|THE TRUE STORY OF FATIMA|
|Father John de Marchi, I.M.C,
Editor's note: While this ebook has been almost exclusively reproduced from
de Marchi's “The True Story of Fatima,” the editor found it necessary to make some minor corrections to resolve discrepancies in the edition reproduced here.
Whether these discrepancies were the result of poor editing, poor translation,
or publisher bias, is unknown; but the reader should take comfort in the
fact that these few corrections were checked for accuracy from the best
know sources available and are believed to accurate and correct.
Through no gift of the author's, but by the divine power, this is one of the very great stories of modern times. The remarkable events occurring near Fatima, Portugal, in the months from May to October, 1917, gain significance and new meaning with every passing day; the friends and followers of Our Lady of Fatima, for whom this volume speaks, increase each year by numberless legion in prayerful certitude that what we are revealing here is true.
The author is a witness to this truth, having lived at Fatima for many years, and this plain book's pretension to importance is that it is able to present for the first time to Americans the full and documented background against which God has written His own prescription for peace.
Much of this account is lovely and can be counted on to fulfill almost anyone's story-book expectations, as it tells of the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. But it is also a divinely serious narrative recalling, to the likely discomfort of many, the reality of Heaven and Hell, and bringing to necessary attention other primary matters too often and too long placed out of mind. It is hoped that this book, in its completeness, will provide a kind of text on Fatima, and the author feels obliged, in the face of such ambition, to list the documents on which it has been based.
I have used the Portuguese newspapers of the period, especially the Seculo, the Diario de Noticias, and the Mundo, all at the time important pro-government journals, anticlerical in both policy and tone. They describe the drama of the reported apparitions from a purely secular, non-religious point of view, giving a graphic, if at times a somewhat tongue-in-cheek coloration to those initial pilgrimages to the field called the Cova da Iria, near Fatima, when it was first alleged that the Mother of God had appeared to three peasant children. It is worth noting that the Catholic Press at this time was hardly less skeptical.
A considerable portion of this book is based on the writings of the Portuguese priest, Dr. Manuel Formigao, whose first work on the subject, entitled Os Episodios Maravilhosos de Fatima (The Marvelous Events of Fatima), appeared in 1921. It is a faithful, painstaking account of the good priest's many interviews with the children, and of the impression they made upon him.
In 1919, when Bishop Jose Alves Correia da Silva took possession of the newly restored diocese of Leiria, embracing, among other mountain villages, the parish of Fatima, he set up without delay a canonical inquiry into the apparitions, and the most important testimony supplied in the succeeding months and years were these.
The interrogations of the three children by their local pastor, Father Manuel Ferreira, after each of the apparitions from June to October, 1917. These interviews had been carefully recorded by Father Ferreira at the time, and provided a most valuable reference. It should perhaps be mentioned that the puzzled pastor, while performing this chore for posterity, did not believe in the apparitions.
The official canonical questioning of Lucia followed in 1924. New information broadened the picture. A letter written to his fiancée by Dr. Carlos Mendes on September 8, 1917, was helpful.1 Many other witnesses appeared, testifying with amazing consistency to the human, if not the supernatural drama, described in this book. Lucia, during these years of close investigation, had entered the College of Vilar, at Oporto, Portugal, which was directed by the Congregation of Dorothean Sisters. Later she joined their community at Tuy, Spain, and it was here, as a lay sister, that she wrote her memoirs in obedience to the orders of the bishop of Leiria. One could not possibly overvalue these documents, which are four in number and were written in 1936, 1937, 1941 and 1942. The first of her memoirs is mainly a biography of her beloved cousin, Jacinta, granting to a serious student only the barest reference to the apparitions.
In the second of her memoirs we first find a detailed account of a supernatural experience, and then, almost casually, in 1937, a first reference to the apparitions of the angel. After twenty years of total silence, this particular revelation did not fall lightly, but rather like a bomb.
Lucia's third memoir was richer still. From it many new facts emerge, among them a reference to the famed aurora borealis of January 25, 1938, which in her own view was the sign preceding the outbreak of the second World War, foretold by Our Lady in the apparition of June, 1917.
Finally, having been ordered by the bishop to set down a definitive and complete account of everything she remembered, Sister Lucia, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of that same year, 1942, after imploring the grace to write with precision and exactitude, began the fourth and most extensive of her memoirs, including all the circumstances and all the details of the apparitions of the angel as well as the more celebrated visits of Our Lady to the Cova da Iria in 1917.
It might seem that such abundant assistance from the one most qualified to speak would have been sufficient for a critical history of the apparitions. Yet there still remained some points of obscurity that prompted a series of interviews with Sister Lucia by serious students of Fatima.
Unquestionably the one marked virtue of the book you are about to read is that it has been checked for truth and exact detail by Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, who is today (having transferred from the Dorothean Order) a Carmelite nun, and it appears almost certainly destined to be a saint of God. She is the author's friend, and she has walked with him in that blessed countryside where once, within the lifetime of so many of us now living, she talked with Mary, the Mother of God.
