THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
GROWING SUPPORT FROM THE CATHOLIC HIERARCHY
During the five years which followed the apparitions, the ecclesiastical authorities maintained their prudent reserve.
On May 3, 1922, two years after the restoration of the diocese of Leiria, Dom Jose Alves Correia published a pastoral letter from which we extract the following passages:
In this diocese of Leiria, there can be no fact connected with our holy religion to which our pastoral action is, or could be, indifferent.
Practically every day, but more especially on the 13th of each month, great numbers of people go to Fatima. These people are drawn from every social category, and they go there to thank Our Lady of the Rosary for the benefits they have received through her mediation. It is well known that in 1917 a series of phenomena occurred there, witnessed by thousands of people of all kinds and foretold by some unlettered children to whom, it was affirmed, our Lady had appeared and made certain recommendations. From that time there has never ceased to be a flow of pilgrims to the place.
Of the three children who said they were favoured by the apparitions, two died before our appointment to this diocese. We have questioned the remaining seer several times.
Her story and her replies are always simple and sincere. In them we can find nothing contrary to faith or morals. We ask, could this child, now 14 years old, exercise an influence which could explain such a continuous concourse of people? Could her personal prestige alone draw such multitudes of human beings? Could any precocious qualities in her attract vast crowds to herself alone? It is most improbable that such could be the case, since we are dealing with a child of most rudimentary education, and without instruction of any kind.
Moreover this child has now left her native place, and has not been seen there again, yet the people go in ever-increasing numbers to the Cova da Iria.
Could one explain it perhaps by the natural beauty or picturesqueness of the place? On the contrary, it is a lonely and deserted spot, without trees or water, far from the railway, almost lost in the serra, and destitute of scenic beauties.
Do the people go there because of the chapel perhaps? The faithful have constructed a tiny cell, so small that it is impossible to celebrate Holy Mass inside, and in the month of February of this year some unfortunate people – may our Lady forgive them – destroyed the chapel with explosives during the night, and set fire to it.
We have advised against its reconstruction for the moment, not only with the idea of further attacks in mind, but also to test the motives which draw so many people to the place.
And yet, far from diminishing in numbers, the crowds are ever greater.
The ecclesiastical authority has delayed its decision, and the clergy have abstained from taking part in any manifestation. Only lately have we permitted low Mass to be celebrated, and sermons to be given on the occasions of the great popular pilgrimages.
The civil authorities have employed every means in their power, not excluding persecution, imprisonment, and threats of all kinds, to stop the religious movement in the place. But all their efforts were in vain, and no one can say that the Church authorities have in any way encouraged faith in the apparitions; the exact contrary is the case.
In answer to the demand implied in this letter, the bishop nominated a commission to study the case and set up the canonical inquiry, among whose members were Dr Formigao and Dr Marques dos Santos.
In October, 1926, the diocese of Leiria commemorated the seventh centenary of Saint Francis of Assisi. The apostolic nuncio, who was present at the ceremonies, visited Batalha, and later the place of the apparitions, in company with the bishop. The first impressions of Monsignor Nicotra, communicated to the Holy See, are not on record, but what is certain is that three months later, on January 21, 1927, the privilege of a votive Mass was conceded to Fatima.
On the 26th of July of the same year, ten years, that is, after the apparitions, the bishop presided for the first time at an official ceremony in the Cova da Iria, after the erection of the Stations of the Cross on the road from Leiria to Fatima.
Before the visit of the nuncio, two prelates had visited the Cova da Iria, among them the archbishop of Evora and the primate of Braga. Later came all the bishops of the mother country and her islands and colonies, among them the bishop of Portalegre, who was the first to allow our Lady to be invoked under her new title in his diocese. When in Rome he had verified the fact that Our Lady of Fatima was venerated there, and that the Holy Father had distributed holy pictures of her to the students of the Portuguese College. He returned full of zeal for our Lady’s new apparitions in his country, and said: “I must not be less Catholic than the Pope!” He thereupon organised an imposing pilgrimage, and was the first bishop to celebrate Pontifical High Mass in the Cova da Iria. So time passed until the commission set up by Dom Jose Alves Correia announced the results of its work. The bishop then published a new pastoral letter in October 1930, which contained the following memorable paragraphs:
In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reason of brevity we omit; humbly invoking the Divine Spirit and placing ourselves under the protection of the most Holy Virgin, and after hearing the opinions of our reverend: advisers in this diocese, we hereby: 1. Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fatima, in this diocese, from the 13th of May to the 13th of October, 1917. 2. Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fatima.
