THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
The crowd waiting in the rain
Many attempts have been made to compute the number of pilgrims who made the difficult journey to Fatima in October, 1917. Only one thing is altogether certain. It was a tragic problem such as had never beset this obscure and lonely section of the hills. Professor Garrett, of Coimbra University, has estimated a crowd of one hundred thousand, though admittedly he had no means of gauging the actual number to any fine degree. A more generally accepted figure is 70,000, a staggering total at the time. In any event, it was such a vast and unaccustomed crush of humans, that amateur statisticians attempted to count the vehicles that passed at certain points. A reporter from the paper, Diario de Noticias, dutifully counted 240 carts, 135 bicycles and 100 cars that returned from Fatima to Vila Nova de Ourem, and while it is true that in America today we can count 100 cars outside of any thriving supermarket, we are speaking of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, when an automobile was almost as rare as a five-legged calf. Obviously this reporter did not count oxen, donkeys, horses, mules, or that primary means of transport in those days of grace, a peasant’s feet.
Maria da Capelinha recalls:
Even on the twelfth of the month, which was the day before, there were so many people that it was hard to believe. They made such a noise that I could hear them even as far away as my own village. They had to sleep out in the open, completely uncovered, because there was no shelter at the Cova.
Before sunrise on the thirteenth, the people were praying and singing. I came very early myself, and managed to get close to the oak tree, which was now little more than a stripped trunk of a tree, although I had decorated it with ribbons and flowers the evening before. For myself, I felt very sad that this was to be the last of our Lady’s visits, but like everyone else, I was longing to see the promised miracle.
I remember how it was that day, how difficult for the children for a while. There was a priest whom I did not know, and this priest had spent the whole night here. Just before noon, when I began to notice him, he was saying his Breviary. When the children arrived then, dressed as though for their first Communion, this priest asked them directly what time our Lady would appear.
“At midday, Father,” Lucia said.
And then the priest looked at his watch and said to Lucia,
“Listen, it is midday now. Are you trying to tell us that our Lady is a liar? Well, child? Well?”
He was aggressive, this priest, and impatient with the children, and very suspicious. In a few minutes he looked at his watch again.
“It is past noon now,” he said derisively. “Cannot all you people see that this is just a delusion? That it is nonsense? Go home, everyone, go home!”
He began to push the three little children with his hands, but Lucia would not go. She was very close to tears, yet full of faith.
“Our Lady said she would come, Father,” Lucia said firmly, and I know that she will keep her promise.”
As to the miracle of Fatima about to occur, we have no obligation to guess. The documentation is thorough and complete. Through several pages to follow the author will attempt less to describe the events than he will offer in testimony the responsible records of responsible witnesses.
Close to the stripped and wretched little oak, at the chill and sunless noontime of a soggy day, the children wait. The girls seem fragile and pathetic in their fancy clothes. Francisco’s Sunday suit hangs wet and baggy on his little frame. The strong denunciations by the unnamed priest still echo with the timbre of his rage. Lucia’s father and mother are near, and many of their friends are close at hand. Ti Marto stands in watchful readiness, though his wife, Olimpia, is somewhere in the jumble of the crowd. Dr Formigao maintains his vigil; Maria da Capelinha is here – pious, of course, and nervous, wishing perhaps to light another candle, or to hang just one more pretty ribbon in hope it will entice the Lady to appear.
OCTOBER 13, 1917: SIXTH APPEARANCE OF OUR LADY
The rain continues, and by the official government time it is well past one o’clock. But by sun time it is precisely noon when Lucia looks to the east. “Jacinta,” she says softly, “kneel down.” Then more strongly she calls, “Our Lady is coming; I have seen the lightning.”
The children kneel, as do countless numbers of the faithful; but the people as yet have been stirred by no great happening. The faces of the children are mirrors of ecstasy, yet what they see is not for other eyes to know, except through the testimony of the children themselves.
Their Lady stands in unearthly beauty above the bright flowers and rain-wilted ribbons of silk that affectionate hands have fixed there in her honour. But flowers fade and sunlight pales, and every natural glory of earth withdraws its poor pretensions in her company, if we can believe her witnesses.
Now we find that by God’s gift, it is almost impossible not to believe.
“What do you want of me?” asks Lucia
The dialogue, read this way, does not seem inspired. From May to October it has been much the same. But there is this significant difference. It is heaven and earth concerned with goodness, rather than with skills. There is no call for Dante, or for Shakespeare, or for any modern literary hand.
“I want a chapel built here in my honour. I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day. The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes.“
“Yes,” says Lucia “Yes.” But since the Lady has promised this day to tell exactly who she is, Lucia asks further,
“Will you tell me your name?”
“I am the Lady of the Rosary.“
There is a reverent silence. Lucia then explains, “I have many petitions from many people. Will you grant them?”
“Some I shall grant, and others I must deny.“
This Lady of the Rosary, who is God’s Mother, is gentle, but she is serious. She has never smiled. She is asking for penance. She is talking in terms of heaven and hell – a blunt and terrifying equation that so many have comfortably forgotten. She speaks as though after 1900 years, a cross still weighs upon the shoulders of her Son:
“People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended! “
“And is that all you have to ask?” Lucia inquires.
“There is nothing more.“
Now the Lady of the Rosary takes her last leave of her three small friends. She rises slowly toward the east. The children behold how she turns the palms of her gentle hands to the dark sky over them, and now, as if this is a signal, the rain has stopped; the great dark clouds that have obscured the sun and depressed the solemn day, are suddenly burst apart; they scatter; they are rent like a bombed rainbow before the eye, and the bold sun hangs unchallenged in its place, a strangely spinning disc of silver.
Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco are beholding their Lady. From her upturned hands strange rays of light are rising, as though to assault and make dim the light of the sun itself.
Lucia cries out a single time, “Look at the sun!”
But she has no recollection later of having called this out to the crowd. The Lady of the Rosary is no longer ascending. She stands in glory to the right of the sun, and her light is such that the great fixed star is by comparison pallid and weak. For a moment she is gowned in white, precisely as the children have known her each time she has appeared above the stubby oak. Yet as quickly, and as strangely then, she is wearing a mantle of blue, and with her, in fidelity to the promise she has made, is Saint Joseph, with the Christ Child in his arms. Saint Joseph is robed in red, and he appears to lean from the clouds, holding the Child who also is dressed in red.
These visions are brief and they succeed one another rapidly. Three times Saint Joseph has traced the sign of the cross above the people. Saint Joseph fades away, and Christ appears at the base of the sun. He is cloaked in red. With Him stands His Mother. She is gowned now in neither white nor blue, but as Our Lady of Sorrows, gazing on the earth. She has not the traditional sword in her heart. This the children clearly note, and are later able to recall. Christ gives his blessing to the people, and then, as this vision passes, there is one that Lucia alone is privileged to see: Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Remember, this is Lucia speaking; this is the privileged sight of three, quite different from the shocking and indisputable phenomenon that is witnessed by the crowd.
It seems strange, recounting here in simple words, such prodigies as this. There can be no attempt to describe the impact of this experience on the children. They have themselves no more succeeded in this than they have managed fully to convey a picture of the Lady whose beauty was more than the senses, unaided, could properly comprehend.
But what of the crowd who did not see the Christ Child, or His Mother, or Saint Joseph in the sky? Here the record pursues the sceptic, and inexorably, if he does not flee from the evidence, it will defeat him. The miraculous hand falls heavily. Like stones, the signs of God will be laid before you now to build a house of faith.