In writing this book, the author enjoyed the incomparable privilege of living at Fatima from 1943 until 1950, and for this reason was able to question at undisturbed length the most important eyewitnesses to the great events of 1917. I would like to express my gratitude to all of the many who helped me.
In these pages you will meet Senhor Manuel Pedro Marto, the father of Jacinta and Francisco, who will be known throughout the text as Ti Marto.2 He's a sweet old man whose health, like an old mahogany tree, has conquered the years. Living with him still, and my valued friend, is his wife, Olimpia. Others among my friends and collaborators are Senhora Maria dos Anjos, the eldest sister of Lucia; her sisters, Carolina and Gloria, and lastly, among my most indispensable assistants, Senhora Maria Carreira, known in these pages as Maria da Capelinha, or Mary of the Chapel, who died in March of 1949. Still living, and holding me in his debt, is her son John, at present the sacristan of the Chapel of the Apparitions.
It was through these good people, more than through books, that I came to know the true flavor and the undercurrents of the real Fatima story. For instance, every Sunday, for six consecutive months, after he had recited his Rosary at the shrine, old Ti Marto would come and talk with me of his Jacinta and Francisco. Certainly he never spoke of them as saints, nor with a penny's worth of pious posturing. He would just talk of the children he had fathered and loved, and in a very practical, non-sentimental way, of other characters who populate this book, of the parish priest "... his reverence, who didn't believe and didn't want the rest of us to believe"; of the mayor-administrator, a valid villain in those distant days, still living, and perhaps improving, but toward whom Ti Marto in his charity holds no bitterness. These and other subjects he would pursue with great and scrupulous care for the truth. "We must not exaggerate, Father, nor squeeze out of this any more than is really there," he would caution me.
Rarely does Ti Marto hear a chapter or a passage read from a book on Fatima without either correcting some small detail, or else adding a helpful note. "It wasn't exactly like that!" he will interrupt, and then go on with a calm resume of what really occurred. When I asked him if he did not feel a certain pride in being father to such privileged children as Jacinta and Francisco, the old man sincerely shrugged this distinction away. "Our Lady just happened to choose this part of the world," he said, "when she could well have appeared to others. They just happened to be mine, that's all."
It is very possible that Ti Marto's narratives may contain some slight confusions and mistakes. Indeed, to claim a kind of infallibility for this good old man would be absurd. Yet I can assure you that to the best of his ability he has been accurate, and I can further testify that everything I have been able to check with independent witnesses supports him. In this respect the distinguished work on Fatima by the German priest, Dr. Luis Fischer, Die Botschaft unserer lieben Frau von Fatima, underscores the memory and reliability of Ti Marto. A professor at Hamburg University, Dr. Fischer visited Fatima some seventeen years ago to investigate the facts and to write his own scholarly account. Reading it now, we find no contradiction between his testimony and that of Ti Marto. More remarkably, however, we find the same hesitation and difficulty over small and unclarified details, the same words giving trouble—eloquent testimony, it seems to me, that where memory or detail have defeated Ti Marto, no compulsion to be a prophet or an expert has tempted him to gloss over these difficulties. Of his wife Olimpia, of Maria dos Anjos, of Senhora Carreira and the others, I can say the same.
Now it should be kept in mind that most of these good people are illiterate, and entirely subject to what they hear. Suspecting that their own experiences might well have blended through the years with things they had heard, I was alert to detect any mixture of fact and legend. The truth is that none of them, even the older ones, have tripped into confusion between their own personal experiences and what has recently come to light through Lucia's memoirs. When questioned about these new disclosures, the invariable reply was simply, "I know nothing of that." And yet, of course, it would have been so natural for certain suggestive processes to have been set in motion by all the recent disclosures of the children's private penances, their heroic sanctity, the apparitions of the angel, and other matters. "We knew nothing of these things," Ti Marto declares. "Nothing about the cords they wore to bed, nor about their going without food in the fields, Father... nothing, nothing. Even after the apparitions of Our Lady, I always thought that the children were very little different from other children."
But as time and accruing evidence make manifestly clear, there occurred in Fatima in 1916-1917 a series of great supernatural events. Three small children saw an angel three times, and they received Eucharistic Communion from his hands. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ appeared to them at least six times, and spoke with them as a friend and mother, and confided to them a secret of universal interest and importance.
But what of this child, Lucia, now grown to womanhood, upon whose disclosures so much of this story depends? What is she like? What, indeed, must anyone be like, who is confidante to the Queen of Heaven? Ethereal? Wispy in nature? Soft and white as angel cake? A little bit crazy?
