On May 13, 1917, the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, three shepherd children lead their flock to the fields and, after lunch, began praying the Rosary together. Shortly afterward, Lucia dos Santos, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta, saw lightning flash in what had been a clear sky, and feared a storm might be approaching. As they led their flock back home, a lady appeared who was "brighter than the sun," dressed in white, and standing in a cloud above a tree. Speaking to the children, she told them she came from Heaven, instructed them to say the Rosary every day, and return to the same spot on the 13th of each month for six months.
Following the lady's instructions, the children returned on June 13th, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, where a small crowd of 50 people had gathered to see what would happen. As before, the children prayed the Rosary, after which the lady again appeared and spoke to them. Though the observers could not see or hear her, they did see the lightning, and admitted to feeling a sensation as the children spoke to the apparition.
In the following months, more people flocked to the site, rising to 1,000 in July and 18,000 in August. During the latter, local officials took the children into custody to interrogate them, and tried to persuade them to refute what they had seen, before releasing them two days later. On Aug. 19, following their release, the lady appeared promising them that a miracle would occur on Oct. 13.
On Sept. 13 about 30,000 people joined the children and, on Oct. 13 about 50,000. It was on this day that the lady appeared and revealed herself to be Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and what is known as the "Miracle of the Sun," occurred: onlookers saw the sun tremble, spin, and fall from the sky three times.
In 1922, a canonical process of inquiry began, resulting in the Bishop of Leiria, Portugal, proclaiming the events as authentic, and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Fatima. A shrine was later constructed at Cova da Iria, where the events transpired, and a chapel on the site of the tree where Our Lady appeared to the three children, which includes a statue of Our Lady depicted in the way Lucia described her.
In time, Lucia's cousins Francisco and Jacinta would fall victim to influenza, and later achieve sainthood. Lucia herself would go on to join the Carmelite nuns at Coimbra. Pope Pius XII, who was consecrated bishop on May 13, 1917, the day the apparition first appeared to the children, chose the shrine at Fatima for the closing of the Holy Year which ended in 1951, which was attended by over one million people.
Over the past several months, Our Lady of Fatima, Sudbury, has been commemorating the appearance of Our Lady for which their parish is named. Starting on May 13, they invited Catholics to join them in praying the Rosary at their outdoor shrine. In June, they hosted a talk by Father Ed Riley, spiritual director for the World Apostolate of Fatima, Boston, who discussed Fatima, the three children, and the message of the second apparition. In July, the parish hosted a Holy Hour in honor of Our Lady, led by Deacon John Nicholson, who discussed the third apparition. Last month saw gatherers praying the Rosary and celebrating Mass together with Father Paul Tougas, author of several articles about the apparitions and the meaning of Our Lady's messages.
This coming Friday, Oct. 13, will be the final event, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. The events will commence at 6:30pm with a procession with the World Apostolate of Fatima statue while reciting the Rosary. The statue was blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II, and contains relics of St. Jacinta and St. Francisco. To conclude, Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, founder and mother servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, will share her reflections about Our Lady of Fatima, her messages, and the Miracle of the Sun.
Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.