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Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three Portuguese children received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fátima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for world peace, for the end of World War I, for sinners, and for the conversion of Russia.
Mary gave the children three secrets. Since Francisco died in 1919 and Jacinta the following year, Lúcia revealed the first secret in 1927, concerning devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second secret was a vision of hell.
Pope John Paul II directed the Holy See’s secretary of state to reveal the third secret in 2000; it spoke of a “bishop in white” who was shot by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows into him. Many people linked this to the assassination attempt against Saint John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
—from Saint of the Day (FranciscanMedia.org)
The third secret was revealed to the children at the Cova on July 13, 1917. It was to be kept in the greatest confidence. When Sister Lúcia was with the Dorothean Sisters in Tuy, Spain, she fell ill in mid-1943. Because it was feared that she could die before the third secret was revealed by her, the bishop of Leiria requested that she write down the remainder of the secret (or third secret) told to the children in 1917. Obediently, and in the midst of her painful sickness, Sister Lúcia wrote it down on a single sheet of paper. She placed it in an envelope and sealed it.
Before we look at Sister Lúcia’s testimony, I offer the words of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who gives some context to the revelations of Lúcia. There was great speculation and controversy over the third secret of Fátima because it was kept under wraps for many years. In his theological commentary The Message of Fátima, Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that the contents of the envelope that held the third secret for so long might be “disappointing” to some.
“A careful reading of the text of the so-called third secret of Fátima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled. We see the Church of the martyrs of the century which has just passed represented in a scene described in a language which is symbolic and not easy to decipher. Is this what the Mother of the Lord wished to communicate to Christianity and to humanity at a time of great difficulty and distress? Is it of any help to us at the beginning of the new millennium? Or are these only projections of the inner world of children, brought up in a climate of profound piety but shaken at the same time by the tempests which threatened their own time? How should we understand the vision? What are we to make of it?”
Cardinal Ratzinger discussed the secret of Fátima in depth in The Message of Fátima, the full text of which is available online on the Vatican website (vatican.va). For now, we focus on his words:
“And so we come to the final question: What is the meaning of the ‘secret’ of Fátima as a whole (in its three parts)? What does it say to us? First of all, we must affirm with Cardinal Sodano: ‘. . . the events to which the third part of the “secret” of Fátima refers now seem part of the past.’ Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fátima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the secret: the exhortation to prayer as the path of ‘salvation for souls’ and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.”