Nothing further was needed. The pilgrimages to the Cova da Iria grew to immense proportions, not only from Portugal but from both hemispheres and almost every corner of the earth. Fatima was to call down upon Portugal an immensity of grace, and for Christendom at large has come to symbolise the spiritual war against Communism and to be the focal point of the new crusade.
The apostolic nuncio presided at the first Portuguese national pilgrimage on May 13, 1937, at which it is calculated some half million pilgrims were present. The second national pilgrimage took place on May 13, 1938, and was the fulfilment of a promise made by the Portuguese episcopate if our Lady should deliver Portugal from the Communist menace which caused the terrible civil war in Spain, and which was waged in places only a few yards from her soil.
The 13th of October, 1939, marked one of the most glorious pages in the history of the great new Marian shrine. The cardinal patriarch of Lisbon presided at the pilgrimage to implore peace for Portugal.
From the 8th to the 13th of April, 1942, on the occasion of their second national congress, the Juventude Catolica Feminine (Girls’ Catholic Youth Movement) organised the triumphal journey of the statue from the Chapel of the Apparitions, to Lisbon and back again to the Cova da Iria by the 13th of May, where another notable national pilgrimage took place to celebrate the silver jubilee of Fatima. In October of the same year, the Holy Father, Pius XII, broadcast in Portuguese his famous consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
OCTOBER 31, 1942: PAPAL RECOGNITION OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA:
CONSECRATION TO THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
“Venerable Brethren and Beloved Children: Bless the God of Heaven and glorify Him before all the living, because He has shown you His mercies. Once again, in this year of grace, you climbed the holy mountain of Fatima, taking with you the heart of all Christian Portugal. There in that oasis fragrant with faith and piety, you laid at the feet of your Virgin protectress the tribute of your love, your homage and your gratitude for the immense benefits which you have lately received; you also made your humble supplication that she would continue her protection of your country at home and overseas, and defend it from the great tribulation by which the world is tormented.
“We, who as common Father of the faithful, make our own the sorrows as well as the joys of our children, unite ourselves with all the affection of our heart with you, to praise and exalt the Lord, giver of all good; to thank Him for the graces of her by whose hands you receive the divine munificence and this torrent of grace. We do this with the greater pleasure, because you, with filial affection, have desired to associate the Jubilee of Our Lady of Fatima and our own episcopal consecration, in the same Eucharistic solemnities. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Vicar of Christ on earth are profoundly dear to the Portuguese. They have had a place in the most faithful heart of Portugal from the dawn of her nationhood; from the time when the first re-conquered lands, nucleus of the future nation, were consecrated to the Mother of God as the Terra de Santa Maria and the newly constituted kingdom was placed under the protection of Saint Peter.
“The first and greatest duty of man is gratitude. There is nothing so pleasing to God as a soul grateful for the graces and benefits received; in this you have a great debt toward the Virgin Mother and patron of your country.
“In a tragic hour of darkness and distress, when the ship of the state of Portugal, having lost the guide of her most glorious traditions, and driven off her course by anti-Christian and anti-national currents, seemed to be running for certain shipwreck, unconscious of present or future dangers whose gravity no one could humanly foretell; in that hour, heaven, which foresaw these dangers, intervened, and in the darkness light shone; out of chaos order reigned; the tempest abated and Portugal the Faithful can pick up her glorious part as a crusading and missionary nation. All honour to those who have been the instruments of Providence in this glorious enterprise!
