It may well have been that the faithful, having observed at first hand the undeniable prodigies of October 13, felt some reason to believe that the enemies of religion in Portugal would, for at least a respectable little while, postpone their vicious and scandalous attacks against the Church. But it did not work out that happily.
The truth is that a kind of fury possessed the wilder of the anti-clericals. Through what magic or witchcraft the children's promises had been fulfilled, they did not know. Yet it seems certain that if the world had split in half like an apple to splatter seeds on other planets, they would still not have been convinced. Their only reaction was to retaliate with new excesses of disrespect.
In the general area around Fatima, the focal point of undisciplined prejudice could be found at the Masonic Lodge at Santarem, a town not far away. Here the bigots, at the cost of some pain and planning, made plans for a mock-religious procession which would satirize and by some means, not exactly clear to themselves, expose the alleged wonders of Fatima as a fraudulent imposition on the gullibility of the people. Their plan, well conceived, was carried out with professional skill.
During the night of October 23, as duly recorded in the newspaper, Diario de Noticias, some gentlemen from Santarem (whose names, incidentally, are listed) joined with some other apostles of enlightenment from Vila Nova de Ourem, then continued on to the Cova da Iria. Here is part of the contemporary newspaper report:
With an axe they cut the tree27 under which the three shepherd children stood during the famous phenomenon of the 13th of this month. They took away the tree, together with a table on which a modest altar had been arranged, and on which a religious image (of Our Lady) had been placed. They also took a wooden arch, two tin lanterns, and two crosses, one made of wood and the other of bamboo-cane wrapped in tissue paper.
These prize exhibits, including, as a footnote explains, a bogus version of the tree, were placed on exhibit in a house not far from the Seminary at Santarem, and an entrance fee exacted from those who wished to enter and be entertained at the widely advertised religious farce. One disappointment to the sponsors was the fact that not everyone, even among the Church's active critics, agreed it was amusing. The profits from the exhibit were to be turned over to a local charity, but the beneficiaries said very politely, "Thank you; no." Later, in the evening, a blasphemous procession was held.
The parade was headed by two men thumping on drums (a newspaper account reveals), while just behind it came the famous tree on which the Lady is said to have appeared. Next came the wooden arch, with its lanterns alight, then the altar table and other objects which the faithful had placed upon it at the Cova da Iria. To the sound of blasphemous litanies, the procession passed through the principal streets of the city, returning to the Sa da Band Eira Square, at which point it broke up.
Further research discloses that many of the demonstrators, less than satisfied with the appeal to bigotry they had attained, reorganized on a street not far from Sa da Band Eira Square, and were about to start parading anew when a woman, from a window above them, dropped a pail of water on their heads. She succeeded, less willingly, in drenching a local policeman as well, and the commotion in the street was considerable. A more substantial force of police then came along and dispersed the gathering.
The affair was a disgrace (the newspaper concludes). How is it possible that the authorities tolerate such a thing while at the same time refusing permission for the processions of the Church to which nearly the whole population belongs and whose ceremonies in no way offend the religious convictions of others?
The general reaction appears to have been one of revulsion, not only on the part of believing Catholics, but unanimously among all decent citizens. Literate and intelligent Catholics did not allow themselves to be intimidated by either hostile government policy or the unbridled bigotry and force of their Masonic antagonists. Protests came from all parts of the nation, and they are rather well typified by the following letter, written by Dr. Almeida Ribeiro, and dispatched to the government's Minister of Interior:
As believers, and sons of a nation which has been made great by the faith of its warriors and the heroism of its saints; as citizens of a city which has been in the forefront of civilization and culture, we strongly and earnestly protest against the scandalous processions tolerated by the public authorities, which, on the night of the 24th of this month passed through the streets of Santarem.
In this procession, which was worthy only of savages, the objects stolen from a place where people gather with the most pacific of intentions, were shamelessly exhibited. It took place in the presence of the whole population which, however, was disgusted at this degrading action on the part of a few people who can only be called pustules of society. The cross of our Redeemer... and the image of the Virgin who has presided over our destinies in all periods of our history, were held up to sacrilege and profanation.
The Litany of Our Lady, whose name is the strength and comfort of our soldiers on the field of battle, was drunkenly intoned by the organizers of this satanic orgy.
There has not been in living memory such a repugnant attack on the faith of our people, directed against the traditions and dignity of a nation which prides itself on its respect for the beliefs of others.
