tree. The heat of the sun was suddenly less severe. A fine fresh breeze was blowing, and it did not seem like the height of summer. The people were silent, terribly silent, and then I began to hear a sound, a little buzzing sound it was, like a mosquito in a bottle. I could not hear any words, but just this buzzing. I have often thought that talking on the telephone must sound like that, though I have never talked on one. What is this buzzing? I asked myself. Is it near or far away?
This buzzing sound, referred to by Maria da Capelinha on the occasion of the June apparition, and here by Ti Marto in July, and by countless witnesses in the subsequent and more widely attended apparitions, is too well established by responsible testimony, to be shrugged away. Like the little globule, or ball of light, that so many have attested marked the arrivals and departures of God’s living Mother at the small oak tree, it is part of the Fatima story, and part of truth – a gentle inference from heaven, rather than a blow. Exactly why God chooses to draw His pictures dimly for some, and with the-powerful light of creation for others, we do not pretend to know.
But for Lucia and her cousins there was no dimness. Now, above the little tree, the Lady stood. Her beauty taxed their senses. To Jacinta and Francisco, who had never doubted, it was joy renewed. But to Lucia it was more than that. It was a confirmation. It was a homecoming for the heart and spirit. It was everything. It was the Light of God reflected in His Mother. It was knowledge. It was the end of doubt.
“Lucia,” Jacinta said, “speak. Our Lady is talking to you.”
“Yes?” said Lucia. She spoke humbly, asking pardon for her doubts with every gesture, and to the Lady:
“What do you want of me?”
[The reader will note, and we hope without impatience or fatigue, that there is no cleverness to this story. The dialogue is always much the same. The Lady speaks her message with a sameness that an able stage director would discard. And yet she gives to all the world the one prescription that the world most needs.]
“I want you to come back here on the thirteenth of next month,” the Lady said. “Continue to say the Rosary every day in honour 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.“
“Yes,” said Lucia, “yes.”
She was braver now. Love had restored her. In her gladness she wished only to repair the damage of her recent distrust.
“I would like to ask who you are,” she said to the Lady, “and if you will do a miracle so that everyone will know for certain that you have appeared to us.”
“You must come here every month,” the Lady said, “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.”
Thus assured, Lucia began to place before the Lady the petitions for help that so many had entrusted to her. The Lady said gently that she would cure some, but others she would not cure.
“And the crippled son of Maria da Capelinha?”
“No,” the Lady said, neither of his infirmity nor of his poverty would he be cured, and he must be certain to say the Rosary with his family every day.14
Another case recommended by Lucia to the Lady’s assistance was a sick woman from Atougia who asked to be taken to heaven.
“Tell her not to be in a hurry,” the Lady said. [The tone here is almost like that of any harried mother importuned unreasonably.]
“Tell her I know very well when I shall come to fetch her.“
There is unquestioned sternness here, for at Fatima, time and again, our Lady made it unmistakably clear that she was speaking for a just and hideously wounded Christ, whose patience, if not exhausted by the sins of the world, had known such trial that even the Infinite had wearied. The Blessed Mother confided to Lucia and her cousins still another secret:15
“Make sacrifices for sinners,” she instructed them, “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.”
[14. If our Lady did not cure or enrich Maria’s son John, she at least ensured him a livelihood, since he is today sacristan of the Chapel of the Apparitions in the Cova da Iria.]
[15. This is the secret which was to cause the children so much suffering. Only after the death of Francisco (1919) and of Jacinta (1920) did Lucia reveal the first and second parts. As to the third part, only in 1960 shall we know what the Blessed Virgin told the children of Aljustrel. It is in the possession of the bishop of Leiria, written by Lucia, and placed in a sealed envelope. “It may seem,” she said later, “that I should have revealed these things sooner than I did and that their value would have been doubled. It might have been so if God had wished me to appear before the world as a prophetess, but such was not His Will. If it had been, He would not have ordered me to keep silence but to speak. I think our Lady only wished to make use of me to remind the world of the necessity of the avoidance of sin, and of reparation for so many offences against God by means of prayer and penance.”]
