The link between two famous apparitions

(October 10-11, 2015). We have been to Santarem, Portugal -- home to one of history's very most famous Eucharistic miracles. More on that next week (aroma of sanctity). We also had Mass at the site where Saint Anthony of Padua was born (it was in Portugal, not Italy, and Lisbon, not actually Padua, where this great saint entered our world).

And from there, we went on to -- Fatima!

We are here for just two days. We have met the remaining relative of Sister Lucia, a niece. She is 90 and sits there in the old part of town, fingering her rosary beads. You see her below to the right. Her name is Maria de Angos.

Swarms of pilgrims are here for the anniversary of the great sun miracle of October 13, 1917, and Sunday is the busiest day for the anniversary (which is actually Tuesday).

The original basilica is being remodeled (though we were able to see the tombs of seers Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and Sister Lucia dos Santos) and we also visited the ultra-modern new basilica, which is massive: it holds nine thousands. (More on that too in the future). Already they are preparing for the great centennial in 2017, during which the Pope will visit.

As pilgrims comment, Fatima is almost identical -- in everything from fig trees and old stone homes and red soil to the slew of hotels, pansiones, restaurants, and religious shops -- to Medjugorje. If you were blindfolded before getting there, you might not know, until approaching the basilicas and tarmac, which one you were in. What a feeling in the original homes of Sister Lucia and Blessed Jacinta and Francisco! And though there is often spiritual warfare here, the Rosary brings such peace -- there near the original chapel of the apparitions (when you can get close to it!).

It has been rainy as it was that famous October 13 but the sun has come through during fleeting periods near the chapel, affording a brilliant if brief rainbow as we crossed the runway, and an unusually thick rainbow covered a hillside later in the day right after we finished

the Stations of the Cross. (Photos by Ted Dugas)

Here at Fatima, in Portugal, there is much to contemplate when it comes to what may be the most famous Marian apparitions -- at least to Europeans -- in history.

Don't get me wrong: there have been equally big ones in the past. Just to the north in France is Lourdes, which is basically on a par with Fatima, and northwest of there a place called Le Puy that dates back to the first century and for centuries drew countless thousands.

But what set Fatima apart were those "secrets," and it is amazing to contemplate recent revelations in a biography of Sister Lucia (the last remaining visionary, written by her fellow nuns) that in 1944, she was given a further "enlightenment" about the  image she had been shown of a flaming sword.

I always guessed it had to do with the potential for nuclear conflict -- since Fatima concerned itself so much with Russia.

But in that enlightenment, Lucia said she heard the words, "The tip of the spear as a flame unlatches and touches the axis of the earth. It shudders. Mountains, cities, towns, and villages with their inhabitants are buried. The sea, the rivers, and the clouds emerge from their limits, overflowing and bringing with them in a whirlwind houses and people in numbers that are not possible to count. It is the purification of the world as it plunges into sin. Hatred and ambition cause the destructive war!"

Does this imply geological disruption as well as conflict -- or is it just a metaphor for nuclear war?

Flaming swords: years ago I wrote a book called Prayer of the Warrior (1993) and on the cover was -- a large flaming sword. This was many years before revelation of the famous third secret.

The book was dedicated to (and later received by) Sister Lucia!

So there is a bit of a connection here, as there is a bit of a connection with everyone who visits Fatima. At an Our Lady of Fatima shrine in Upstate New York, the angel first seen by the three seers is depicted there, to a degree, as at Fatima itself, as having flame-like hair.

There are also hidden aspects of Fatima itself. Few know that in the 1400s a deaf girl from a nearby hamlet called Casal Santa Maria, which is about a mile and a half from Fatima, saw the Virgin Mary over a cluster of ortiga bushes. Mary smiled and made an odd request. She asked the girl, who could suddenly hear, for one of her lambs. It was a test of obedience. Suddenly the girl spoke as if deafness had never afflicted her [see here]! There was also a miraculous spring associated with Fatima. No, I'm not mixing it up with Lourdes. "The first Mass at Cova da Iria was celebrated on October 13, 1921," wrote Zsolt Aradi in Understanding Miracles. "On November 17, 1921, a spring began to flow at the site of the apparitions." Holy Water is now gathered at a fountain. In the 14th century -- around 1380 -- another miraculous spring had been discovered near Aljubarrota [about fifteen miles from Fatima] and it was associated with a poor woman named Catarina Anes. (According to historical accounts one day Catarina went to the forest on a mountain called Valle de Deus to search for firewood and as she did heard the voice of a woman offering to help her.

Later, when Catarina went to the top of the mountain (as instructed by the voice) and dug a hole, a spring of crystal-clear water appeared.

"Now go and tell the people of your village that here they will find a remedy for all their infirmities," said the mysterious voice, which apparently belonged to the Virgin Mary (see: The Last Secret).

During my only previous trip here, before heading for France, I was praying long and deep into the night in the Chapel of Apparitions and after, walking down the tarmac, happened to glance up at what seemed like an unusually large star that twinkled there right ahead of me. I squinted because in it were arcane symbols (possibly ancient Hebrew, Latin, or Greek lettering; I never could tell) that I then encountered at various other places during the trip, obviously having a religious meaning but for me simply linking each place to each other. I also thought I saw a dove and holy images. At least, that was my perception (and recollection)! At one point I also saw a formation in it like a swastika as if to recount the evil and war that was predicted in the secrets.

This trip, this time at Fatima, our focus is the depth of prayer, as one wonders at the spirituality afforded here, without looking for "signs," real or imagined.

Some say the imagination is often simply a higher perceiving device.

How rich is prayer, here, directly to Jesus; to pray for His Presence right next to you deepens also Marian devotion.

You have had my prayers here.

Please pray for us, and my little journey.

More on that to come...

-- Michael H. Brown, 10/11-12

[resources: A Holy Life: Saint Bernadette and Michael Brown retreat in Shreveport, La.]