It is impossible for us not to raise our voices against such flagrant provocation, and to repudiate this horrible parody with the greatest energy. Impossible not to make public our bitterness of heart in face of such an attack on the Faith of our fathers and our own; an attack also on the honor of this city on the part of a few miserable youths.
If we did not publish our disclaimer, we should be considered at home and abroad as the most cowardly and unworthy of Portuguese.
We, therefore, proclaim blessed the Cross of Christ which in other days rode the seas with our caravels when they went forth to conquer new worlds for the Faith and for civilization.
We also proclaim blessed the great Protectress of Portugal who, through the
troubles and trials of our history has watched with maternal solicitude over our
destiny, May God, forgive these impious men, destitute of all decent feeling,
who blaspheme her adorable name, and may He withhold the punishment which would
justly fall on a nation which consented to such crimes. Santarem, October 28,
Signed: "A Group of Catholics."
Actually, of course, in their almost satanic desire to discredit Fatima as a shrine of hope and reparation, these fist-shaking and Heaven-defying bigots did much to increase the local deposit of faith, to fortify the belief of the people in the miracle of the Cova da Iria, and to nourish that final and wonderful rebirth of religion in the Terra de Santa Maria.
But we have not yet run out of villains. A resourceful enemy of the Church, and a man devoted to heaving bricks at angels, real or imagined, was Senhor Jose Vale, editor of the Portuguese newspaper, O Mundo. A dedicated atheist and political anarchist, Senhor Vale was also an able and energetic pamphleteer, who set about flooding such places as Torres Novas, Vila Nova de Ourem and other neighboring districts with some flaming samples of his talent. This gentleman's freely distributed epistles shrieked with invectives, not only against the supposed apparitions, but with special venom against the Church in general, and those "sly agents of Vatican wickedness," the Jesuits, in particular. Finally, at the Senhor's instigation, all liberal-minded opponents of clerical hocus-pocus were invited on the following Sunday to assemble outside the Fatima church, there and then to unmask this pious comedy of the children and their fantastic Lady-in-the-Sky.
Senhor Vale, for this adventure in public enlightenment, had gathered many mischievous recruits, and it was a situation very alarming to Father Ferreira, the parish priest at Fatima. Prudently, the worried priest arranged for Mass to be said that Sunday in the Chapel of Our Lady of Ortigo, rather than at Fatima. Fearing as well that Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta might be molested by an unruly mob, he decided that they ought not to remain at Aljustrel in this critical time. Divine Providence came to his assistance then, since it happened that a young noble known as Dom Pedro Caupers was staying at an ancient farm-estate, about four miles away. It was here the children were warmly received, along with certain members of their families.
Naturally then, with no one present in Fatima for himself or his followers to ridicule, the plans of Editor Jose Vale did not go as he had intended. The truth is that he did arrive at the parish church on the appointed hour, accompanied by Senhor Arthur Santos, the mayor, some strong-arm guards and a variety of friends, but the only one his marching and hooting delegates were able to find there was Senhor Francisco da Silver, the parish official. The scuttling of Editor Vale's clever intentions could not have been more humiliating. But by no means a timid or thin-skinned man, the Senhor rallied his frustrated band for a march on the Cova da Iria, his aim being to stage a mock pilgrimage, and here, at least, he found no lack of audience.
One enterprising man from Lomba da Egua, a believer in the apparitions, and a great disbeliever in Senhor Vale, had prepared an unusual reception. Assembling a variety of donkeys, he had tied each one of them to a tree, and being a student of both donkeys and men, he had managed to place under the nose of each jackass a modest quantity of a certain liquid that caused them to bray with loud and comic effect just when the "pilgrimage" arrived.
We did our best to annoy them (Maria da Capelinha has testified), and they knew it very well. When I arrived with two of my neighbors at 11:30 that morning, we hid near the place where the Chapel of Penance was later to be built. Three men, who were our friends, had climbed an oak tree to watch the demonstrators. One of the demonstrators then began to preach against religion, and every time he said something especially offensive, we would answer, "Blessed be Jesus and Mary!" A boy, perched in another tree, began to say the same thing in response to their insults, and they became so furious at us that they sent two of their guards down after us, but we ran away through the trees and they could not find us.
