A Question I Was Asked:



What - In Your Opinion - Really Happened at Fatima back in 1917?

Does Not the Balance of Probability Favour the View that a Divine Message Was Indeed Delivered to Three Shepherd Children?






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 persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father...

"As non-Catholics, how may we explain the message to the three peasant children at Fatima, Portugal, between May and October, 1917. Even as non-Catholics, surely one has to concede that a prophecy was delivered and that this prophecy was later fulfilled?"


UK Apologetics Reply:

There are times when I think one simply has to say, 'No, I cannot fully explain it,' about various things; the Christian apologist must always avoid the 'always a smart and clever answer' scenario which scientists have so unwisely adopted when venturing into areas where they (scientists, that is) plainly lack sufficient knowledge, their problems being exacerbated by their rejection of supernaturalism.

Not long ago I took a fresh look at the 'Message of Fatima' as it has become known and I now have little doubt that the children did experience a genuine vision, or series of visions. Protestants must always be on guard against rejecting certain things just because they are "typically Roman Catholic." My big question would be, though, how much was the children's incredible experience interpreted by Roman Catholic theology? Angelic visitations were experienced which - rightly or wrongly - became explained as 'a visitation of the Virgin Mary' (or, several visitations of such). Again, part of the message became explained as mankind's necessity to "do penance," but Protestants might consider that a non-Catholic background would have interpreted those parts as mankind's necessity to repent! Obviously these plainly innocent and delightful little children were soon in the hands of priests who would have 'helped' with the explanation of their experiences! Yet - personally speaking - I have no doubt that angelic visitations truly occurred at Fatima.

Left to right, Lucia, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta. Only Lucia survived to old age, her cousins died within two years from the complications of influenza.

Let us rehearse what seems to have occurred, as far as one may know:

Between May and October, 1917, three very ordinary children in Fatima, Portugal had several incredible experiences. The children were Lucia dos Santos, aged ten, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, brother and sister, aged eight and seven respectively. However, it was in the spring of the previous year, 1916, that the children had their first joint supernatural encounter apparently as a means of preparing them for their meetings with the one described as "the Virgin Mary." At that time, as they were looking after the sheep one day, they saw a dazzlingly beautiful young man, seemingly made of light, who told them he was the Angel of Peace; he invited them to pray with him. The children were in no doubt that this visitation was from one appearing as a young man but, In the later visions, the children were also convinced (rightly or wrongly) that it was the Virgin Mary, clothed in gleaming white, who appeared to them. At the time, the First World War engulfed Europe. Michael H. Brown's article, 'Fatima and the Night of the Strange Aerial Lights,' gives us the basic Catholic-influenced outline:

'Years later [that is, years after the visions which the children had experienced], when the secret was revealed, it was learned that the Virgin had made a prediction. "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 persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father," said the message. There was special mention of Russia, which was about to turn atheistic. The Virgin asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to prevent a dangerous future. "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace," the Blessed Mother prophesied. "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." Twenty-one years later, peering out her lonely window at a convent in Tuy, Spain, where she had become a nun, Sister Lucia was fascinated to note a tremendous display of aurora borealis. It was the evening of January 25, 1938, and the lights were seen in a way that may have been unprecedented, visible from Scotland to Africa. In London two magnificent arcs rose in the west and east, radiating pulsating beams that looked like red, blue, and purple searchlights. The British were spellbound, and so bright was the phenomenon that many thought Windsor Castle was afire. There were beautiful coronas. Tonguelike rays rippled up. Pilots flying over the Atlantic reported what was described as "a shimmering curtain of fire." The lights were seen clearly in Italy, Austria, Morocco, and even west to Bermuda and Canada. The glow, bathing snow-clad mountaintops in Austria, was a beautiful sight, but it created fear. In Portugal peasants thought it was doom and a huge blood-red beam of light spread similar fears in Swiss Alpine villages. "Emblazoned in the northern sky the light brought thousands of telephone calls to Swiss and French authorities asking whether it was a fire, war, or the end of the world," reported the Associated Press. Telephone systems were tied up, Canadian wire services were disrupted, and all transatlantic radio communication was down until nearly midnight. In the convent, Lucia knew instantly that it was the portent, the "great sign," predicted at Fatima. She wrote her bishop that if they investigated it further scientists would find that it wasn't a normal presentation of the northern light. She said it was a phenomenon "manifested by God." And indeed on February 4, 1938, a week after the aurora, Hitler promoted himself to military chief in Germany and a month after marched into Austria -- the very region where the aurora had caused such a stir." (source: http://www.pdtsigns.com/1938aurora.html).

