In December 2016 the Holy See confirmed that Pope Francis will visit the Marian shrine on 13 May, the day Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children at the Cova da Iria for the first time.
Lauri Duffy from Howth in Dublin, who has spent a lifetime promoting Fatima, says its message is important “because it proves beyond all reasonable doubt the [existence of the] supernatural. There is one factor that people forget. The newspapers of the time in Fatima, particularly the anti-clerical press, were stating very loudly ‘There’s going to be a big miracle at midday on 13th October’,” he told CatholicIreland.
“The largest paper in Portugal that day had a front page article and they derisively said ‘If you are going – make sure to be there between midday and one o’clock, because that is the time the miracle is going to happen’. And that was the time the greatest miracle happened.”
If you don’t believe in miracles, said Mr Duffy, you have to explain how the greatest spectacle – according to all the experts there is no spectacle in the sky on a par with what happened in Fatima – happened at the exact day, time and place foretold by innocent children.
“There is no human explanation for it.”
The apparitions at Fatima, which began on 13 May 1917, continued once a month until 13 October 1917, when Our Lady performed the ‘miracle of the sun’, which was witnessed by over 50,000 people.
According to Pilgrimages Abroad (Joe Walsh Tours), the centennial year has provoked great interest among pilgrims.
“Pilgrimages from May to October are filling fast,” Anneka Oates told CatholicIreland.net. Already the May 2017 pilgrimage is full. “There is more interest this year. Hundreds are going,” she said.
Mary Butler from Joe Walsh Tours said they were seeing a surge in interest from Irish people who haven’t been to Fatima for some years. “They are coming back to make the pilgrimage during the anniversary year.”
While the May pilgrimage is full, places are still available on later trips. A typical one-week pilgrimage costs €790 per person sharing, including flights and full board.
The story of Fatima began in 1916, when three children, nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta (6) and Francisco Marto (8) were visited three times by an angel.
Although the weather was clear, they thought a storm was coming, and began to make their way home with their sheep.
When they were near a holm oak tree, they saw a lady dressed in white enshrined in bright light.
She told them that she came from heaven and would reappear to them at the same time on the 13th of each month for the next six months.
The First World War was raging at the time. The lady told them to say the rosary every day to bring peace to the world. Although the children promised each other that they would tell no-one of what they had seen, seven-year-old Jacinta blurted it out, and during the following visits, more and more people came to the Cova with them.
During the third apparition, Our Lady told the children the secret of Fatima, in three parts, and they were shown a vision of Hell. Many, including the clergy and civil government, tried unsuccessfully to get the children to reveal the secret.
In August 1917 the Mayor of Fatima arrested the children and prevented them from going to the Cova on the 13 August.
Our Lady appeared to the children six days later, revealing that she would perform a miracle at her last apparition in October.
An estimated 30,000 people witnessed the 5th apparition in September and by 13 October 1917, between 50,000 and 70,000 people were present.
There had been torrential rain on the night of the 12 October and the ground was soaked.
During the apparition, Our Lady revealed herself as Our Lady of the Rosary. She requested that a chapel be built in her honour, that they should continue to say the Rosary every day and that the war would end soon.
Although the rain had stopped, the sky was overcast with dark clouds. As Our Lady rose and moved to the east, however, she turned her palms to the sky and suddenly the sun burst through and a soft spinning silver disc could be seen. This was witnessed by all those who were present and became known as the Miracle of the Sun.
Newspapers the next day reported that “The sun danced at Fatima”. During the final apparition, the children saw Saint Joseph and the child Jesus, Our Lord and Our Lady of Sorrows.
In the summer following the apparitions, Francisco caught the great 1918 influenza. He died, aged eleven, in April 1919, after receiving Holy Communion for the first time. His sister, aged just 10, died from TB a year later. Both bodies are interred in the Basilica in Fatima. In 2000 Pope John Paul II declared them blessed.
Lucia joined the Sisters of St Dorothy aged fourteen, but in 1946 she entered the Carmelite Monastery in Coimbra.
She wrote two books about her experience. On the 13 February 2005, aged 97, Sister Lucia passed away. She is also interred in the Basilica in Fatima, across the aisle from her cousins.
According to Lauri Duffy, the message of Fatima is “a very complete message”. He said that “Two popes, Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have said it is the ‘message of the Gospel given to us anew’.” Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit the Marian shrine, following the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.