Fatima for Agnostics is an excellent critical study of the alleged wonders



The Virgin Mary allegedly appeared in the middle of six consecutive months to three young children, Jacinta born 1910, Lucia born 1907 and Francisco born 1908 in Fatima Portugal in 1917. The Virgin supposedly made people have a vision of the sun spinning at the end of the appearances.  Lucia wrote all the accounts.  The Catholic Church wields half-truths and exaggerations to make the story better than what it is.  The following shows that Lucia was making her story improve with the telling.

Fátima I and Fátima II

For an understanding of the cult it is important to distinguish two phases. A first—let us call it the popular phase, but some have called it Fátima I—goes from 13 May 1917 until the death of the two younger children in 1919. Its content, as we have seen above, is impressively simple. It is intimately related to the war of 1914-18; people hoped that the Virgin would end the war and return the soldiers who were fighting in Normandy to their families. Many of the villagers did not know whom they were fighting—whether it was against the English or the Germans. (the illiteracy rate in this region must have been at least 75%) It was also related to the regime of the First Republic (1910) which had made some feeble attempts to secularize the Church, by limiting its immense wealth and power. In 1911 a Law of Separation had ended Catholicism as the state religion and put church matters and financial control into lay hands. Religious teaching had been suppressed, together with the Jesuits and other orders. Civil weddings had even been introduced. In a move deplored by the hard-working poor, they had also ended public holidays on saints’ days. The second phase begins in 1927, when the Church accepts the apparitions. It has a very different content, obviously of ecclesiastical elaboration. It corresponds to the intromission of the Church in the cult and in the accounts which became more politicised. The site of the apparitions becomes the “Altar of the World.” The angel appearing to the children becomes the “Angel of Portugal.” The topics about the Second World War, Communism, the conversion of Russia, the division and revelation of the Secret into three parts, the consecration of the world to the Heart of Mary and other Catholic themes, all were written much later by Sister Lucia—now called Maria das Dores—and aided or encouraged by the bishop of Leiria. The subsequent Memories of Sister Lucia (more embellished with each memory) are filled with declarations attributed to Our Lady but, when we compare them to the earlier words, seen above, are obviously the work of either Lucia herself or someone helping her to take on the role of mentor or prophetess of the religion of the Portuguese.

To attempt to understand the real content of the visions we have to look at the spontaneous and immediate testimony and mistrust the later fabrications; they are circumstantial arrangements. We have seen that the children, as they were subject to the successive interrogations, elaborated their story and began to adapt the content with regard to the official doctrine of the time or the concerns of the listeners. A typical case of this adaptation to the setting around them is their behaviour in front of the public, their perception of the Virgin and their declarations about the attire of the apparition. Outsiders were impressed with the everyday behaviour of the “seers”, who played like children without putting on the “saintly” air which was expected of them. But when the setting demanded this saintly appearance, they posed as little saints for the photographers. To their families and to the parish priest the children said for two or three months that they had seen a “woman of light”, who had identified herself (“My place is in heaven”). For neighbors and outsiders, the “lady” became “Our Lady” and the Most Holy Virgin, and the children ended up by adapting their story in agreement.

The theme of the Lady’s dress is an example of this. The seers had always said that the woman’s dress “went down to her knees”; as they began to understand that the short dress was improper for dignified women (and for Our Lady) they adapted their story: “the last time it seemed longer to me.” An article published by a priest from Leiria in November 1917 ended the matter; “The skirt reached her ankles and she was wearing white stockings”. This was the version that remained in the iconography. No one asked again about the dress!

In fact the topic of this skirt almost caused the discredit of the apparition. A priest wrote: “ The angel of darkness sometimes transforms himself in the angel of light to fool the believes. The Lady could not appear unless she were the most decently and modestly dressed. The dress would have to go down to her feet. The opposite constitutes the most serious obstacle to the supernaturalism of the apparition and makes us believe that we might be dealing with a mystification prepared by the spirit of darkness. But how can we explain the beliefs of so many thousand of the faithful, their living faith and their burning piety . . . (Commentary on the questioning by Dr. Manuel Nunes Formigão, Documentos, 67, quoted in Espírito Santo)

Maintaining their own impression (dressed to her knees) which contradicts the important rule of the local culture in which women wore skirts down to their ankles, the children proved their good faith; they, or at least Lucia, could have seen something—a dream, an optical illusion, a ghost, or an hallucination. Of course, we cannot discard the possibility that Lucia and her cousins made everything up; a reading of the Salem Witch Trials shows how frighteningly possible it is for children to make things up.