Lucia tells us in her memoirs:
As she spoke these words, the Lady opened her hands, as she had in the preceding months, but instead of the glory and beauty of God that her opened hands had shown us before, we now were able to behold a sea of fire. Plunged in this flame were devils and souls that looked like transparent embers; others were black or bronze, and in human form; these were suspended in flames which seemed to come from the forms themselves there to remain, without weight or equilibrium, amid cries of pain and despair which horrified us so that we trembled with fear. The devils could be distinguished from the damned human souls by the terrifying forms of weird and unknown animals in which they were cast.
Ti Marto, who was witnessing the actions of the children by the little oak tree in the Cova da Iria that day, recalls that Lucia gasped in sudden horror, that her face was white as death, and that all who were there heard her cry in terror to the Virgin Mother, whom she called by name.
The children were looking at their Lady in terror, speechless, and unable to plead for relief from the scene they had witnessed.
Sadly, but kindly now, the Lady told them:
“You have seen hell, where the souls of sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. This war will end, but if men do not refrain from offending God, another and more terrible war will begin. And when you see a night that is lit by a strange and unknown light, you will know it is the sign God gives you that He is about to punish the world with war and with hunger, and by the persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.16 To prevent this, I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month Communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world.
[16. Lucia recognised the sign of God in the extraordinary aurora borealis which illuminated the night sky on January 24-25, 1938. She was convinced that the world war was about to break out and did everything possible to hasten forward the recommendations of our Lady. But she was to be convinced that the hour of mercy had not yet arrived.]
“If my wishes are fulfilled,” the Lady continued, “Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred and the Holy Father will have much to suffer; certain nations will be annihilated. But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and the world will enjoy a period of peace. In Portugal the faith will always be preserved. Remember, you must not tell this to anyone except Francisco.“
The third apparition was over.
“Is there anything more that you want of me?” Lucia had asked the Lady.
“No, my child; there is nothing more for today.“
Ti Marto recalls:
In the Cova da Iria, we heard a great clap of thunder. The little arch that had been built to hold two lanterns trembled as though it was an earthquake. Lucia, who had been kneeling, got up very quickly with her skirts ballooning around her. She cried out, “There she goes, there she goes.” Then after a moment she quieted. “Now you can’t see her any more,” Lucia said. It was to me a great proof.
Now in the Cova the people crowded closer and closer to the children.
“When you were so frightened and sad, Lucia – what had the Lady said to you?”
“It is a secret,” she said truthfully.
“Is it a nice one?”
Lucia reflected, “For some people, yes,” she said. “For others, no.”
“Can’t you tell us what it is?”
“No, I could not. I could not possibly.”
The cool calm of the Lady’s presence no longer affected the day. Again the sun was glaring and pitiless. The people in a frenzy of interest, pious and vulgar, believing and impudent, prayerful and mocking, all pressed around the children, narrowing the circle, threatening to trample them, until they were rescued by Ti Marto and some others.
The children grasped with remarkable readiness, and held to themselves as their most precious possession, this insight to love and heroic sacrifice that their Lady had granted them. In the fields now, day upon arid and sun-blanched day, they chose to be by themselves. They led their sheep along paths but seldom travelled, and safely away from their critics, away from the endless questions and the crude, coarse comedy that seemed to them a blasphemy, they owned a world peculiarly their own.
“Jacinta,” Lucia asked one day, “what are you thinking of now?”
Jacinta looked up from where she was sitting. It was the sadness of her expression that had prompted the question.17
“I’m thinking of hell and of the poor sinners who go there,” Jacinta said. “Oh, Lucia, how sorry I am for all those souls. The people burning there like coals, I wonder – well why doesn’t our Lady show hell to those people who sin? If they could see it, wouldn’t they stop? Lucia, why didn’t you ask our Lady to show hell to them?”
[17. This conversation among the three children is a literal extract from Lucia’s Memoirs.]