Much of this is undeniable. The incredible night sky of January 25th 1938 has become noted in history. Mainly centred on Europe, it was nevertheless seen in many other parts of the world. If this was indeed an aurora borealis, it was possibly the most stunning ever noted regarding colouration, brightness and brilliance, also, it extended well to the south being seen in the Mediterranean, Bermuda and Africa (normally this phenomenon is restricted to places like Canada, Russia and northern Europe). Hitler himself is said to have been stunned and, according to some sources, saw the incredible night sky as his "sign" to launch an European war, which he promptly did. Certainly, European war did quickly follow the incredible sign in the sky - nobody can deny this.

So this prophecy (if it was such) was indeed fulfilled, as was the prophecy concerning Russia. Of course, Russia was already an atheistic communist state by then. That started to occur in 1917, the year of the vision. Note the following words,

'...The Virgin asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to prevent a dangerous future. "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace," the Blessed Mother prophesied. "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,"

This is the way that Catholicism has typically described it. Interestingly, though, if Catholicism is taken out of the picture, one ends up with something like this: 'God has requested that Russia be re-consecrated to Him in order to prevent a dangerous future. If that happens Russia can still have peace, but if there is no mass repentance in Russia, she will spread her errors around the world, causing wars and persecutions of the church. Christians will be martyred as a result and some nations will cease to exist. The Holy Father (God, of course), will be much grieved by these things.' For sure, this did occur. Thousands of Christians were martyred through the spread of communism! Moreover, communism did, in a sense, actually cause certain nations to no longer exist, that is, in their earlier form!

The totality of the claimed visions at Fatima are usually described in three sections commencing with 1) a terrifying vision of Hell accompanied by a warning of mankind's need for repentance, 2) the warning concerning a greater and impending world war which would be larger than the European war (soon to finish in 1917), and the warning and prophecy concerning Russia. and, finally, 3) an apparent warning that a great Christian leader would have his life threatened (many Catholics - rightly or wrongly - interpret this to refer to the failed attempt on the life of the pope on May 13, 1981).

Other prophecies seem to have accompanied the more more major ones, including the children being told which of them (the two younger ones) would die first. This indeed occurred and the two younger children died in the great influenza epidemic of 1917-18, not long afterwards. Lucia, however, became a nun, dedicating her life to God, and always being prepared to testify to her experiences. She died at the age of 97 on February 13th, 2005 of cardio-respiratory failure, due to her advanced age. The 13th day of the month had always been the date of the apparitions and this was also the day of the month on which she died.

The power that these occurrences held over the lives of these children cannot be doubted. Plainly, they were often dumbfounded, amazed and sometimes terrified. We often say that the real evidence of God's intervention in the life of a person is a genuinely changed life and this seems to have been the case here. Several descriptions of the incidents describe how the two younger children accepted with good grace that they would have short lives and never feared death but were keen that the Lord's will should be done. This is impressive.

Of course, some have suggested that, surely if God had a message for the world back in 1917, would He really have entrusted it to three shepherd children? But, in fact, that is the very way that God often seems to work. Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah were all very unlikely people to be used by God. Also, the Angel of the Lord went to Elisabeth and Mary to reveal God's plans for the Messiah - He did not go to Herod, the chief priests or to the Pharisees!

Perhaps it is especially difficult for non-Catholic Christians to fully understand some things about what happened at Fatima but I think that we should all be prepared to concede that all the evidence points to a belief that something incredible really happened there in 1916-17.
Nothing in this article has been written to undermine Catholicism or, for that matter, to recommend it. It has been an intention, perhaps, to suggest that if the Fatima occurrences were set free from the heavy Roman Catholic theological terminology which normally surrounds them, other branches of Christianity might gain easier theological access to the stories, this, hopefully, leading to an honest and open consideration of the incredible events which undoubtedly affected three Portuguese shepherd children back in 1916-17.
Robin A. Brace. April 21st 2010.


A Further Question on Fatima

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