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Note to the catechist: Storytelling can be the most advantageous method to teach children spiritual values — something well known in earlier cultures and over the centuries. In this 100th anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s apparition at Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal, there are profound lessons to be told and taught to children. They will see two girls and a boy like themselvse in the story of Fatima, youngsters who had a special union with Mary’s heart that showed hope and strength in the worst of times. Children today can exhibit trust in their own young lives that help others come to know Mary, a faith elements so valued in times of distress. Families today must value the Eucharist, especially encouraging little ones in their small and fragile lives. But most of all, our children, even though they are so young, can come to realize that God calls them to faith and gives each of them an important, graced role in the Church community.
The story goes like this …
Gather around little ones, and listen to a real story that happened 100 years ago. Three children — just about your age or maybe a little younger — were out in a sunny field one day in Portugal with lots of sheep around them. No … they weren’t playing … it was their job to care for these sheep and keep them safe. Lucia Santos, age 10, was the oldest and most likely in charge. With her cousins Francisco Marto, nine years old, and Jacinta Marto, seven, the three young shepherds knew in their hearts that they must obey their parents and take good care of the sheep, and also that they must pray and learn to be like Jesus and his beautiful mother. As young as they were, they knew and prayed the Rosary every day.
Then remarkable and surprising events began to happen. They told their parents at the end of the day that an angel had been praying with them out in the field, one whom they called “the Angel of Peace.” Soon, they wanted to become closer to Jesus when they received Holy Communion. The angel was teaching them their prayers. What were their parents to think? Then, on May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary came to them. They described her as a beautiful lady dressed in white, and she appeared to float over a small oak tree. They said she was brighter than the sun, and a sparkling light circled her all around. Can you imagine anyone believed these children? But the Virgin had told them that they would suffer teasing and abuse from other children, and harsh words from the adults. She promised she would always be with them, coming to them each month from May to October. In June, she promised again to always be with them! But … she did have sad news. She predicted that the youngest two, Francisco and Jacinta, would soon get sick and die, but joyfully would go to Heaven.
Come now, children, and think about this story. If this happened to you, would you be afraid? Would you pray even harder to be able to convince your parents, relatives, and friends that it was all very real? Every day, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta prayed the Rosary together like the beautiful woman had encouraged them to do. Times were very hard for their families, too.. It was the middle of World War I, and scary things were happening all around the world. Yet … let’s stop and think. These children truly saw a mystical and beautiful sight … the mother of Jesus herself. As the angel had taught them, they drew their hearts closer and closer to the heart of their beautiful mother Mary, a way to be with Jesus!
Another remarkable and scary thing happened in June when the Virgin came to them. For just a few moments, they saw a vision of hell — a place where the worst of sinners had gone. To save themselves and everyone they knew, Mary told them to always pray to her Immaculate Heart. She let them know a secret that there there would be another terrible world war to come, with a destructive political system called communism, and that all the faithful would be persecuted. These were deeply important words given and entrusted to these three children. … perhaps because they were children trained in faith and prayer. They were asked to teach the words to the adults. They learned one important lesson that was never forgotten … if they trusted God and the Immaculate Heart of his mother, love and peace would eventually win over evil. Mary knew that the country of Russia would be the place where evil communism would take over, and she asked that the country be dedicated to her heart also. She asked the children to make a special effort to receive Holy Communion on the first Saturdays of five consecutive months. One more secret was given to the children: The following October there would be a tremendous sign given by God so all might believe.
So, dear children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta revealed more and more words that they heard from the Virgin. Many crowds began to gather around them. On the promised October day, in 1917, thousands of people hurried to the sheep’s field to see the children. All at once, Mary appeared carrying a rosary. She asked for a place to be built where people could pray. Then, although it was raining heavily, the sun suddenly came out. As people looked up, they saw that the sun was spinning in the sky and brilliant rays of light were shooting all around. Many people were terrified, and others dropped to their knees to pray. It was such a miracle that few ever forgot it. But … guess what! The lives of these three little ones were forever changed too. They were known for never questioning, never whining, but always praying and doing good things.
The prediction about Jacinta and Francisco came true. A terrible cholera influenza epidemic arose and the both died. Yes, there were tears, but every single person knew they were in heaven with the Virgin and her Son. Lucia grew up and lived many years. She became a nun and lived quietly in a convent, and she continued to write about her childhood experience. Four more times in her life, she received messages from the Beautiful Lady.
Concluding thoughts for the catechist:
Adults often forget to truly listen to children. As adults, we must listen to the spiritual insights of our little ones! When children are taught well in the faith and want to live good lives, they develop a remarkable and precious relationship with God. These three children of Fatima listened to the angel, a messenger sent by God, and they had no trouble believing the Virgin and doing what she told them to do.
Now, 100 years later, we celebrate this remarkable story. In Fatima, Portugal, there is a special church where thousands of people still visit and pray every single year. But this year is special … the memories of what happened, what the Virgin predicted to the children, and the important message of prayer is still vital for all of us today. We must teach children to pray, especially to pray the rosary. Many children today have never seen a rosary. And we must teach them to reach out to the heart of Mary – she is our spiritual mother who will take our prayers with love and care to her Son. Wars will happen and terrible events may touch our children’s lives; but, it is the faith, prayer, and trust children can have that brings love and peace to all our lives. The Virgin’s words are still vital today… pray, pray, pray. Children will show us how to link our hearts to Mary’s Immaculate Heart of love.
Author bio: Virginia M. Kimball, STD, is an adjunct professor of theology in the Career and Continuing education department at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is a member and past president of both the Mariological Society of America and the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is a wife, mother of nine children, and grandmother and great grandmother to many!
Resources for catechists:
Fr. Andrew Apostol. Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012.
Peter Mullen. Shrines of our Lady, A guide to fifty of the world’s most famous Marian shrines. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, pages 139-143.
Robin Ruggles. Apparition Shrines, Places of Pilgrimage and Prayer. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1999, pages 97-113.
Sister Maria Lucia of the Immaculate Heart. Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: The Memoirs of Sister Lucia, that Last Fatima Visionary. A free Kindle edition.
The Miracle of the Sun in Fatima October 13, 1917. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBIs8cuIwTo
[A You Tube video with a five minute series of actual photos]
World Apostolate of Fatima, USA. Our Lady’s Blue Army.
“Fatima and the Immaculate Heart.” Mary Page. International Marian Research Institute.
Related activities for the classroom:
* Teach children the Rosary
* Teach children the prayer that the Angel of Peace taught Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta
“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon from you for
Those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”
* Teach children the prayer that Mary taught the children
“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven,
especially those in most need of your mercy.”
* Have children make a picture or a diorama or collage of the miracle of the sun
* Have children make lists of ways they can “suffer” for others – do works of mercy and love!
* Encourage children to attend Confession and receive the Holy Eucharist
* Discussion: Are the children today aware of wars and violence in the world. Teach them the answer is prayer and doing works of mercy.