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Lúcia de Jesus dos Santos (1907-2005) of Fatima, Portugal, grew up to become a Catholic nun known as Sister Lúcia of Fátima. As a child of nine or ten she and two cousins claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them in the sky above a field where they were tending sheep. Perhaps they had a collective hallucination. Perhaps the ghost of a person who has been dead for 2,000 years and who is thought by Catholics to be the human mother of a godman really did choose three Portuguese children to tell them what their parents, relatives, priests, and nuns had been telling them all their lives: Sin and you'll go to hell. Lúcia also claimed that Mary told them three secrets. In 1941, after her cousins had died of the flu, Lúcia "revealed" two of the secrets. She kept the third secret a secret, however, until she thought she was on her own deathbed.
The first two secrets involved a vision of hell and a prophecy that WWI would end--good call in 1941--and that if people didn't shape up there would be another war soon. Perfect record, so far. In 1944, Lúcia wrote down the third secret when ordered to do so by Dom Jose Alves Correia da Silva, the bishop of the diocese of Leiria-Fatima. The third secret was sealed in an envelope that was opened in 2000.
A large cult following grew out of these religious fantasies and pilgrims from all over the world still beat a path to Fatima to pray, do penance, leave money, and hope for a miracle. Many devout followers were sure that Mary had told the children when the world was going to end. They were gravely disappointed when it was revealed that the expected doomsday "prophecy" or "vision," though apocalyptic after a fashion, didn't say much more than repent or you'll be sorry! Sister Lucy's vision of arrows and bullets slaughtering popes, bishops, and priests might bring a smile to a few anti-clerics, however. Below is an English translation of the Fatima "prophecy":
....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.*
Lúcia was a person who lived in a "delirious world of infantile fantasies" and suffered "religious hallucinations." That is how ex-friar Mario de Oliveira described her (Sunday-Times, UK, June 29, 2000). He went much further in his claims, accusing the clergy of Ourem and the Catholic Church of psychological abuse. Father Mario de Oliveira claims the two children who died from the flu died due to religious fasting. Fatima, he says, is a hoax kept alive because of the attention it gets and the money it makes.* Lucy and her cousins were certainly delusional and the Catholic Church certainly exploited their delusions. Were the children of Fatima pious frauds or innocent victims of indoctrination? I lean toward the latter.
Lúcia was a 93-year-old cloistered Carmelite nun when the third secret was revealed to the world. Apparently, the cloistered life, for all its austerity, didn't kill her. When the third secret was revealed, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI), said that she might have conjured her vision from devotional books. According to the Sunday-Times (UK, June 29, 2000), many people in Portugal and beyond were angry because the secret was not a doomsday prophecy, thus making their recent penitence and contributions unnecessary. Some conspiracy mongers think the 3rd prophecy is a forgery, but the vision is so generic and pointless as to make that notion seem absurd even if true.
See also Lourdes.
Hume, David. An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X "Of Miracles," (1748), Bobbs-Merrill, Library of Liberal Arts edition.
Last updated 07-Mar-2015