Fatima II

It was only in 1930 that the Catholic Church recognized Fátima, 13 years later. This was an official recognition which might have had something to do with the successful military coup which had taken place in 1926 and established the pro-fascist regime of Antonio Salazar, which would last until 1974. This regime not only re-established all the Church’s rights and prerogatives, but worked hand in hand with its most reactionary members to consolidate its hold over the Portuguese population. According to David Birmingham (A Concise History of Portugal, 160), Church and State “agreed on the need for obedient quiescence by the poor and collaborated in fostering the mystical cult of Fátima which had arisen out of the republican persecutions. As the myth evolved it presented a shrouded vision of apocalypse with children as the chosen envoys of the Virgin Mary and the pope as the guardian of the undisclosed message. Fear was broadcast in ripples among the superstitious and pilgrims began to trek to Fátima on foot or even on their knees. The church encouraged the hysterical dimensions of religious practice to the detriment of more thoughtful forms of worship and the regime adopted Fátima as its own national shrine with a huge basilica. During the Spanish civil war the Fátima message became strongly anti-communistic and was annexed to the dictator’s panoply of political symbolism with the slogan ‘Fátima for religion, Fado songs for nostalgia, and Football for the glory of Portugal.’ “

In 1918 the war was over, probably not because the apparition at Fátima had had anything to do with it. Since she was only concerned with praying the Rosary, putting a statue on a platform, and building a chapel, it is not surprising.

Francisco and Jacinta died in 1919 and 1920 respectively, their belief in the Virgin doing little against pneumonia and the lack of medical care prevalent at that time. Lúcia left the little village of Fátima and entered a convent in Galicia, Spain. She was prohibited from talking to anyone about the apparitions. The setting was prepared to obtain from this seeress some more complete accounts of the apparitions, which would make Fátima an integral part of the Church. Orders were given to Sister Dores (She is once more called Lúcia today), who had made a vow of total obedience, to write. And, according to Padre Oliveira, she was furnished, before each account, with very precise directions about what she should write about. Then the texts which she had written by hand were corrected, so that they could be published without errors and with good punctuation.

The result was the “Memories of Sister Lucia”, a “bizarre and delirious book” according to Padre Oliveira, but one which is essential to understand Fátima and its Lady. The accounts in this book so surprised the critics of Fátima that they began to call them “Fátima II”, so different were they from the primitive accounts written in 1917, which, began to be referred to as “Fátima I”.

Four of these five Memories were written between 1935 and 1941; but the fifth and last Memory was written much more recently—in 1989. The book that contains them has been translated into several languages and has gone through many editions.

Below we can read some extracts from these five Memories of Sister Lucia, such as published in the sixth edition in 1990, and reproduced in Padre Oliveira’s book. This Catholic priest, who was arrested on several occasions during the Salazar dictatorship, and has been ostracized from the Church for his dissenting opinions, became horrified when he first read these memories. A very religious man, he could not identify with the theology found in these so-called memories. “See the climate of religious terror in which the three children of the apparitions lived. The type of catechism which was given to them. What it tried to do. What it was concerned with. How it treated the children. The idea it transmitted of God. The terrorist catechism that taught them. (…) You will see, that even the children become better than God. If he is capable of condemning the ‘sinners’ to eternal Hell, they, on the other hand, are capable of sacrificing themselves, so that that doesn’t happen! Read and conclude, surely, as I have concluded, that it will be very difficult for someone from the Catholic Church to create a more monstrous image of God, of Jesus, and Mary, than this image that Sister Lúcia has created with her memories.” (Oliveira, p. 16)

The First Memory

The introduction informs us that this “is Lucia´s first extensive writing. And it tells us how the book was born. “On the 12th of September 1935 the mortal remains of Jacinta were transferred from the cemetery of Vila Nova de Oujreém to that of Fátima. On that occasion several photographs of the body were taken; some of them were sent by the Bishop of Leiria to Sister Lúcia who, at that time, was in Pontevedra (Spain)”. Lúcia thanked the bishop for the reminder in a letter of 17 November of the same year. The memories that the photographs awakened in Lucia “induced the Bishop to order her to write everything that she could remember of her cousin Jacinta”. (Notice the word “ordered” in the introduction.) Lúcia wrote that she couldn’t write about Jacinta without writing about “my miserable being”. I obey, the will of Your Most Excellent Reverend, who, for me, is the expression of the will of our good God.”

The memories talk about Lúcia’s childhood with Jacinta and how from a very early age Jacinta was a believer who loved to kiss the cross of Jesus that was on the wall of their house. She also loved to shout out the name of Mary to hear the echo in the valley.

