The day of October 13, one hundred years ago, will always be remembered as the day the sun danced and how that miracle led many to believe in the Marian apparitions at Fatima.
In 1917, Europe and most of the world were still intensely involved in the Great War that had been raging since 1914. The total number of military and civilian causalities amounted to more than 41 million and is considered among the deadliest conflicts in history.
In a world torn apart by a long savage war that impacted millions, the Blessed Mother appeared in Fatima, Portugal on May 13, 1917 at the Cova da Iria near the village of Aljustrel, to three shepherd children – Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, age 10, Francisco Marto, 9, and Jacinta Marto, 7.
The children described her as “a lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light….” The woman they described made them feel at peace and encouraged them to pray the rosary daily to bring an end to the war. She asked the children to meet her there again on the 13th day of the following month.
Although instructed by the Blessed Mother to contain the message of their meetings among themselves, Jacinta Marto, the youngest of the children, couldn’t wait to share her experience with her parents. News of the apparition spread and a small crowd gathered at the second apparition on June 13. The Blessed Mother continued to encourage the children to pray the rosary daily and taught them a new prayer that she specifically requested be added to the rosary, which is often referred to as the Fatima prayer – “Oh my Jesus, pardon us, and save us from the fire of hell. Draw all souls to heaven, especially those most in need.”
Before the Blessed Mother’s next apparition in July, doubt about the validity of the apparitions grew as news of them spread. Criticism from government and church officials affected the oldest child, Lucia. During the Blessed Mother’s July 13 apparition, Lucia asked for a miracle so that everyone would believe. According to Lucia, the Blessed Mother made them a promise.
“You must come here every month, and in October, I will tell you who I am and what I want. I will then perform a miracle so that all may believe.”
The local authorities made several attempts to discredit the children but their faith remained unshaken and the Blessed Mother continued to appear to them on August 19 and September 13.
On October 13, a crowd of about 70,000 gathered at Cova da Iria in Fatima. It rained heavily the night before and in spite of the mud and dark clouds covering the skies and sun, believers, critics and those curious to see the miracle for themselves arrived to witness the prophecy.
As promised, the Blessed Mother appeared to the children and revealed herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary.” Today, Catholics often refer to her as Our Lady of Fatima. According to Lucia, Our Lady of Fatima promised that day that the war would end soon and to continue praying the rosary as part of their daily prayer. The Great War ended the following month.
After Our Lady of Fatima disappeared, the children reported witnessing the apparition of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The crowd, on the other hand, witnessed a different apparition – “The Miracle of the Sun.”
An eyewitness account of the miracle was published in a Lisbon newspaper, “O Seculo”, which the author wrote, “… one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse, which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up, and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting, ‘A miracle! A miracle!’ Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.”
This year the Catholic Church will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
“The message of Fatima still applies today because the human need for repentance, penance, and conversion in the sight of almighty God is always part of the Christian journey,” said Father William Goldin, parochial vicar at St. Irenaeus Parish in Cypress, who recently earned a Doctorate in Dogmatic Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. “God summons us to conversion of life; and that individual conversion of life has implications far beyond simply the daily life of one man or one woman, because sin has a corporate effect. Our Lady calls us all to conversion both individually and corporately. She requested the specific prayer of the rosary and the use of the brown scapular as part of her message, and both of these prayers are of perennial value.”