“But glory and thanksgiving first and foremost to the Blessed Virgin, Queen and Mother of this land, which she always aided in its hours of tragedy, and in this most tragic of all, made her protection so manifest, that in 1934, our predecessor, Pius XI (of immortal memory), attested in an apostolic letter, Ex officiosis Litteris, to the extraordinary benefits which the Mother of God had recently accorded to Portugal.
“At that time the promise of May, 1936,36 against the Communist peril, had not yet been made. This peril came so fearfully close, loomed up so unexpectedly, that no one could have affirmed with certainty that the marvellous peace which Portugal has enjoyed, and which in spite of everything is immeasurably less ruinous than the present war of extermination, could be maintained. Today further benefits can be added to those mentioned. The atmosphere of miracle in which Portugal is enveloped, has been transformed into innumerable prodigies, many physical, and those yet more marvellous miracles of grace and conversion which flower in this springtime of Catholic life, and which promise to bear abundant fruit. Today with even greater reason, we must confess that the Mother of God has accorded you the most real and extraordinary blessings. The sacred duty of thanksgiving is all the more incumbent upon you.
[36. A promise made collectively by the bishops of Portugal to our Lady to organise a national pilgrimage to Fatima to ward off the threat of Communism to their country.]
“That you have done this during the present year we are well aware. The official homage must have been agreeable to heaven and also the sacrifices of children, the prayer and penance of the lowly and humble. The welcome given to our Lady during her pilgrimage to the capital of the Empire during the memorable days of last April was, perhaps, the greatest demonstration of faith in the eight centuries of your history as a nation. Also the national pilgrimage of the 13th of May, heroic day of sacrifice, when in cold and rain hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came to Fatima on foot to pray, and give thanks, and make reparation. Among these the enterprise and vigorous-example of Catholic youth were apparent; there were the Eucharistic crusades of children who told the Mother of God that they had done what she desired – prayers, sacrifices, Communions in thousands – and therefore prayed: Our lady of Fatima, it now rests with you. Say but one word to your divine Son, and the world will be saved and Portugal delivered from the scourge of war. The precious crown of gold and jewels, and more important, of pure love and sacrifice which you offered to your august protectress as a symbol and sign of your eternal gratitude; this and other most beautiful demonstrations of piety which, with the zealous help of the episcopate, have been so fertile in all parishes and dioceses in this Jubilee Year, show the gratitude of the faithful Portuguese people, and satisfy the debt which they owe to their heavenly Queen and Mother.
“Gratitude for the past is a pledge of confidence for the future. God demands our gratitude for His benefits, not because He needs our thanks, but because our recognition of His goodness prompts Him to further generosity. For this reason it is right to trust that the Mother of God, in accepting your thanksgiving, will not leave her works incomplete, and will faithfully continue to be your protectress as in days past, and preserve you from greater calamities.
“But, in order not to presume upon her goodness, it is necessary that each one, conscious of his responsibilities, should make every effort to be worthy of the singular favour of the Virgin Mother, and as grateful and loving children, deserve her maternal protection more and more.
“We must obey her maternal counsel as given at the Cana wedding, and do all that Jesus desires us to do. And she has told everyone to do penance and turn away from sin, which is the principal cause of the great chastisements which Eternal Justice sends upon the world. In the midst of this materialised and pagan world, in which the way of all flesh is corrupted, we must be the salt of the earth and the light, preserving and illuminating; we must carefully cultivate purity, and reflect the holy austerity of the Gospels in our lives; and, at all costs, as the gathering of Catholic youth affirmed in Fatima, openly live as sincere and convinced Catholics. More yet; filled with Christ, we must diffuse around us the sweet fragrance of Christ, and by assiduous prayer, particularly the daily Rosary, and by the sacrifices with which God inspires us, obtain for sinners the life of grace and eternal salvation.
“You will then most confidently invoke the Lord and He will hear you; you will call on the Mother of God, and she will answer: ‘I am here.’ Then the watchman of the city will not keep watch in vain, because the Lord will keep guard and defence, while the house, which is built upon a secure foundation, will be fortified by the Lord. Happy are the people whose King is God and whose Queen is the Mother of God. She will intercede with God and bless her people with peace, which is the compendium of all good.