(Was the Church preparing Jacinta for sainthood?) The children even gave up their lunch to give to the sheep to show a good sacrificed for the sinners. Jacinta wanted to suffer for the sinners condemned to hell so she ate bitter root or drank polluted water. (No wonder she died at such an early age.)When Jacinta was dying from pneumonia she refused a cup of milk because she said: “I don’t want to drink, to suffer for the sinners.”

One day Lúcia asked her: “Are you better? - You know that I won’t get better. And she added: - I have so much pain in my chest! But I won’t say anything; I am suffering for the conversion of the sinners.”

The Second Memory

The second memory began to be written on the 7th of November of 1937 and was finished on the 21st. According to the introductory text, “the Bishop, after agreeing with the Provincial Mother of the Doroteias, Mother Maria do Carmo Corte Real, gave the order to Lúicia”. She wrote, then, twenty years after 1917, with the intention of “revealing the history of Fátima such as it is”. According to Padre Oliveira, she should have written: “reveal the history of Fátima as my fantasy of today tells it to me and, above all, as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church wants it to be.” She begins by recognising that “I am not even capable of doing handwriting “, but the truth is that the final text appears very well thought of and written. Could it have been all of hers? It is difficult to believe today. But even if she had written it , that does not prove that any of the memories actually took place. We all know how time tends to distort our vision of past events.

Here she takes us back before the apparitions when she used to pray to the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, who coincidence or not, was the name that the apparition said that she bore. Already with the age of six Lúcia was caught up in religious fervor, asking the statue of Jesus: “Lord, make me a saint, keep my heart always pure, only for You.”

Then Lúcia talks about the first apparitions that took place before 1917. First it was a Lady who appeared above the trees; then it was an angel who came in 1916. We have already seen above how the angel administered a communion to the children, asking them “to take and drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ, horribly insulted by ungrateful men.”

Then she talks about family problems. Her father had fallen in with bad company and had fallen in love with someone, the family losing some of their lands because of this. Lúcia’s mother fell ill and went to several doctors seeking a cure to no avail.

Next Lúcia narrates the apparitions. She goes into great detail about how she tied a leather cord to her arm to feel pain. The children tied these cords to their waists to be able to suffer for the sinners. Jacinta cried in pain and Lúcia asked her to take off the cord. She answered: “No! I want to offer this sacrifice to Our Lord, for the conversion of the sinners.”

Lucia talks of the apparition of 13th October and mentions that there was a rumor that the authorities had decided to explode a bomb near the children, at the moment of the apparition. Lúcia said: “How nice, if we could be given the grace of going to heaven with Our Lord.”

There is also mention of sessions with church officials. Lucia had the “happiness” of talking with Vicar Olival. He taught her the way to “give pleasure to Our Lord in everything and the way to offer him a lot of small sacrifices: “If you want to eat something, my children, don’t do it, but eat something else and offer God a sacrifice; if you feel like playing, don’t play and offer God another sacrifice; if they interrogate you and you can’t excuse yourself, it is God that desires it so; offer him another sacrifice. “ This priest spent long hours with Lúcia, teaching her to practice “virtue and guiding her with his wise advise.” If this advice had anything to do with the details of the apparitions, I will let the reader judge.

After the apparitions the children continue to suffer for their Lord. Lúcia says they would spend a month without drinking water, but perhaps she meant while they were out with the sheep. They made the sacrifice in the month of August when the heat was suffocating. Jacinta wanted to drink from a lake that was on the way, but Lúcia cautioned her that it was bad water, and that she should ask Lúcia’s mother, Maria dos Anjos, for some. Jacinta answered: “No! I will not drink that good water.” She drank from the lake because instead of offering their god the sacrifice of their thirst, they would offer him the sacrifice of drinking that dirty water. She would say, according to Lúcia’s memories, “Our Lord must be content with our sacrifices, because I am so thirsty! But I don’t want to drink; I want to suffer for his love.”

Lucia talks about her mother’s severe illness, and how her sisters asked her to ask Our Lady to cure their mother. Lúcia made a promise to go to Cova on nine consecutive days to pray the Rosary, and to take nine poor children on the last day and give them dinner. The mother was cured.

Then Lúcia’s father, who had never had a headache, caught a double pneumonia and died in less than 24 hours. Jacinta and Francisco also began to get worse. One day Jacinta gave Lúcia the rope and said: “Take it; take it away, before my mother sees it. I can no longer have it around my waist. “ This cord had three knots and was stained with blood. Lúcia kept it hidden until she could leave her mother’s house. Then, not knowing what to do with it, she burnt it, together with Francisco’s rope.

The narration continues with Lúcia’s departure from her mother’s house, together with her secret, and her arrival in Leiria, where she caught the train to Porto. This was on 16 June 1921.

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