Chapter 15

The Church Speaks

During the five years which followed the apparitions, the ecclesiastical authorities maintained their 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 favored 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 St. 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 organized 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 symbolize 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 fulfillment 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) organized 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.