Fatima September 1917, by Donal Anthony Foley
As the apparition due at the Cova da Iria on 13 September drew nearer, the three Fatima seers still had to face a lot of hostility and even mockery at Aljustrel, their home village, as well as further questioning about the secret. This was despite the fact that many of the spectators at preceding apparitions had been impressed by apparently supernatural phenomena during them.
Those who came from farther away, though, were far more enthusiastic, and thus very large crowds began to converge on Fatima, from all directions, on September 13. As noon approached, the crowd became calmer, with the only noise to be heard was that of prayers being offered up, as people knelt and recited the rosary, with the men present uncovering their heads.
The children experienced great difficulty in making their way to the Cova, and had been likewise besieged since early morning by crowds of people, all making requests for prayer and asking for cures; and this continued until they finally reached the place of the apparitions.
There were some priests and seminarians present, with the former trying to keep their distance, in case the whole business turned out badly. Msgr. John Quaresma, the Vicar-General of the diocese of Leiria, was one priest who was present that day, and he was very favorably impressed by what he saw. Later on, in fact, he would be a member of the Bishop’s commission of inquiry into the events at Fatima. With a fellow priest, he had gone to the Cova da Iria in a horse-drawn carriage, and taken up a position where they could clearly see whatever happened. This is how he described his experience that day, in a letter written soon after:
“At midday there was complete silence. One only heard the murmur of prayers. Suddenly there were sounds of jubilation and voices praising the Blessed Virgin. Arms were raised pointing to something in the sky. “Look, don’t you see?” ... “Yes, yes I do!” ...With great astonishment I saw, clearly and distinctly, a luminous globe, which moved from the east to west, gliding slowly and majestically through space. My friend also looked and had the good fortune to enjoy the same unexpected and delightful vision. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light disappeared. Near us was a little girl dressed like Lucia and more or less the same age. She continued to cry out happily: “I still see it! I still see it! Now it’s coming down ...!”
Other witnesses said they saw similar phenomena to those experienced at earlier apparitions, including the sudden freshening of the atmosphere, the sun becoming paler until the stars could be seen, and falling points of light which looked like the petals of flowers, but which disappeared as they approached the ground.
Having reached the holm oak tree, the seers saw the customary “lightning” flash and then, as previously, before them was the Blessed Virgin. Once again, Lucia asked what she wanted, and was told: “Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war. In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Dolours and Our Lady of Carmel. Saint Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is pleased with your sacrifices. He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only to wear it during the daytime.”
Lucia then spoke of the petitions for cures which had been entrusted to her, to be told: “Yes, I will cure some, but not others. In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.” With that she began to rise and move towards the east, before disappearing.
It’s worth noting that Our Lady gave no indication of what type of miracle she would perform, and so there would have been no particular expectation of a solar miracle the following month.
Meanwhile Msgr. Quaresma had continued to observe the scene closely, and went on to describe the reaction of the same little girl, as the Blessed Virgin departed:
“After a few minutes, about the duration of the Apparitions, the child began to exclaim again, pointing to the sky: ‘Now it’s going up again!’and she followed the globe with her eyes until it disappeared in the direction of the sun. ‘What do you think of that globe?’ I asked my companion, who seemed enthusiastic at what he had seen. ‘That it was Our Lady,’ he replied without hesitation. It was my undoubted conviction also. ... I must emphasize that all those around us appeared to have seen the same thing, for one heard manifestations of joy and praises of Our Lady. But some saw nothing. Near us was a simple devout creature crying bitterly because she had seen nothing. We felt remarkably happy. My companion went from group to group in the Cova and afterwards on the road, gathering information. Those he questioned were of all sorts and kinds and of different social standing, but one and all affirmed the reality of the phenomena which we ourselves had witnessed.”
Immediately after this, the crowd once again overwhelmed the children and plied them with incessant questions, a severe trial which grew ever greater in succeeding weeks, as people flocked to Aljustrel for the chance to talk to them.
A priest who was a professor at the local seminary, Dr. Manuel Formigão, had also been present at the apparition, and on 27 September he undertook a detailed interrogation of Francisco and Jacinta, finding that their replies substantially agreed. He also questioned Lucia, mentioning the secret, but seeing her evident discomfort he did not pursue the matter. What impressed him was that he had not been able to catch her out in contradictions or errors, and he thus became convinced of the children’s sincerity. Although he found some small discrepancies in their accounts, he was satisfied that these did not impinge on any major points, and felt that they could be explained as due to their mental exhaustion caused by the constant questioning they had endured.
Dr. Formigão decided to return to Fatima before the October apparition, in order to speak with the children again. He particularly asked Lucia’s mother whether she had ever read the story of La Salette to her, and was told that yes, she had, but that afterwards, Lucia had never given any indication that it had made any great impression on her, or even mentioned it. He then questioned Lucia again, in front of four witnesses, before going to speak with Jacinta and Francisco at the Marto house.
Overall, Dr. Formigão was favorably impressed by their obvious genuineness, and later on, he drew up a profile of the seers, in which he stated that the children were sincere, seemed to be acting in good faith, and were apparently not telling lies or deceiving themselves. Meanwhile, like everyone else, he awaited 13 October with growing impatience, to see whether the promise that there would be a miracle, so that all could believe, would come true.
This article appeared initially in the Wanderer.