Every age has its own moments of meaning. Imagine a rural village, Cova da Iria, in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. The world was changing rapidly. Portugal was becoming increasingly more secular. The world was at war.
Three shepherd children, Lucia do Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, reported seeing apparitions of Mother Mary in 1917. It was not until 1930 that these apparitions were worthy of belief as declared by Bishop José Alves Correira da Silva. This is 13 years of three small children sharing a vision and adhering to their mission of ensuring that Mary’s messages would be passed on. I can picture their mother telling them to go outside and play or get busy with their chores.
Our Catholic tradition has many stories of miracles and events that have spoken to a specific cultural context. Interestingly, it is often children who bring attention to the miraculous event and yes, one could even describe this as imagination. It is not an imagination that disputes whether or not something happened, but rather an imagination that invites the holy to come in to touch our lives. Is there something to the fact that children are the ones to receive such moments of spirit and holiness? Often it is the unquestioning and humble faith of children that can lead to something greater and allow the sacred to shine through.
Lucia and her cousins describe encountering a Lady more brilliant than the sun. She implored them to remind people that prayer would lead to an end of the Great War. She asked them to devote themselves to the Trinity and to pray the rosary daily. There are many articles, books and websites that explain Our Lady of Fatima. This miracle became a curiosity to many, as it involved three secrets which Lucia had to keep to herself until the appropriate time. Scholars argue about the authenticity of secrets revealed. If this event is examined outside of what is deemed scientific, historical or politically influenced, there remain three faithful children and Mary, Mother of God.
More than 30,000 people would gather at Cova da Iria and witness miraculous sights that they could not explain. This was known as the Miracle of the Sun. Thousands would continue a pilgrimage to Fatima for more than one hundred years. Three small children brought humanity to a deeper appreciation for prayer and faith. Thousands of schools, churches, shrines and devotional pilgrimages have come from the apparitions of three small children. Lives are touched, prayers are answered and mystery is embraced. These are the important fruits of such an event!
Lucia lived until 97 years of age when she passed away in 2005. Sadly, her cousins Francisco and Jacinta died in their childhood. Francisco and Jacinta were canonized by Pope Francis in 2017. Lucia was beatified in 2008. Lucia’s apparitions occurred throughout her life. Her memoirs reveal her accounts of messages and eschatological revelations. There is a great deal of discourse about the validity of these revelations. This blog does not do service to the breadth of references and revelations that this event involves, but they are worth reading.
Matthew 18: 1-5 gives a picture of what Jesus tells us about children. Every age has its own moments of meaning and need for the spirit. Children can reveal this to us. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.