On May 2, 1981, an Australian named Laurence James Downey, who claimed to be a defrocked French Trappist monk, hijacked an airplane and demanded that St. John Paul II reveal the Third Secret of Fatima. The man was believed to be armed with a bomb, but the incident was resolved without any injuries to passengers onboard.
In 1984, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that “if [the Third Secret] is not published … it is to avoid confusing religious prophecy with sensationalism. But the things contained in the Third Secret correspond to what has been announced in Scripture and are confirmed by many other Marian apparitions.”
Widespread speculation and concern led to the secret’s publishing in 2000 by the Vatican. The late release angered many who read the secret and didn’t understand what was so controversial about it that delayed publication by decades.
Conspirators questioned whether the authentic secret, or the secret in full, had actually been revealed. The Vatican version, which is claimed to be a photocopy of the original handwritten note from Sr. Lucia, took up four pages, while some allege that Sr. Lucia had actually written the third secret on just one page.
Some skeptics are also suspicious about the third secret because it does not contain any words directly from Mary, unlike the other secrets.
Some also question the content of the secret, because it does not directly speak of the apocalypse, as was expected from interviews of Sr. Lucia.
Others are also suspicious of Sr. Lucia’s transfer from the Dorothean Sisters, where she initially entered, to a cloistered Carmelite convent, the order she transferred to with permission in 1948. The move to the Carmelite order, which has strict rules about communication with the outside world, is seen by some as part of a larger conspiracy effort to censor her visions and the third secret.
On the other hand, Sr. Lucia herself confirmed several times that the third secret as published by the Vatican is in full and correct. Specifically in a November 17, 2001 statement to the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, she confirmed that the Fatima secret has been totally revealed by the Vatican, and Russia has already been consecrated as Mary requested.
Those who affirm that the secret has been fully revealed say that to question the secret’s authenticity is to question the original visionary’s credibility.
The authenticity of the third secret has also been confirmed by the Popes and other Vatican officials.
When the secret was published, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that “The events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima refers now seem part of the past. […] Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed.”
In 2016, an article on Catholic blog One Peter Five included an interview with a German priest who claimed to recall a conversation in which Pope Benedict XVI told him that the third secret had not been fully revealed. In a response on May 21, 2016, the Vatican released a statement from Pope Benedict XVI declaring that any claims that the third secret had not been fully revealed were “pure inventions, absolutely untrue.”
The other controversy: The consecration of Russia
As Mary promised in the second secret, she came back to ask for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. On June 13, 1929, Mary reappeared to Sr. Lucia, who was with the Sisters of St. Dorothy at the time, asking for the consecration of Russia, “promising its conversion through this means the hindering of the propagation of its errors.”
There were three “conditions” of the consecration, explained by Mary in the second part of the secret: The Pope must consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a special mention of Russia, in union with the bishops of the whole world.
At an unknown date after this apparition, Sr. Lucia made the request for consecration known to Pius XI. In 1938, the Portuguese bishops asked Pius XI to make the consecration, but no action was taken. Upon the election of Venerable Pius XII in 1939, several clergy repeated the request to the Pope.
In December 1940, with World War II well underway in Europe, Sr. Lucia wrote a letter to Pius XII, requesting the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary “with a special mention for Russia, and order that all the bishops of the world do the same in union with Your Holiness.”
More than a year later, on October 31, 1942, Venerable Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, though without the involvement of the bishops of the world. War made communications difficult, and many bishops had been imprisoned or even killed. Sr. Lucia said that though this consecration was imperfect, Jesus revealed to her that it was enough to bring a quicker end to World War II, sparing many lives.
In July 1952, Venerable Pius XII consecrated the people of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but again, because it was done privately and not in conjunction with the bishops of the world, the consecration was incomplete. At least once during his papacy, Blessed Paul VI renewed the Russia consecration, although it did not fulfill the requirements of being in union with the bishops of the world.
Ongoing, dedication political relations with Russia made a consecration that specifically called out the country difficult.
“It’s not that the Church forgot about what the Madonna said about Russia, it’s not that Russia was forgotten, absolutely no,” said Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“For what regards the consecration of Russia to the heart of Mary, the Church did this, but with an extraordinarily unique diplomatic skill. But she did it.”
According to Sr. Lucia, the consecration was complete during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who several times attempted to fulfill the requirements of the Russia consecration.
It was finally considered fully complete after the consecration he made on March 25, 1984, as confirmed by Sr. Lucia.
St. John Paul II, “united with all the pastors of the Church in a particular bond whereby we constitute a body and a college,” consecrates “the whole world, especially the peoples for which by reason of their situation you have particular love and solicitude,” he said in the consecration.
“Because the Church...if she would have consecrated Russia to the heart of Mary and nothing else, it would have provoked a terrible reaction on the part of Russia,” Cardinal Martins explained.
“The Pope realized this. It was something, from the standpoint of Russia, completely unacceptable...It certainly would have had extraordinary consequences...But the Church fulfilled what the Madonna asked by consecrating not Russia in particular, but the world; I underline the world, and Russia is part of the world. So was Russia also consecrated to Our Lady’s heart or not? Russia was consecrated. If I consecrate the world to Russia, I also consecrate Italy, the United States, to the heart of Mary. They are part of the world consecrated to the heart of Mary.”
Both St. John Paul II and Sr. Lucia initially seemed uncertain that the consecration has been fulfilled in 1984, but shortly thereafter Sr. Lucia told the papal nuncio to Portugal that the Consecration had been fulfilled. She also confirmed this in a letter to one of her sisters in 1989, and again in a letter to a priest in 1990, as well as in her statement to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001.