Then after a while the men and the boys who had been to Mass at the Ortigo chapel came by, and seeing what was happening in the Cova da Iria, they began to shout all kinds of things at the speakers and the guards. "Country bumpkins! Fools!" the demonstrators shouted back. They sent their guards after our people again, but not one did they catch. We just kept running away and jeering and laughing at them as hard as we could. After a while they went off in the direction of Fatima, and we never saw or heard anything of them again.
The author, although having lived at Fatima for a considerable number of years, must rely on the records and on the gospel sincerity of his older friends and companions for a faithful picture of those early years with which we are here concerned.
Devotion did grow and multiply at the little shrine in the Cova da Iria. Senhora Maria da Capelinha was, of course, a primary witness, since her life, from the first apparition until the day of her recent death, was motivated almost exclusively by her love for Our Lady of Fatima.
After that day on which the sun danced (she has told us) there was an endless procession of people to the Cova, especially on Sundays and on the 13th day of each month. The people came from all around—all kinds of people, really. The men came with their sticks and bundles on their shoulders, and the women came carrying children. Even the old and infirm came faithfully, and all of them would kneel near the tree where Our Lady had appeared. A remarkable thing, but no one ever seemed weary or tired when he was here. It was, from the beginning, a place that gave strength. Here, at this holy place, mark you, nothing was ever sold, not a cup of wine or of water—nothing! And, oh, what good times those were for true prayer and true penance. Often we would weep with emotion.
Telling us of this place where her own heart and hopes had found an enduring home, Maria da Capelinha would sometimes have tears of great and remembered joy running down her cheeks.
Here there were many tears and prayers for Our Lady, and when there were plenty of people, we would sing our favorite hymns. All of us, it seems, did so much penance with such joy of heart, that I believe if I had died just then that Our Lady would have taken me straight to Heaven. Surely those days are long gone, but I cannot help myself from wishing to live them again.
People went home contented from the Cova because Our Lady always heard their prayers. Truly, recalling those times I can think of no one saying that Our Lady had not responded to prayer. All who came, it seems, came with faith, or else, if they did not have it at first, they found it here.
One day a man who had come a long way was standing there soaked with the rain. I went up to him and asked him if there were any ill effects. "No," he told me, "I am every bit all right and have never passed such a happy night as this. I have come and yet I do not feel at all tired. I am so happy in this place." I remember this because, apart from the rain, it was winter, and terribly cold, and this man had passed the whole night in the open air, since there was no shelter for him.
Another time a group of gentlemen and ladies came with Padre dos Reis do Montelo, who has since become a parish priest at St. Sebastian's in Lisbon. Later I found that they had been to a christening and a dinner nearby and had only come here through curiosity, since they did not believe one little bit in all they had heard. But they stayed awhile, listening to those of us who did believe, praying around the table where the lighted candles were. Suddenly Father Reis took off his hat and began responding to the Rosary we were saying. When it was finished, I heard same one say—and I think it was Father Reis: "Even if Rome never approves this, I shall always believe that something extraordinary happened here."
And yet Maria da Capelinha, for all this happiness, was not content. Of grave concern to her, as well as to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, was the fact that work had not yet been started on the chapel requested by Our Lady.
There had been no lack of alms. The faithful, although few of them had more than meager means, left food by the little tree, with the intention that it be sold to provide some of the necessary money for a chapel. Others left coins of varying value, and some left objects of gold and silver. Support for the simple project was full-hearted and most willing.
But there were other obstacles to fulfillment of the Lady's request. First of all there was the vigilant opposition of the civil authorities in the area, and beyond that, as a discouraging hindrance, there was the indifference and indeed the hostility toward their intentions of Father Ferreira, the parish priest.
As we know by now, Maria da Capelinha was custodian of the alms box, an honor by no means lined with joy. Faithfully every day Maria gathered the coins left on the table, and marketed, for the purpose of acquiring additional cash, the food that was left there, along with occasional items of greater value. In all, it became with time a considerable deposit of cash—the entire amount in the personal safekeeping of this pious woman, and, of course, there was yet no sign of a chapel. The tongues of the unsaintly began to wag up a substantial scandal. It was said without timidity, that the Carreiras, of Moita, had known how to use their opportunity.
My daughters (Maria de Capelinha recalls for us) went out to work by the day in the fields, and those who worked with them used to taunt them if they had new dresses or shoes. The people began to murmur, and so I went to the priest and asked him to take charge of the money because I was tired of the criticism. Then Father Ferreira took me to his office and showed me a letter from the Cardinal Patriarch which said that the money was to be kept carefully by some reliable person (but not the children's parents) until further notice. This time I went home in a happier state of mind.
