I have written already about the beautiful site of “The Age of Mary”. Among (many) other things, the site is notable for the best narration of the Fatima events I have been able to find on the Internet up to now. I would like to spend some words about this astonishing series of historical documented facts.
Let us first say very clearly that, no matter how impressive the miracles and apparitions, as a Catholic you are not obliged to believe anything of the entire story. As in every private apparition, no belief is required of the faithful; not even in the cases publicly endorsed by the Church as worthy of belief. I would be the last one to accuse a Catholic of being a lesser one because he doesn’t believe in the Fatima apparitions.
But please allow me to say why I am one of those who do. Some of the arguments can, no doubt, be applied to other apparitions (think of Lourdes).
1) The apparitions involved children. It is apparent how a child tends to change and inflate whatever exciting event has happened to him; nay, whatever event he is requested to repeat time and again. Nothing of the sort has happened here. Infinite times the children have been requested to tell the story; infinite times they have repeated it in exactly the same way. Hundreds of sceptical and atheist enquirers eager to expose the “plot” have never succeeded in finding contradictions, exaggerations, changes of descriptions, discrepancies of whatever sort. This is not normal, and doesn’t happen just because one child (or three) happens to be uncommonly fond of precision.
2) The apparitions involved children who were, without exception, illiterate. They couldn’t have written down a story, or an agreed version, to give coherence to their claims.
3) The apparitions established a clear hierarchy – at least in the eyes of the people – among the children. Only one girl, Lucia, speaks to Mary; the older of the two siblings, Francisco, doesn’t hear her, nor does he ever pretend to do so; but his younger sister, Jacinta, hears Mary’s every word. Come on, this is a recipe for strife, we are talking here of children between seven and ten! Nothing of the sort ever happened. No rivalries, no jealousies, no attempts to make oneself important as their notoriety grows, no fights for leadership, no races to get attention. This is not normal by any adult standard, let alone by a childish one.
4) The apparitions trigger a change in the children’s behaviour. A real, observable and lasting one. They start praying for long periods at a time, when before they used to cheat on their daily rosary obligations; they start to offer all their suffering to God with a zeal and simplicity you would find in a living saint, and only after a long and conscious effort; they start practicing such harsh penances that their relatives are worried. One child can, perhaps, fall in love for a short time with his own pious dispositions; another may indulge, every now and then, in an excess of zeal; but this was three children, out of three claiming to have seen Mary, completely changing their tune and starting to behave in what can only be called an extraordinary way. Try this with your nephews and see how it goes.
5) The plain simplicity of the entire story. A poor village in the middle of Portugal. Simple, illiterate children from simple and rather poor (though not destitute) families. Monotonous conversations of Lucia with Mary; just as monotonous responses of Mary to the children. There is no glitz here, no splendour, no poetry. A planned tale would have been intriguing, the events fascinating, the words spectacularly catching, unforgettable. Nothing of the sort happens here. Plain questions, plain answers, no concessions to the theatrical.
6) Orthodoxy. Several times both the angel and Mary speak to the children; they transmit a quantity of information. None of it is less than absolutely orthodox. Try to invent that as a group of three seven-to-ten-years-old children, and good luck to you. This of the orthodoxy is, to me, actually the first criterium of every claim of apparition. This is why I, like many others, despise the Medjugorje affair so much.
7) Public character. One of the unique features of the Fatima apparition is the utter public character of the entire matter. Never before had Marian apparitions been announced, and punctually delivered, in front of a plurality of people. Granted, not everyone could perceive the various phenomena; but enough of them could as to make the event a truly public display of miraculous activity. We do not know why not all were able to enjoy the extraordinary phenomena more than we know why Francisco was not allowed to hear, or Jacinta to speak. But this is what happened all along, with various people affected in various way, and a multitude of them affected forever.
8 ) Memory. Some of the apparitions contained longish conversations; all of them went above what a child can usually remember. Prayers are repeated to them a couple of times and their content is etched in their memory forever. Never they say that they can’t remember what was said, never they have hesitations. Still, at times they forget the implications (for example, they don’t reflect that Lucia won’t be killed, because Mary forecast a long life to her; but that Mary says so, they never forget), showing to be in normal “child mode” most of the times, in another stunning contrast to their behaviour related to the apparitions. These children are stunningly normal in their being children, and extraordinary in whatever pertains to the apparition.
Fatima is, truly, unique even among the Marian apparitions considered worthy of faith. It richly deserves the central place it has rapidly gained in the heart of Catholics. Not even 100 years after the events, you’ll rarely hear a Rosary recited without the “Fatima prayer”.
I invite you to read the entire story from the beautifully made Internet site (intelligently divided for you in easy-to-digest tidbits) and become aware of the unique nature of the extraordinary events in Fatima. Your belief in Fatima, once acquired, will make it so much easier for you to start what the Blessed Virgin so often recommended to the children: daily recitation of the Rosary.