“I didn’t think of it,” Lucia said, simply and sadly. She remained still, watching Jacinta, whose tears were flowing freely. She watched while her little cousin, moved with remorse, fell to her knees, repeating between her unfeigned sobs, the precise words of the prayer taught by the Lady:
“O my Jesus, forgive us and deliver us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.“
The sheep wandered quietly in search of grass amid the prickly weeds of the mountainside. Lucia and Francisco had joined Jacinta now. Prostrated on the ground they repeated endlessly:
“O my Jesus, forgive us and save us….“
Jacinta’s boundless zeal permitted her no rest. Looking tactfully at her cousin and her brother, she seemed to feel that with their fierce and heart-wrenching supplications, they could pierce the veil of heaven and, all by themselves, depopulate the pits of hell.
“Lucia! Francisco! We mustn’t stop our prayers to save poor souls! So many go to hell!” Her heart beat in endless pity for the damned, but her intelligence demanded reasonably to understand why people went to such a frightful and hideous place as they had seen.
“Lucia, what sort of sins do they commit?”
Lucia was not too much help. Frankly, she was not an expert. “I really don’t know, Jacinta. Missing Mass, I guess. Stealing, swearing, cursing….”
“Just for that they go there?”
“Well, I suppose so; it’s a sin.”
It was too much for Jacinta, who could not imagine in anyone, a folly or recklessness great enough to tempt the wrath of God. The dialogue continues, and it might assist the reader’s understanding of the children’s genuine zeal to know that this is not an approximate rendition by the author, but a verbatim extract from Lucia’s own scrupulous record. Now Francisco, dwelling on the remembered wonders of the June apparition, speaks to Lucia:
“Why did our Lady have a heart in her hand that poured out light that we knew was God? You were in the light that fell on the world, while Jacinta and I were in the light that shone up to heaven. Why?”
“Because,” Lucia told him, “you and Jacinta are going to heaven soon, and I am going to remain on earth for a time.”
“How long a time?”
“I don’t know – probably many years.”
“Did our Lady tell you that?”
“No, but I could tell from the light.”
“I could tell it, too,” Jacinta said eagerly, then added, with unqualified joy, “we’re going to heaven – oh, how wonderful, how lovely.” But then she stopped, and her thoughts were not for herself alone. Great pity welled in her with the realisation that heaven was not the destined home for everyone.
“You, Lucia – you’re going to stay here,” she said.
“Please, if our Lady permits you to, tell everyone of the horrors of hell. Make them stop their sins, Lucia.”
The hours of the morning passed. The dry earth baked like a biscuit. The dust lay heavy but undisturbed in the windless heat. Thirst tormented them, and there was no water.
“I’m thirsty,” Jacinta said, “but I am glad I can offer it for sinners.”
The hours of the afternoon were so mercilessly hot, that Lucia began to worry about these eager, but rather fragile, penitents in her charge. Their thirst was finally so punishing, that Lucia went to a nearby cottage and asked for water; yet when she returned with it there was a determined lack of customers.
“I don’t want it,” Francisco said firmly. “I want to offer my thirst for sinners.”
“But you need it,” Lucia said. “Both of you need it. Jacinta – you take it; be sensible.”
She might more easily have persuaded Jacinta to drink a pint of lava.
Lucia has written:
So I poured the water into a cavity in a big rock, so the sheep would be able to drink it, and then I went back and returned the jug to the woman in the cottage.
Other times, at the well in back of Lucia’s house, they sat in close communion, talking of their Lady and the wonders they had seen.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Lucia?” Jacinta asked. “The Lady said that through all your life her Immaculate Heart would be your comfort, and lead you to God. Do you hear what I said?”
Lucia nodded her head, agreeing that she had heard. But the tears were large, unmistakable on her cheeks. She turned to them both.
“I would so much rather go with you to heaven,” Lucia said.
Jacinta fell silent. It was something she could certainly understand. If, at the age of seven, she lacked ability to read in books, or to accomplish on a slate the least mysteries of arithmetic, she knew with a clarity beyond the science of many learned men, that death was not an end but a beginning. It meant a joyous passage into the keeping of God and His Mother. It was odd, though, she thought, how this Lady of Happiness was in so many ways a Lady of Sorrow, too.
