As the Great War raged on, Russia was in a state of crisis by 1916 and this gave the communist revolutionaries under Lenin their chance to take power. Pope Benedict XV made repeated pleas for peace, but to no avail. Finally, in May 1917, he made a direct appeal to Mary to intercede for peace. The response was her first appearance at Fatima, Portugal, just over a week later to three illiterate peasant children – Lucia dos Santos, aged ten, and her two cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged eight and seven respectively. The children had been prepared for their meeting with Mary by an angel, who introduced himself as the "Angel of Peace".
13 May 1917
On 13 May 1917 the children took their flocks to an area called Cova da Iria (meaning "peaceful hollow" or "valley of peace"). After eating their lunch and saying the rosary, they suddenly saw a bright flash of something like lightning, followed quickly by another flash in the clear blue sky. Then appeared before them, standing on top of the branches of a young holm-oak tree, "a lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun and radiated a light clearer and more intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it."
Our Lady then asked the children, "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 sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?" The children could have refused her request at this point, but they willingly acquiesced.
Between May and June, the children thought of sacrifices to make for the reparation of sinners, as the Lady had requested, and prayed their Rosaries. For Lucia, the greatest sacrifice came at home where her mother insisted she was lying and tried to force her to recant. The reaction of the local people was also sceptical and even derisory. So just as the Lady had told them, the children had much to suffer.
13 July 1917
Between June and July, the children had to bear more taunts and insults about their alleged Apparitions. Lucia's mother was so opposed to her daughter's claims that she scolded, threatened and, at times, gave Lucia the silent treatment. Even the local parish priest was not convinced, and he suggested the visions, if they were genuine, could be of satanic origin. So distressed was Lucia that she decided not to go to the Cova on 13 July, and she held that stance until the last moment when she felt drawn by inn force.
Our Lady then opened her hands to emit the light of God, but this time the light penetrated the earth to show a terrifying vision of hell. This is Lucia account in her words:
"The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly:
'You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.'
'To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved…'"
Third Secret of Fatima
Our Lady also showed the children a prophetic vision, which came to be known as the Third Secret of Fatima. Lucia wrote the secret down on 3rd January 1944 and, after a period of 83 years, it was announced by Cardinal Sodano that the secret would be released. Here is the text of the secret, which was published on 26 June 2000:
Cardinal Sodano explained that the secret was about the persecution of Christians in the 20th century by atheist regimes that culminated in the failed assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on 13 May 1981. Pope John Paul II himself spoke of "a motherly hand which guided the bullet's path," enabling him to halt "at threshold of death." The assassination attempt took place on the anniversary of Our Lady's first appearance in Fatima.
"I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine."
"After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, 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 splendour 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. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God."
Our Lady told Lucia not to reveal the secret at that stage to anyone. Then she continued, "When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: 'O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need.'" After assuring Lucia that there was nothing more she needed of her that day, she rose toward the east and disappeared.