The mature Lucia is my friend. She has an absolutely normal personality and is as real as a plate of cookies. As this book will make clear, she is neither gifted nor beautiful by the usual standards, and if I were obliged to point out her outstanding natural characteristic I would say it was her gaiety. No one has been able to detect in her the least sign of morbid temperament or exclusive self-concern. Her daily life, by the testimony of her superiors, presents nothing singular.
"She is an eminently practical religious," I have been told. "The negation, we may say, of poetic idealism."
Actually, I can testify that the impression of nearly everyone who meets Lucia for the first time is one of disappointment, since we are all so impatiently eager to detect some trace of a halo or else to presuppose some other strange mark of the supernatural. In Lucia, if in anyone, the idea of pseudo-mysticism must be rejected.3 Her manner of speech and of expression, whether by the spoken word, or her handwriting, which is certainly commonplace, all testify to complete psychological balance and a mentality entirely free from odd neuroses. To my utter belief in Lucia as a truthful witness, I feel obliged to add the acuteness of her memory, a faculty I have tested numerous times. I recommend her to your complete confidence.
Now what of Fatima, the place, which has become in recent years one of the great shrines of Christendom? Knowing well that in Europe there are shrines as old as the footprints of the apostles, we must realize that Fatima, against this ancient calendar, is almost new. It belongs to our era and it treats of our problems, as the following chapters will disclose. Yet Fatima, the modern shrine, holds a look of great age, resting as it does in the timeless hills of a people whose pedestrian culture was old before America, as a nation, was ever born.
The village is small. Except in times of special pilgrimage it is likely that its population could be loosely lodged in a large New York hotel. The pilgrim in pursuit of quaintness will most certainly be rewarded. He will find donkeys and oxen moving around with calm assurance, and observe among the people customs far older than anyone's memory. The pilgrim will see ladies walking barefoot on their country paths with queenly straightness, all the while supporting on their casual coiffures jugs of wine that well might test a strong man's back, or oranges in heaps that you would not at first believe. Fittingly enough, it resembles a movie set done with Hollywood thoroughness, with the script ripped boldly from a Bible history book.
There must be some reason then, why Fatima, which appears as undisturbed a place as any in the western world, has been able to draw to itself on certain days more pilgrims than have ever crowded, as excess population, the city of Rome itself—with Rome's great treasures, glories, and long tradition as the heart and mind of the Church. A million people (a number equal to one-seventh of the total Portuguese population) have assembled within and about the rocky field near Fatima that is known as the Cova da Iria.
There are no hotel accommodations nor any other shelter for those who come to Fatima at these extraordinary times. There is only this open field and the surrounding slopes of the simple countryside to provide a resting place. Customarily, on these few great occasions, the pilgrims arrive the night before the scheduled devotions. Often it has rained the length of the night, as though to test the fiber of the faithful. It seems fair enough, on the evidence, to say that Christian devotion has never in modern times exceeded the fervor of these demonstrations in the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth day of May or October in any of recent years.
There are not many striking or ornamental sights to see. At Fatima the edifice of greatest interest is perhaps the least of the structures there. This is the Chapel of the Apparitions—simple, surely inexpensive, and likely enough no larger than your living room at home. Its glory exists in nothing but the events it commemorates. The lone touch of grandeur at the Cova da Iria will be found in the great basilica that has risen above the humble land. This is a crowning structure in the manner of the Italian Renaissance, stately and reverent in its setting, and built of the stone, the labor, and the love these hills have returned to their Lady for the visits she paid them less than 40 years ago.
In the classic pattern of great Catholic shrines, remarkable and documented cures have been effected at Fatima. People seem either unduly devoted to miracles or else made furious by stories concerning them, but a great shrine without miracles would be to many like a song that lacked a lyric.
There is clinical certainty that at Fatima the blind have had sight restored, while men and women stretcher-borne have risen from their litters to cry hosannas to the Power that can in one moment banish cancer, loosen the fist of the tightest paralysis, or render whole and clean the shrunken lungs of abandoned tuberculars. More than a hundred contradictions of the natural physical law have been registered at Fatima, and held to be valid only after the most exhaustive and scrupulous examination of all available evidence. The author¬ has himself been present at many miraculous cures, but to those who do not require the spangles of visible prodigy to know that God is in His Heaven, the spiritual message of Fatima remains of infinitely greater importance.
The true meaning of Fatima is that God has spoken to us through Mary, the Blessed Mother of His Son. We should pause long enough to reflect that it is not strange for God to speak to us, since He loves us far more than the best of us loves Him. Through all human history He has given His counsel to the conduct of our lives, His light to our doubts, and finally, through Calvary, the blood of His only-begotten Son as a ransom for our sins. Angels and prophets and saints have spoken for Him, but the most glorious of His messengers has been Mary.
At Fatima the world has received, through Mary, God's own prescription for peace. As to another Bethlehem, all hope and charity are carried in her to the lonely Portuguese hills, and to the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, whose total and wonderful story I am privileged to tell.
John De Marchi, I.M.C.