“But you cannot be indifferent (indeed who could be so? ) to the vast tragedy which torments the world. Rather, the more you are privileged by her mercies for which you give thanks today, the more securely will you place your confidence in the future under her protection, the more tragic will seem to you, the fate of so many nations torn by the greatest calamity of history.
“Terrible manifestation of divine justice! Let us adore its greatness! Yet we must not doubt the divine mercy, because Our Father in Heaven does not forget us, even in the days of His wrath.
“Now that the fourth year of war has dawned more threateningly than ever, with the spread of the conflict, now more than ever can our trust rest only in God; and, as mediator by the throne, in her name whom one of our predecessors in the First World War ordered to be invoked as Queen of Peace, let us invoke her again, for only she can help us. She whose maternal heart was moved by the ruin of your country and so wonderfully came to its aid; she, saddened by her foreknowledge of this terrible tragedy by which God’s justice punishes the world, had already indicated in prayer and penance the road to salvation. She will not now deny us her maternal tenderness nor her most efficacious protection.
“Queen of the most Holy Rosary, Help of Christians, and Refuge of the human race, Conqueror in all the great battles of God, we humbly prostrate ourselves, certain of obtaining mercy and finding grace and opportune help in the present calamity. We do not presume on our merits but only on the immense bounty of your maternal heart. To you, to your Immaculate Heart, we as common father of the great Christian family, as vicar of Him to whom was given all power in heaven and earth and from whom we receive the charge of so many souls redeemed by His precious blood; to you, to your Immaculate Heart in this tragic hour of human history, we confide, we consecrate, we deliver, not only Holy Church, the mystical body of your Jesus which bleeds and suffers in so many parts and is in so much tribulation, but also the whole world, torn by discord, burning in the fires of hate, victim of its own iniquity. May you be moved by so much ruin, material and moral, so much sorrow, so much agony of fathers, mothers, wives, brothers and sisters, of innocent children, cut off in the flower of their lives, so many bodies destroyed in the horrible carnage, so many souls tortured and agonised, so many in danger of eternal loss.
“Mother of Mercy, obtain from God both peace, and above all, those graces which can convert evil hearts in a moment of time and which prepare, conciliate, assure true peace. Queen of Peace, pray for us and give peace to the world at war, that peace for which the peoples sigh, peace in the truth, the justice, the charity of Christ! Give peace from armed warfare and in souls, so that the Kingdom of God may develop in tranquillity and order.
“Extend your protection to unbelievers and those who still lie in the shadow of death; give them peace, and let the sunlight shine upon them so that they may repeat before the one Saviour of the World: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will!
“To peoples separated by error and discord, namely, those who profess your singular devotion, where there was no house that did not display your holy icon, today hidden perhaps until better days, give them peace, and lead them again to the only flock of Christ under the true and only Shepherd. Obtain peace and complete liberty for the Holy Church of God. Stem the waves of paganism and materialism, and kindle in the faithful love of purity, the practice of a Christian life, and apostolic zeal, that the people who serve God may increase in merit and in numbers.
“Finally, as the Church and the whole human race were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so that placing in Him all its hopes, it might have a pledge of victory and salvation, thus from today may they be perpetually consecrated to your Immaculate Heart, O Mother and Queen of the world, that your love and protection may hasten the triumph of the Kingdom of God, and that all generations of mankind, at peace with themselves and with God, may proclaim you blessed and with you may intone, from pole to pole, the eternal Magnificat of glory, love and thanksgiving to the Heart of Jesus where alone may be found truth, life and peace.
“In the hope that these our supplications and prayers may be favourably heard by the divine bounty; to you, beloved cardinal patriarch, venerable brethren and clergy, that grace from on high may ever render your zeal more fertile; to the president of the republic; to the illustrious head of the government and his ministers and authorities, that in this singularly grave and difficult hour, heaven may continue to assist them in their activities in favour of peace and the common good; to all our beloved children in Portuguese territory at home and overseas, that the Blessed Virgin may confirm what she has deigned to operate in you; to all and each of the Portuguese as a pledge of celestial grace, we bestow with all our paternal love and affection our apostolic benediction.”