Fatima is a village in the very center of Portugal, about 70 miles north of Lisbon. It consists of numerous little hamlets hidden away in the elevation known as Serra de Aire. One such hamlet is known as Aljustrel; and it is here, and more especially in the surrounding rocky pasturelands, that our story is centered.
On a day unnamed in any of the records, in the year 1915, four little girls had been playing in the fields. Lúcia de Jesús dos Santos, a child of eight, was among them. When the sun told them that it was mid-day, they sat down to their lunch, and having finished, began the Rosary as was their custom. During the recitation all of them noticed the sudden appearance of a cloud in form like that of a man, hovering above the foliage of the valley.
"Like a cloud, whiter than snow, slightly transparent, with a human outline," was Lúcia’s description.
The little girls were surprised and filled with wonderment. They could not understand it. They were surprised even more, when the strange white figure appeared twice again to them. He was not paying now a merely passing visit, for he left an inexplicable impression on their minds. Although the impression remained with them for a long while, it diminished with time. Perhaps, but for the events that followed, it would have been completely forgotten.
A year passed. Lúcia as usual was out in the fields with the sheep. This time, her little cousins, Jacinta and Francisco were her companions and playmates.
"We had gone with the sheep to the section of my father’s land that lies at the foot of the Cabeço." Lúcia recalled, giving us from memory the exact details. "It is called the Casa Velha. About mid-morning, a drizzle began to fall. Seeking shelter, we climbed the slope, followed by our sheep. It was then that we first entered the Cave that was to become so sacred. It lies in the middle of one of my godfather’s olive orchards and from it can be seen the little village where I was born, my father’s house, and the hamlets of Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra. The olive orchards extend for long distances, until they seem to become one with these small hamlets.
"The rain stopped," Lúcia went on, "and the sun shone brightly, but we spent the day in the cave. We had our lunch and after the Rosary we started to play jacks.
"We played only a short while, when a strong wind shook the trees, and made us raise our eyes to see what was happening, for the day was serene. There above the trees toward the East, we began to see a light, whiter than snow. It was the form of a young man, transparent, more brilliant than a crystal pierced by the rays of the sun…" Lúcia tried to describe each detail of his appearance. "As he approached, we began to distinguish his features. We were so surprised and half absorbed, and we could not utter one word. He came near us and said:
‘Fear not! I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me!’ "
The Angel knelt on the ground and bowed very low. By an inspiration, they did the same and repeated the words they heard him pronounce.
"My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I beg pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You."
He repeated this prayer three times. Then he arose and said: "Pray this way. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications."
The Angel disappeared and the awareness of the supernatural was so intense that for a long space of time they remained there in the same position in which he left them, unaware of their very existence, repeating that same prayer over and over again.
"We felt the presence of God so intensely, so intimately, that we dared not speak even to each other. The next day we felt ourselves still enveloped by that atmosphere. Only very gradually did its intensity diminish within us. None of us thought of speaking of this apparition or of recommending that it be kept a secret. It imposed secrecy of itself. It was so intimate that it was not easy to utter even a single word about it. Perhaps it made a deeper impression upon us because it was the Angel’s first clear manifestation."
Children being children, the feeling left by their encounter with the Angel did wear off and it was not long before they went back to their daily round of playing, singing, and working. One notable effect remained, however, which seemed to fit in with the events that followed. The three little cousins were content to spend all their time together.
When the summer months came, bringing with them the scorching heat of the sun, the children were awakened each dawn to take their sheep out to the fields while the grass was still covered with the morning’s dew. When the heat burned off the dew, and the sheep’s hunger was dulled, the children led them back again to the barn to stay there until evening when they would again be led out to the fields. Meanwhile, the three cousins spent their days playing their games under the inviting shade of the fig trees. When they were tired, they relaxed at the well, under the lacy foliage of the olive and almond trees. It was while resting there, during one early afternoon, that the Angel visited them again. Lúcia tells us what happened:
"What are you doing?" The Angel suddenly appeared at their side. "Pray! Pray a great deal! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy for you! Offer unceasingly to the Most High prayers and sacrifices!"
"But how are we to sacrifice ourselves?" Lúcia said.
"Offer up everything within your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended; and of supplication for the conversion of sinners. Thus invoke peace upon our country. I am her Guardian Angel; the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings that the Lord may send you."
Only Lúcia and Jacinta heard the Angel’s words. Francisco only saw the Angel and knew that he was speaking to the girls. Burning with curiosity, he wanted to learn what was said.
"Jacinta, tell me what the Angel said!"
"I will tell you tomorrow, Francisco. I am not able to speak now." The little girl was so overwhelmed, she lacked the strength to talk.
The next day as soon as he got up Francisco asked Jacinta, "Could you sleep last night? I was thinking of the Angel all night long trying to guess what he said to you."
Lúcia told him all the Angel said. The little lad could not grasp the meaning of the words of the Angel and kept interrupting. "What is the Most High? What does he mean, ‘The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications?’ "
"When he learned the answers, he became thoughtful," Lúcia relates, "and then again started asking other questions. But my spirit was not yet entirely free. I told him to wait for the next day.
"Satisfied, he waited for a while, but he did not miss the first opportunity to ask new questions. It made Jacinta raise her voice, saying, ‘Take care! We must not speak much about these matters.’ "
"Every time we spoke of the Angel," says Lúcia, "I did not know what came over us. Jacinta used to say, ‘I don’t know what happens to me, but I cannot speak, play or sing; I don’t have the strength for the smallest thing.’, and Francisco would remark, ‘Neither can I. What does it matter? The Angel is more important. Let us think about him.’ "
In later years, Lúcia revealed: "The words of the Angel were like a light that made us realize who God was, how He loved us and wanted to be loved; the value of sacrifice, to what degree it pleased Him, and how it was rewarded with the conversion of sinners. From that moment, we began to offer to the Lord everything that mortified us, without trying to find any other ways of mortification or penance than passing hour after hour, bowed to the ground, repeating the prayer that the Angel had taught us."
Autumn drew near. The children set out with the sheep to the hills for the whole day. They were due for another surprise visit.
"We wandered from Pregueira to Lapa, going around the hill by the side of Aljustrel and Casa Velha," Lúcia continued in her account. "We said the Rosary there and the prayer that the Angel had taught us in the first apparition. Then the Angel appeared to us for the third time. He was holding a chalice in his hand. A Host was over it, from which fell some drops of Blood into the chalice. Leaving the chalice and Host suspended in mid-air, he prostrated himself on the ground, repeating this prayer three times:
" ‘Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all tabernacles of the earth, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.’ "
The Angel then arose, and holding the chalice and the Host again, he gave the Host to Lúcia, and the contents of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco, while he said:
"Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God."
He prostrated himself again on the ground, and again repeated with the children three times the prayer: "Most Holy Trinity…" Then he disappeared.
The full meaning of this vision unfolded slowly and astonishingly to their young minds. Their whole being became absorbed by a new, unfamiliar, yet happy feeling of the inward presence of God. They kept silence for some time. Francisco was the first to break it. He had not heard the Angel speak and was anxious to learn everything.
"Lúcia," he said "I know that the Angel gave you Holy Communion. But what did he give to me and Jacinta?"
"The same; it was Holy Communion," Jacinta replied at once, overflowing with joy. "Did you not see that it was the Blood that dropped from the Host?"
"I felt that God was within me," he agreed, "but I did not know how."
The three of them remained kneeling on the ground for a long while, repeating over and over again the inspired, heart-stirring prayer of the Angel.