For days, I held a scene of wonder in my heart. The craziness and sordidness of American politics were outweighed by it.
Papa Francisco carried a lightness with him to Portugal, which the country embraced humbly. It did not matter whether people were Catholic, agnostic or atheist.
For many years, Portugal’s prominence on the world stage has been pecuniary. Even in this economic crisis, it has played second fiddle to Greece. The visit of a world leader propelled it to center stage.
A national holiday was declared for the day before Papa Francisco arrived on his 24-hour pilgrimage to Fatima to celebrate the centenary of what the Catholic Church calls a miracle. During a Saturday morning Mass, he canonized two of the three children shepherds who said Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to them on six separate occasions. Jacinta and Francisco are the first child saints who are not martyrs.
It was May 13, 1917, when Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia reported seeing “a lady all dressed in white, more brilliant than the sun” on top of a small tree. One month earlier, the first contingent of Portuguese fathers and sons had embarked for the front lines of World War 1, which had begun in 1914 and would end in 1918. The woman was said to have prophesized World War II and urge prayer of the rosary, which is repeated recitation of specific prayers including the “Hail Mary”, to end World War I.
She also asked them to pray for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to the children. Lucia said, later, that the three of them thought that Russia was the name of a girl. The Russian revolutions of 1917, which dismantled the Czarist regime and led to the rise of the Soviet Union, occurred in March and November.
The children’s accounts drew secular and religious controversy. A provisional administrator believed the prophecies were politically motivated in opposition to the first secular Portuguese Republic government of 1910. The government had seized Catholic churches and schools. It also had banned the ringing of church bells and the celebrating of popular religious festivals. The authorities, eventually, interrogated the young shepherds and, briefly, jailed them.
The children reported that the woman would reveal her identity and perform a miracle on October 13th “so that all may believe”. Thousands, including photographers and reporters, gathered on open landscape at the children’s village of Cova da Iria near Fatima. What happened next is called the Miracle of the Sun at which the woman was said to have called herself the Lady of the Rosary.
After a period of rain, the dark clouds broke, and the sun appeared as a spinning disc. It was said to be duller than normal, and it cast multicolored lights across the landscape, people and the surrounding clouds. The sun was reported, then, to careen toward the earth before zigzagging back to its normal position. Some witnesses, including the editor of O Seculo, an anti-Catholic Lisbon newspaper, reported seeing the sun ‘dance’. Some only saw the radiant colors. Others, including believers, saw nothing at all.
There is a fantastic photograph of kneeling and standing people, gazing up at the sky in awe.
For a few days, I held this scene of wonder in my heart. The craziness and sordidness of American politics were outweighed by the awestruck looks on the faces of these people.