At Fatima, the words “spiritual battle” were not used, though they were implied; we are part of one such battle, whether we admit it or not, and Our Lady gave us all the directions we need to be victorious. Recall that she identified herself on October 13 in the final apparition as Our Lady of the Rosary.
That title grew out of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, which was fought to save Christianity in Europe. Pope St. Pius V asked for a Holy League to form and meet the threat, and he asked Catholics to pray the Rosary. The Catholic fleet all prayed the Rosary, asking for Our Lady’s intercession. Pius V and all the leaders attributed that David-versus-Goliath victory, saving Christianity and Western civilization, to Our Lady. To commemorate this historic battle, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victories, soon renamed Our Lady of the Rosary.
At Fatima, Our Lady of the Rosary came to save us again, and she gave us the weapons for victory. St. Padre Pio called the Rosary “the Weapon.” Pius XI — remember how at Fatima Our Lady mentioned an upcoming pope to be named Pius XI? — reminded us that holy people have used the Rosary “as a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight, to preserve the integrity of life, to acquire virtue more easily, and in a word to attain real peace among men.” He added that he always gave rosaries to the newly married, recommending the prayer to them and encouraging them, “citing Our own example, not to let even one day pass without saying the Rosary, no matter how burdened they may be with many cares and labors.”
Bishop Fulton Sheen revealed, “The power of the Rosary is beyond description.”
But, as in past battles, the apparitions of Fatima did not go without some adversity, especially in the form of opposition and attacks by atheists and Freemasons. It was to be expected, because there was a spiritual battle being carried out.
Even after the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, the enemies of religion and anti-clerics, who were vocal and in positions of power in Portugal at the time, didn’t let up on their attacks. In The True Story of Fatima, Father John de Marchi describes how these men, at their Masonic lodge in a town near Fatima, planned to mock what had been happening at the Cova da Iria.
But Fatima’s enemies got the tables turned on them. A major Lisbon paper, Diario de Noticias, reported what they did on the night of October 23, 1917, at the Cova da Iria. They cut down the tree that they identified as the one where the children experienced the apparitions of Our Lady. They carted it away along with a wooden arch, the lanterns around it, and some other religious articles left in the area. Then they displayed them to discredit the children and the apparitions.
They got a big surprise, however, when even the critics of the Church saw their actions as disgraceful. But the biggest surprise for them? In her memoirs, Lucia revealed that the men got orders
to pull down these poles [on which people hung lanterns to watch over the site] and also cut down the holm oak on which the apparitions had taken place and drag it away with them behind a car. In the morning, news of what had happened spread like wildfire. I ran to the place to see if it were true. But what was my delight to find that the poor men had made a mistake, and that instead of cutting down the holm oak, they had carried off one of the others growing nearby!
Lucia then did something else quite surprising: “I then asked Our Lady to forgive these poor men, and I prayed for their conversion.”
That was not the only attempt to interfere with the apparitions and the message of Fatima. We already saw how the August apparition was delayed because the children were kidnapped, taken to prison, and threatened with torture and death if they did not reveal the secrets the Blessed Mother had entrusted to them. And we saw how that ended. The atheists and secularists got nowhere.
Then, a few years after the apparitions, disbelieving monsters struck again, this time at the Little Chapel of Apparitions at the Cova da Iria. Father Agostino Marques Ferreira, a priest there, described in two letters on March 6 and 8, 1922, what took place: “It was before daybreak when the explosion of the bomb was heard,” he wrote on that first date. Railings around the altar were yanked out, as were the railings protecting the holm oak tree. The chapel caught fire.
In his second letter, the priest said he had found an explosive device, possibly a grenade, that “the scoundrels left in the enclosure where the stump of the holm oak is.”
He believed that four bombs were put into the chapel’s side walls to destroy it. But the walls only cracked and remained standing. The pulpit, too, remained intact.
Father Ferreira minced no words: “Since the atrocity committed at the little chapel of Our Lady is above all an affront to the Most Holy Virgin and to the faith of the people, you, Reverend Father, will, on the coming Sunday, invite the faithful to make reparation to our heavenly Mother, going there on the thirteenth in a true pilgrimage of penance. On that day, let there be sung the Litany of All the Saints and the Merciful Lord God!”
There happened a certain phenomenon thought miraculous on that March 6 in connection with this explosion. It was similar to another phenomenon that occurred in connection with an attack less than four months earlier in Mexico at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There, on November 14, 1921, a man placed what looked like a bouquet of flowers in front of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was actually a bomb. It exploded and damaged the marble altar steps, the brass candlesticks, and the heavy crucifix. The crucifix took the impact of the explosion and fell to the ground. Behind it, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remained safe. Not only was it undamaged, but even the glass in front of it was not shattered. It was Jesus protecting His Mother.
What else happened at Fatima in the Cova that day in March? The statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the very first one, was also miraculously undamaged — not a scratch. Heaven had the last laugh. Jesus protected His Mother once again. And how did He do it this time?
That evening, for some reason, the person who guarded the statue had an inspiration to take the statue of Our Lady to a safe spot, so he took it home. The statue was not even in the chapel during the time of the explosion!
Not only did the attempt to destroy the devotion of the people fail, but the opposite happened — people only became even more devoted.
In fact, this statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the Chapel of Apparitions, which has been venerated since June 13, 1920, was solemnly crowned on May 13, 1946, and, later, St. John Paul II placed in the crown the bullet that was meant to assassinate him on May 13, 1981, and he thanked Our Lady for saving his life. Obviously, Our Lady was victorious over all the Fatima attacks. Her Fatima message is one of victory — a loving message she would bring to all the world, even by way of her visits through her International Pilgrim Virgin Statue. In fact, a Fatima pope had something to say about this.
The background: Portugal’s premiere sculptor, Jóse Thedim, carved that first statue of Our Lady in 1920. Then, for the 1946 crowning by Pope Pius XII’s representative, Lucia let it be known that Our Lady had a brighter, shining edge on her mantle. With that, Bishop da Silva had her speak with Thedim to carve a new statue according to her description. It included a star at the tunic’s hem. This new image became the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue that began traveling to people who could not get to Fatima, Portugal. And Thedim carved two more, which were blessed by the bishop of Fatima.
Then, on October 13, 1951, speaking over the radio to the people in Fatima, Pius XII said, “In 1946, I crowned Our Lady at Fatima as Queen of the World, and the following year through the Pilgrim Virgin, she set forth as though to claim Her dominion, and the favors she performs along the way are such that We can hardly believe what We are seeing with Our eyes.”
This article is adapted from a chapter in Joseph Pronechen’s book, The Fruits of Fatima: A Century of Signs and Wonders. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
You can learn more about the message of fatima in the article “The Message of Fatima” by Fr. Thomas McGlynn.