By Donal Anthony Foley –
In expectation of Our Lady appearing at the Cova da Iria on August 13, 1917, a large crowd had gathered that morning and was waiting for Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia to arrive. When news came that the mayor had kidnapped the children, Maria Carreira, better known as Maria da Capelinha, (“Mary of the Chapel”), who later became the custodian of the apparition chapel, said “everyone began to talk at once and I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t heard a clap of thunder.”
They all saw a little white cloud come down on the holm oak tree where Our Lady had previously appeared, before rising and disappearing. Then the people saw everything around them reflecting different colours, an anticipation of what would happen during the miracle of the sun two months later. The Blessed Virgin had come even though the children had not been there.
But the children were not to be deprived of seeing her, since, on their release from the custody of the mayor a few days later, after being threatened with martyrdom by being boiled in oil, she appeared to them at a place near their homes called Valinhos, on a little holm oak tree as at the Cova.
As usual, Our Lady asked them to continue praying the Rosary every day. At the end of the apparition, she looked very sad, according to Lucia, and said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”
Obviously, these words had a profound meaning for the children, who had seen the terrifying vision of hell only the previous month. Our Lady taught the children a prayer at that time: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Even though they only saw hell for a moment, it was a vision that left them almost in a state of shock, and one that had a huge impact on how their lives unfolded, particularly in the case of Jacinta.
Lucia related, “The vision of hell filled her with horror to such a degree, that every penance and mortification was as nothing in her eyes, if it could only prevent souls from going there.”
Lucia also tells us that later on, when one day the children had taken their sheep to pasture, Jacinta, sitting on a rock, refused to play because she was “thinking.” She said, “That Lady told us to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.” Lucia had explained to her as best she could that heaven and hell are eternal – they never end – which made a huge impression on Jacinta, who, even in the middle of a game, would stop and ask: “But listen! Doesn’t hell end after many, many years, then?”
Or again: “Those people burning in hell, don’t they ever die? And don’t they turn into ashes? And if people pray very much for sinners, won’t Our Lord get them out of there? And if they make sacrifices as well? Poor sinners! We have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!” Then she went on: “How good that Lady is! She has already promised to take us to Heaven!”
The vision of hell moved Jacinta so strongly that she actively thought about it, pondered its implications and really meditated on it; whereas, most of us tend to think very little about hell or heaven. And it really hit home to her when Our Lady revealed “many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.” These words should strike us, too, because, as Lucia said, this was not a message just for three little shepherds, but for all people. It is all too easy to assume that somebody else will be doing the necessary praying and sacrificing. The present state of the world and the Church would indicate, this is probably not the case.
Somehow, in the Church, we need to regain the spirit that animated the young seers and the first pilgrims to Fatima, who willingly embraced the penances involved in their daily lives. Quite often, it meant walking long distances to the Cova in inclement weather and sleeping under the stars, walking on their knees to the site of the apparitions and being part of all-night vigils.
Even if we can’t make sacrifices such as these, we should at least start by offering up our daily trials and sufferings, as Mary requested in the very first apparition, commit to saying the Rosary every day, do the First Saturdays devotion, fast on certain days and encourage others to do likewise. These offerings could help souls in need avoid the awful eternity of hell. Jacinta believed this, not just because she saw hell, but because Mary said so. Would that we believe as well and embrace this spiritual mission, even though we have not seen hell with our own eyes.
Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at http://www.theotokos.org.uk.