A warning against “sensationalism”
Despite Vatican attempts to quell rumors and hearsay, the Fatima conspiracy theories still persist.
But Benedict XVI several times warned against this “sensationalism” that he says Mary would not have intended as the fruit of her apparitions.
Four years before the third secret’s release, in a 1996 interview with Portugal's main Catholic radio station, Cardinal Ratzinger, who had already read the secret, issued this warning: “To all curious people, I would say I am certain that the Virgin does not engage in sensationalism; she does not act in order to instigate fear. She does not present apocalyptic visions, but guides people to her Son. And this is what is essential.”
Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and visited the apparition site as Pope in 2010.
During a press conference for the visit, he reminded the faithful that the message of Fatima is not about conspiracy theories regarding the end of the world, but about the faithful’s response in “ongoing conversion, penance, prayer, and the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.”
“This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history,” he said.
Vatican recognition and papal trips to Fatima
In 1930, Bishop Dom Jose Aleves Correia da Silva of the Diocese of Leiria (now Leiria-Fatima) declared that, based on the results of the investigative commission, the apparitions at Fatima were “worthy of belief.”
Since then, the Fatima apparitions have received significant recognition on the part of the Vatican, and Pius XI granted a special indulgence to those who visited the newly-built Fatima shrine.
Venerable Pius XII encouraged devotion to Our Lady of Fatima so much so that he became known as “the Pope of Fatima.”
He is reported to have said: “The time for doubting Fatima has passed, the time for action is now.” He was the first Pope to consecrate the world, and then Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Moreover, it was during his papacy, in 1944, that the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was extended to the entire Roman rite, to be celebrated on Aug. 22, the octave day of the Assumption.
Bl. Paul VI visited the shrine of Fatima, on May 13, 1967, as did Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice – who was elected Pope in 1978.
St. John Paul II visited the Fatima shrine three times – in 1982, 1991 and 2000. During his 2000 visit, he beatified the two deceased visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco. He also added the feast of Our Lady of Fatima to the General Roman Calendar, to be celebrated May 13.
The Polish Pope had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a close shave with death during an assassination attempt on his life on the 64th anniversary of the first apparitions – May 13, 1981 – the Pope credited his survival to Our Lady of Fatima’s miraculous intervention. As a sign of his gratitude, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in her crown.
As a cardinal, Benedict XVI had a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima which extended to his papacy, when he visited the Fatima shrine from May 11-14, 2010. In 2008, he waived the typical five-year waiting period in order to open Sr. Lucia’s cause for canonization. The local Church in February 2017 finished collecting documents to examine her heroic virtue.
Pope Francis as well has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and consecrated his papacy to her on May 13, 2013.
What happened to the visionaries after the apparitions?
As foretold in the apparitions, the sibling pair of Francisco and Jacinta would only live a short while after the apparitions were completed.
Convicted by Mary’s requests and the vision of hell, both children lived lives of prayer and penance after the apparitions, offering themselves for sinners as Mary had asked. Francisco was known for his devotion to the Eucharist and his strict physical mortifications, while Jacinta was especially known for having a heart for the poor and the suffering.
Both children fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918 that swept through Europe. In October 1918, Mary again appeared to the sick siblings and promised to take them to heaven soon. On April 3, 1919, Francisco declined hospital treatment for influenza and died the next day, at the age of 11.
Jacinta was given hospital treatment in hopes of prolonging her life, but she knew that she would soon join Francisco in heaven. On February 19, 1920, Jacinta asked the hospital chaplain who heard her confession to bring her Holy Communion and administer the last rites, because she was going to die “the next night.” But the priest said that her condition was not that serious and that he would return the next day. The next day Jacinta was found dead – she had died in her sleep at 10 years old.
As for Lucia, she outlived her cousins by many years, as Mary had predicted. Shortly after the deaths of her cousins, at 14 years old, she was sent to the Dorothean Sisters of Villar for school, and in 1928 became a sister of St. Dorothy. In 1946, she transferred to the convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Coimbra, Portugal and took the name Sister Maria Lucia of the Immaculate Heart.
She received visions and messages from Mary and Jesus on several more occasions throughout her life, including the visions in 1925 that led to the Five First Saturday devotions, which include saying the rosary, receiving communion and confession, and meditation during the first Saturday of five consecutive months.
Besides the four memoirs she wrote between 1935 and 1941, Sr. Lucia had an additional book published in 2001, known as Calls from the Message of Fatima or Appeals of the Fatima Message. She visited the Fatima shrine during Bl. Paul VI’s visit in 1967, and during all three of St. John Paul II’s visits.
Aside from her memoirs and letters to clergy regarding Fatima, she had limited communication with the outside world, per her Carmelite vows.
Sr. Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97, at the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbra, where she had lived since 1948.
The canonization of Francisco and Jacinta
Popularity of the Fatima apparitions spread, and the cause for canonization of Francisco and Jacinta was opened in 1946. Much of what is known about their life and holiness is known through Lucia’s memoirs.
“People may ask: ‘These children died so young, what do we know about them and their lives of faith?’ But a lot was related by Sr. Lucia and the witnesses of the apparitions. Francisco had a devotion to the Eucharist, and Jacinta wanted to help those who were suffering, that was her charism or focus after the apparition. Those are details most of us don’t really know about,” O’Neill said.
Francisco and Jacinta became the youngest non-martyr children to be beatified, on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition. St. John Paul II presided over the Mass.
Pope Francis canonized Francisco and Jacinta during his trip to Fatima on May 13, 2017 during a Mass at the shrine.
This article was originally published on CNA May 9, 2017.