But the persecutions went on and this upset me a great deal. One day I heard a sermon by the parish priest of Santa Catherina on All Souls' Day. He said from the pulpit that people who looked after the money for festas were always criticized and that there were always evil tongues ready to wag. But we must suffer such persecutions patiently for Our Lord's sake as He had suffered for us. From that time I determined to bear my trouble.
It was not long, however, before another worry came up. A man from the mayor—the one we called the Tinker—came to the house with a notice for my husband to appear at the tribunal. We and the neighbors thought that it would be about the money:
"Be careful, Ti Manuel," they said to my husband. "Think out what you're going to say!"
"I needn't do that!" said he.
Although we didn't know for certain, we were nearly sure that it would be about the money, and when he arrived at the town hall the people in the office asked him:
"What do you want?"
"The mayor sent for me and I have come to find out what he wants."
"Where do you come from?"
"From Moita, near Fatima."
"Ah, yes," put in the mayor, who was sitting there, too.
"Then you are Senhor Carreira?" My husband replied that he was.
"Then you live near the Cova da Iria?"
"Do you go there often?"
"I have been there."
"What do you do there?"
"I do what the others do."
"Do you see Our Lady, too?"
"No, sir, I haven't seen her up to now."
"Then what do you do there?"
"I go with the other people."
"What do they say?"
"I don't know. Some say one thing, some another."
"There must be plenty of money left there?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Don't you see it, then? Don't you know anything about it?"
"I know nothing about it sir."
"Who keeps this money?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You seem to be a very ignorant man!"
"That I am, sir!"
Behind the mayor was Senhor Julio Lopes, from the tribunal, and he nodded to my husband approving the way he was talking and telling him to go on. My Manuel kept on pretending he knew nothing and returned home very pleased at having got the better of the mayor.
Some time passed, and when I saw that there was no more danger from the authorities in Ourem, I went to the priest and asked for his permission to begin building the chapel. I told him that we intended to put the statue of Our Lady in it, and the gifts which the people brought which were often spoiled by the rain as things were at present. Father Ferreira answered as if he didn't care one way or the other, and finally said that he didn't want to have anything to do with it.
"If we build it with the money we have, shall we be doing anything wrong?"
"I don't think so," he replied.
He spoke like this because he didn't want it to be said later that he had ordered the chapel to be built. He had orders from the Cardinal Patriarch not to take any part in the affair. For myself, I had heard enough and I went home happy. I told everything to my Manuel and he went and spoke to Lucia's father, because he was the owner of the land.
Lucia's father gave his permission and said we could make it any size we liked. All the same he was very upset. The people spoiled everything so that nothing would grow there. They spoiled the trees cutting branches—big branches, not twigs—right and left until there was nothing left growing near the tree of the apparitions. When he saw people going by with branches in their hands he knew that they had come from his property. When the little tree disappeared they began to attack the big ones and if my Manuel had not protected them with thorn bushes the big trees in the Cova would not be there now.
The chapel took more than a month to build and everyone wanted to have a finger in the pie. Some wanted it one way, some another. Each one had his own idea, the more so because no priest would have anything to do with it. It became so difficult that I went and spoke to the mason, who was a man from Santa Catherina, a very good religious man and clever at his work.
"Don't worry about it, woman," he said to me. "If this is God's work there's bound to be trouble at the beginning."
It was a dear little chapel when it was finished but it was not much more than a depository because it had nothing inside. No priest would come and bless it, and it was only much later that this was done by Dr. Marques dos Santos. It had a little covered balcony in front, very tiny—with six people it was full. It was later enlarged to the size it is today.
It was a considerable time before the little chapel was graced with an image of the Heavenly Lady it was built to commemorate. Most of a year went by before it arrived at Fatima, concealed among farm tools in a crude wooden cart. As the price of caution, there was further delay before it was moved to the Cova da Iria, but in the interval it was blessed by the obliging but hardly enthusiastic Father Ferreira. Finally, on May 13, 1920, the statue was brought to the chapel, and the people came with joy to behold its rather great beauty. Among those who came was Lucia, now a girl of thirteen, who stood reverently above the opened packing case, and wept without shame or self-consciousness, and by now, of course, in 1920, her little cousins had gone to that reigning Queen of Heaven who had called them in fulfillment of her promise.