“Lucia – do you remember how our Lady’s heart, when she showed it to us, was being pierced by thorns?”
“Surely, I do. It simply means that her heart is wounded by the sins of people, and she is asking them to be sorry, and to make up for their sins, so that God will not have to punish them too much. She can’t make people be good. They must themselves want to be good.”
Jacinta sighed. “The poor, poor Lady,” she said. “She asked that people go to Holy Communion to make up for sin. But how can I, Lucia, when I’m not allowed to go?”
“Father Ferreira,” Francisco said sadly, “he won’t let us.”
At other times, the better to concentrate on the things that filled their hearts, the children would separate, and it was on one of these occasions, while Jacinta sat alone, that she had a vision which disturbed her very much. When it had passed, and she was able to rouse herself, she called for Lucia, who was off a little distance, searching for wild honey with Francisco. Lucia returned, quite calm, and since it seemed to Jacinta impossible that she could be favoured with any experience that was not revealed to her cousin as well, she was puzzled.
“Lucia – didn’t you see the Holy Father?”
“You didn’t? Well, I don’t know how it happened, but I saw the Holy Father in a very big house. He was kneeling before a table. He had his hands held to his face and he was crying. I saw him get up and go to the door of the house, but when he got to the door there were a lot of people swearing horribly at him, and throwing stones. The poor Holy Father, Lucia – we must pray for him, too!”
Another place still favoured by the children, was the field called the Cabeco. It was not only the place where they had twice beheld the angel, but it had remained for them a secure, dependable shelter from the endless intrusions of curious people. Here, too, Jacinta had an experience not shared by her cousins. They had been prostrated on the ground, repeating and repeating the prayer of atonement taught to them by the angel, when suddenly Jacinta leaped up.
“Francisco! Lucia! Can’t you see all those streets and roads and fields that are filled with people? They are crying with pitiful hunger.18 And the Holy Father is in a church, praying to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Can’t you see him?” No, the others admitted, such a sight was not granted to them. There certainly appears not to have been any competitive striving for place or distinction among these three good friends of the Lord. The children were becoming famous. To some degree, beyond the parish of Fatima, they were venerated. Naturally, among the ignorant, there has always been a lively taste for hocus-pocus. Religious magic seems often to succeed where sound and ancient doctrine is neglected. It is easy to understand why Father Ferreira could not capitulate to the claims of these children. It is equally easy to see why the Church, officially, was obliged to ignore the events of Fatima as it would ignore the claims of the Hottentots to God’s private revelation. Meanwhile, however, the Marto household was doing a brisk trade in sheer curiosity.
[18. Perhaps the flight of the multitudes before the invading armies and the aerial bombardments of World War II. Perhaps the concentration camps of then and now?]
Ti Marto tells us:
Ladies kept coming to our house all dressed up in their fancy clothes and heaven only knows from where. They invaded our house and our privacy in such a way as would make you ashamed. Ugh! My! They were so curious. All they wanted to know was the secret. They would take Jacinta on their knees and keep bothering her with questions, tormenting her, never giving her any rest. A fine chance they had. You couldn’t get that secret out of my little girl with a corkscrew, believe me. They tried bribing her with presents when their pleading failed. All they did really was waste their own time and our time, too, since we had work to get done. Even our meals were disturbed.
Many fine gentlemen came to our house, but not to be kind or helpful. They came just to make fun of simple people like ourselves who could not read or write. Often it was the children who had the laugh on them. These proud people, poor things, they had no faith, so how could they believe in our Lady!
But when these cynical people came, it seemed as though the children knew beforehand what to do, and they would be off to hide before the people even put one foot in the door.
One day I was amused, I can tell you. A large family of curious people arrived in an automobile, and they came in, but like magic the children were gone. Lucia was under a bed and Francisco was hidden in the attic, like that, but my Jacinta, who had not been so quick, was caught. I remember that when these people had gone away, Lucia came out of her hiding place and said to Jacinta, “What did you tell them when they asked for me?”
