July 13: Pious Fraud

The Third Secret of Fátima Revealed (1917)

The Fátima "Visionaries"

It was on this date, July 13, 1917, that the Third Secret of Fátima was revealed by the Virgin Mary to three peasant children in a rural village north of Lisbon. At least, that is how Lucia dos Santos remembered it. But by this time she had been taken in by Jesuits and, in 1921, become a Carmelite nun. She didn’t write down the third secret until 1944. By then, the two other living witnesses – Jacinta and Francisco Marto – had died and could not corroborate her recollection.

The apparition of Mary began appearing to Lucia and her two cousins on 13 May 1917, and on the 13th day of each succeeding month, until October. Visions of the Blessed Virgin were common in times of trouble. And there was political turmoil in Portugal for the Catholic Church. Portugal’s First Republic was making every effort to weaken the corrupt Catholic Church. Church property was confiscated, Christianity was disestablished as the state religion, and religious instruction was removed from public schools in favor of science and history.

Lucia herself was familiar with popular representations of the Virgin from church and, according to a friar who knew her, Mario de Oliveira, she was given to “religious hallucinations” and lived in a “delirious world of infantile fantasies.” Hearing from adults that her precious faith was in danger, it is not surprising that she persuaded her cousins to see and hear what she told them. When she claimed the Virgin spoke to her, revealing her first two secrets, Jacinta and Francisco readily agreed.

The “secrets” give every sign of being born in the brain of a pre-pubescent child and none of being verifiable descriptions of future events. The First Secret was a vision of Hell, referring to the end of World War One and the beginning of World War Two. But somehow Mary got the name of the pope wrong and Lucia didn’t circulate this “prophecy” until 1940 – after World War Two had already started. The Second Secret predicted that Russia, recently turned Communist, would return to Christianity. But so far Mary has this one wrong, too.

Lucia, by now Sister Lucia, had sealed and delivered the Third Secret to Pius XII in a letter. She claimed the Blessed Virgin had instructed her not to reveal it until 1960. But, in 1960, John XXIII refused to reveal the secret. So did his successor, Paul VI. John Paul I didn’t live long enough to give it much attention, so it fell to John Paul II to reveal the Third Secret in 2000. In June 27 news reports, the veil was lifted and the prophecy was… anticlimactic. It was not about the end of the world. In part, it said:

…the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him…*

Was this a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca? The attempt was, after all, on 13 May, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fátima 64 years earlier. But it’s not likely, even though the pope believed it: a lone gunman is not a group of soldiers and John Paul survived the bullets. Besides, if he were really forewarned, the pope could have avoided the public appearance altogether. And, anyway, why would Mother Mary predict an attempt on the life of a relatively minor pope?

So maybe this wasn’t the real Third Secret – a secret that came from an impressionable 10-year-old girl, but was not written down until 27 years later, and not publicized until 83 years after its revelation? Maybe. But on balance, the Third Secret of Fátima, like the first two, may be just what it appears to be: a pious fraud.

* The following excerpt is from a 1944 letter by Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, the sole survivor of the three children who in 1917 reported visions, as reported by the Associated Press:

“We saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the Earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’

“And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.’ Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions.”

Originally published July 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

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Posted in History, Religion, Theology

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John Mill

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