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Three shepherd children met one spring day in 1917 at the Cova da Iriaa meadow close to the village of Cabeqo, Portugalto tend their family flock, when mirror like flashes of light struck close to them. Nine-year-old Lucia and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, ran from what they assumed was lightning. As they ran, all six eyes spotted a brilliant sphere of light moving toward them, eventually landing atop a fourfoot oak tree, or carrasqueira.

The three saw within the sphere a Beautiful Lady dressed in a pure white robe embroidered in a royal design and glimmering with golden highlights. She held a solemn expression, her eyes positioned intently on the pearl rosary that hung from her fragile wrists. The children, entranced by her utter grace and beauty, immediately fell to their knees and said prayers of adoration taught to them the summer before by a young man who had appeared to them three times and called himself the "Angel of Peace."

"Where do you come from?" asked young Lucia.

"I come from Heaven,"' the Lady responded with a love that would penetrate the most stubborn of hearts. She asked the children to return to the Cova on the thirteenth of each month.

Days passed and talk of the children's apparitions spread throughout their village and neighboring towns. Crowds soon accompanied the children to the Cova. The Lady spoke to the children about her Immaculate Heart and revealed to them the importance of the Rosary. "Say the Rosary to obtain peace for the world and the end of war," the Lady said. Repeatedly, Lucia later revealed, the Blessed Virgin asked the children to say special prayers for Russia. "I come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart," Our Lady requested.

At her last appearance, on October 13, more than 70,000 people witnessed a supernatural phenomenon: the sun plunged toward the earth and then, as if nothing had happened, returned to its proper place. This publicized event, the "Miracle of the Sun," convinced all of Portugal that the Immaculate Heart would indeed be its refuge.

Despite believing crowds, the three children faced interrogation from their families and civil authorities. A government administrator kidnapped the three, locked them away, and threatened them with death unless they revealed the secrets of the Lady. Afraid of nothing, even death, the children were set free; their unyielding faith rendered the authorities powerless. At home, Lucia endured the most difficult situation. Even after all the miracles witnessed by the children and people of their village, Lucia's mother remained profoundly skeptical.

It was Lucia who was chosen by the Virgin to spread worldwide devotion to the Madonna's Immaculate Heart. Francisco and Jacinta died at very young ages, as the Lady predicted would happen. In 1925 Lucia entered the convent of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, and a decade later wrote the first account of the apparitions.

The apparitions at Fatima were declared "worthy of belief" by the Church in 1930. Since then, many Holy Fathers have prayed special devotions to Marys Immaculate Heart. Fulfilling the Lady's most adamant request, Pope Pius XII consecrated to her Immaculate Heart the people of Russia in 1952. In 1982, Pope John Paul II made his own pilgrimage to the basilica at Fatima in thanksgiving to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for his surviving an assassination attempt. Many people attribute the fall of Communism in Russia to all the prayers said in the name of Her Immaculate Heart, the great mission entrusted to Lucia at Fatima.


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