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Beginning in the spring of 1916, three visitations of the Guardian Angel of Portugal served as preparation for the visits the next year of the Mother of God.
In rural Portugal of 1916, it would not have been unusual to see children leading their family flocks to pasture. This is what the children of the Marto and Santos families, cousins all, did on many days. Often it was Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, who gladly undertook this chore, grateful for the chance to be outdoors and to play as the sheep silently grazed. They would take their families' few sheep to graze on small plots of land owned by their parents in different parts of the sera, the mountainous plateau on which was located the village of Fátima (where the parish church was) and Aljustrel (where the children actually resided).
Two favorite grazing areas were the hillside facing Aljustrel, near an outcropping called Loca do Cabeco (Place of the Head) and the Cova da Iria (Cove of Irene) at some distance beyond Fátima. At first one, then the other, would occur the apparitions which would change the course of the children's lives and the history of the 20th century.
In the spring of 1916 Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, had their first encounter with a heavenly messenger. Writing in her memoirs, composed under obedience to the Bishop, Lucia tells of that first meeting.
We went on that occasion to my parents' property, which is at the bottom of the Cabeco, facing east. It is called Chousa Velha. About the middle of the morning it began to drizzle and we climbed up the hill, followed by our sheep, in search of a rock that would shelter us. And so it was that we entered for the first time into that blessed place. It is in the middle of an olive grove that belongs to my godfather, Anastacio. From there one can see the village where I was born, my father's house, and also Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra. The olive grove, which really belongs to several people, extends as far as these places.
We spent the day there… We ate our lunch and began to say the Rosary. After that we began to play a game with pebbles. We had only been at it a few moments when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day. And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said:
Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.
He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say: My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.
After repeating this prayer three timesthe angel rose and said to us:
Pray in this way. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you.
And he disappeared. He left us in an atmosphere of the supernatural that was so intense we were for a long time unaware of our own existence. The presence of God was so powerful and intimate that even among ourselves we could not speak. On the next day, too, this same atmosphere held us bound, and it lessened and disappeared only gradually. None of us thought of talking about this apparition or any pledge of secrecy. We were locked in silencewithout having willed it.
His words sank so deeply into our minds that we never forgot them, and ever after we used to spend long periods on our knees repeating them, sometimesuntil we fell down exhausted.
Sometime during the summer of 1916, the three cousins were playing in the heat of the day in the garden near the well behind the Santos home in Aljustrel. Lucia describes how the angel appeared to them once more, chastising them fortheir lack of spiritual seriousness.
What are you doing? You must pray! Pray! The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.
"But how are we tosacrifice?" I asked.
In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.
This apparition renewed the same profound effect which the first one had on them. Francisco, who throughout the appearances of the angel and Our Lady would see but not hear, was unsuccessful in prying from the girls the words which the angel had spoken until the following day. Lucia tells us, The Angels' words sank deeply into our souls like a gleaming torch, showing us Who God is, what is His love for us, and how he wants us to love Him too; the value of sacrifice and how it pleases Him; how He receives it for the conversion of sinners. That is why, from that moment, we began to offer Him whatever mortified us.
Lucia is uncertain when the third apparition of the angel occurred, sometime in late September or in October 1916 is her recollection. Having gone to the Cabeco with their flocks, and being more attentive to the words of the angel, they immediately knelt down to pray the prayer taught them by the angel.
After we had repeated this prayer I don't know how many time we saw the shining over us a strange light. We lifted our heads to see what was happening. the Angel was holding in his left hand a chalice and over it, in the air, was a host from which drops of blood fell into the chalice. The Angel leaves the chalice in the air, kneels near us and tells us to repeat three times:
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.
After that he rose, took again in his hand the chalice and the host. The host he gave to me and the contents of the chalice he gave to Jacinta and Francisco, saying at the same time,
Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God.
Once more he bowed to the ground repeating with us the same prayer thrice:
Oh, Blessed Trinity…
and disappeared. Overwhelmed by the supernatural atmosphere that involved us, we imitated the Angel in everything, kneeling prostrate as he did and repeating the prayers he said.
It was in this way that catechized in prayer, reparative suffering, and the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, and strengthened by the Bread of Angels, that the children of Fátima were prepared for the visitation of the Queen of Portugal, the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
Statue of the Angel of Portugal at the site of the apparions to the three shepherd children. Almost eight months had passed since the last apparition of the Angel. Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta continued to practice what the Angel had taught them, praying and offering sacrifices to the Lord. Lucia was now ten years old, Francisco would be nine in June and Jacinta had just turned seven in March, when on May 13, 1917, they chose to pasture their sheep in a hilly depression owned by Lucia's father and known as the Cova da Iria, or Cove of Irene. It was there, with one exception, that the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary appeared on six occasions in 1917, and a seventh time in 1920 (to Lucia alone).
As important as the place and the time, is the situation of the world. At that moment, the First World War raged in Europe, introducing mankind to the most savage forms of warfare seen to that date. In far off Moscow Lenin prepared the revolution that would overturn the Russian social order in November 1917 and eventually engulf almost half the peoples of the earth. It was in that context that heaven condescended to earth to provide the antidote to the moral and social evils of the world — the message ofFatima.
To be continued next week with: The Apparitions of Fatima Part Two: Our Lady of FatimaBACK TO LIST