May 13, 1917 dawned upon a world in turmoil. The fratricidal slaughter that engulfed Europe had raged for nearly three years, and had now spread over the whole globe. One month earlier, the United States stepped into the European fray with her declaration of war on Germany. The social and political order of the Old World was being swept away. Two months earlier, the Czar of Russia abdicated, as his country slid toward the abyss of communism. Nor were the horrors of 1914-1918 the worst the world would ever see. The veterans of the War to End All War would not reach middle age before the outbreak of another and even more terrible war. On May 13, 1917, Pope Benedict XV consecrated as archbishop the man who would steer the Barque of Peter through the bloodiest period (to that point) in human history. As this future supreme shepherd knelt before the Pope, three shepherd children in a small plot of pasture land near Aljustrel, Portugal fell to their knees before a luminous vision over a small holm oak.
In 1941, the oldest of these three children, Lucia dos Santos -- now a Dorothean sister -- wrote under obedience in her 4th Memoir:
The seventh time Our Lady came to the Cova da Iria was to give Lucia a private message in 1921, when she was was about to leave home to board at the Dorothean school in Vilar de Oporto. Her bishop sent her there under an assumed name, among other reasons, to give her a chance at a normal life. Lucia continues:
High up on the slope in the Cova da Iria, I was playing with Jacinta and Francisco at building a little stone wall around a clump of furze. Suddenly we saw what seemed to be a flash of lightning.
"We'd better go home," I said to my cousins, "that's lightning; we may have a thunderstorm."
"Yes, indeed!" they answered.
We began to go down the slope, hurrying the sheep along toward the road. We were more or less half-way down the slope, and almost level with a large holmoak tree that stood there, when we saw another flash of lightning. We had only gone a few steps further when, there before us on a small holmoak, we beheld a Lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.
We stopped, astounded, before the Apparition. We were so close, just a few feet from her, that we were bathed in the light which surrounded her, or rather, which radiated from her. Then Our Lady spoke to us:
"Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm."
"Where are you from"
"I am from heaven."
"What do you want of me?"
"I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here a seventh time."
"Shall I go to heaven too?"
"Yes, you will."
"She will go also."
"He will go there too, but he must say many Rosaries."
Then I remembered to ask about two girls who had died recently. They were friends of mine and used to come to my home to learn weaving with my eldest sister.
"Is Maria das Neves in heaven?"
"Yes, she is." (I think she was about 16 years old.)
If this young girl from rural Portugal, a place where the faith was still strong, had racked up enough offenses to merit purgatory until the end of time, what is to become of us in this time of weakened faith, with vastly greater opportunities for sinning and a culture that encourages us to yield to temptation rather than fight it? Lucia continues:
"She will be in purgatory until the end of the world." (It seems to me that she was between 18 and 20 years of age.)
"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?"
"Yes, we are willing."
"Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort."
As she pronounced these words, "the grace of God will be your comfort," Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. Then, moved by an interior impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell on our knees, repeating in our hearts:
"O most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!"
After a few moments, Our Lady spoke again:
"Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."
Then she began to rise serenely, going up towards the east, until she disappeared in the immensity of space. The light that surrounded her seemed to open up a path before her in the firmament, and for this reason we sometimes said that we saw heaven opening.
Heaven was not idle. The campaign had begun.
And today, May 13, 2017, the Church has confirmed the truth of another of Our Lady's promises at Fatima with the canonization of Francisco and Jacinta. St. Jacinta is now the youngest person ever to be declared a saint based on heroic virtue.
St. Francisco and St. Jacinta, pray for us.