“Why, I didn’t say anything, of course, Lucia. How could I? I knew where you were, and lying is a sin. But were they not silly people?”
Such questions they asked, I can tell you, Father. It was a shame some times. Like did our Lady have sheep and goats? Did our Lady eat cheese? These fancy people, with such questions as even ignorant ones wouldn’t ask.
The visiting clergy, it is recalled, were almost as much of a plague to the peace of the home, as were the graceless pryings of the uninstructed.
They kept questioning us and questioning us, and then, as if that were not enough, they would start all over, from the very beginning. Whenever we saw a priest coming, we did our best to escape, and when we were caught and had to oblige them, we offered it to God as one of our greatest sacrifices.
There were, of course, some pleasant exceptions to their dreary clerical callers, and the recollection of certain priests gives great happiness to Sister Lucia even now.
She has written:
One of them said to me: “You must love our Lord very much for all the graces and benefits He is giving to you.” His words were so gracious that I have never forgotten them and I have ever since then tried to say more or less constantly, “My God, I love You, and I thank You for the graces You have given me.”
They had other good friends, and needed them. Never was the biblical axiom – that prophets need not expect to prosper in their own backyards – more clearly underlined than in Aljustrel.
The worst trials fell to Lucia. Her mother’s brief solicitude, displayed on the day of the third apparition, did not last very long. This business of apparitions began to hit Maria Rosa where it hurt the most, in the stomach and the pocket. The family had always been poor. Their few plots of ground, much of it in the Cova da Iria, had been the source of their daily bread. At best, their supply of maize and beans and olives and acorns had been modest, but now, with swarms of pilgrims trampling the miserable acres of the Cova, it meant a grim farewell to their produce. People in their hob-nailed shoes, or blithely astride their donkeys and mules, not only destroyed the existing crops, but kissed to death any prospect of new planting in the wretched earth.
My mother did not spare my feelings. She was loud in her lamentations. “When you want something to eat.” she would tell me, “you had better ask your Lady!” And my sisters:
“You can have what comes from the Cova da Iria,” they used to tell me.
Sympathy and saintly endurance seem not to have been controlling traits in the Santos family. Lucia was hounded to such an extreme of timidity, that she dared not reach for a piece of bread at the table. Her older sisters, who ordinarily contributed to the family income from the receipts of their sewing and weaving, found themselves unable to pursue these profitable tasks. The daily swarm of visitors required the attention of some, and others were obliged to pasture the sheep while their celebrated sister was being interviewed.
A particularly unhappy episode is recalled by Maria dos Anjos:
One day a neighbour of ours, an elderly woman of about sixty, told our mother it was no wonder the children kept saying they had seen our Lady, because she had herself seen a woman giving Lucia a ten cent coin. Without wasting time or words, mother called Lucia and asked if this were true. Lucia said the woman had given her a five cent coin, not a ten cent one. Mother didn’t believe Lucia, and ended by beating her with the broom handle, saying those who told little lies were apt to tell big ones too. Soon after the beating, Jacinta came by and showed mother the ten cent piece that had been given to her and not to Lucia. By that time even Saint Anthony couldn’t take Lucia’s bruises away.
Maria Rosa’s cynicism and hasty justice were duplicated many times by other women in the parish. As if there were grace or profit in the act, they insulted Lucia whenever they met her, and if both the mood and opportunity could be joined, they did not hesitate to box her ears. A careful kick at Lucia’s retreating figure was not unusual.
Jacinta and Francisco had a better time of it, and mainly because of the vigilance, honour and kindness of Ti Marto, who would allow no one to threaten, or raise a hand to his children. Behind the secure protection of her father’s love, however, Jacinta longed for the dubious delight of being pummelled black and blue.
“I wish my parents were like yours,” she told Lucia.
“Then I could get beaten, too, and I would have another sacrifice to offer our Lord.”