As Pure As the Driven Snow: A Short Story (Mary Series)

The meaning and origin of the expression: As pure as the driven snow
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Improbable as it is for snow to fall during August, history tells of a snowfall that seemed more impossible, namely in Rome, Italy. August 5, , snow fell during the night in Rome. They chose the Mother of God as the heir to their fortune, and at the suggestion of Pope Liberius, prayed that she might make known to them how to do this by a particular sign. In answer, the Virgin Mother during the night of August 5, appeared to John and his wife and also to the Holy Father, Pope Liberius, directing them to build a church in her honor on the crown of the Esquiline Hill. And what would be the sign that John and his wife had requested?

Snow rarely falls in Rome, but the flakes fell silently during that night, blanketing the peak of the historic hill. In the morning the news quickly spread and crowds gathered to throng up the hill and behold the white splendor. The snow had fallen in a particular pattern, showing the outline of the future church. When it became known that the snow was a sign from Mary, the people spontaneously added another to her long list of titles, Our Lady of the Snows. The church built there is now known as Saint Mary Major. There Mary has been pleased to secure various and many blessings as numerous and varied, as the flakes of snow that fell that August night.

The church built by John and his wife in honor of Our Lady of the Snows, restored and enlarged at various times was known by different names: There is an image revered as Our Lady of the Snows, which is believed to have been produced by St. Saint Mary Major is one of the four basilicas in which the pilgrims to Rome must pray in order to gain the indulgences of the Holy Year.

Most fitting do we call Mary Our Lady of the Snows. The white blanket of that August night symbolizes Mary, pure as the driven snow; her blessings and graces, numerous and varied as the falling snowflakes. Science tells us that every snowflake is different in form and make-up: What a wonderful figure of the blessings Mary obtains for us! Snow changes the face of the earth, painting even a field of mud with a white coat. The pilgrim will see ladies walking barefoot on their country paths with queenly straightness, all the while supporting on their casual coiffures jugs of wine that well might test a strong man's back, or oranges in heaps that you would not at first believe.

Fittingly enough, it resembles a movie set done with Hollywood thoroughness, with the script ripped boldly from a Bible history book. A million people a number equal to one-seventh of the total Portuguese population have assembled within and about the rocky field near Fatima that is known as the Cova da Iria. There are no hotel accommodations nor any other shelter for those who come to Fatima at these extraordinary times. There is only this open field and the surrounding slopes of the simple countryside to provide a resting place.

Customarily, on these few great occasions, the pilgrims arrive the night before the scheduled devotions. Often it has rained the length of the night, as though to test the fibre of the faithful. It seems fair enough, on the evidence, to say that Christian devotion has never in modern times exceeded the fervour of these demonstrations in the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth day of May or October in any of recent years. There are not many striking or ornamental sights to see.

At Fatima the edifice of greatest interest is perhaps the least of the structures there.

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When it became known that the snow was a sign from Mary, the The white blanket of that August night symbolizes Mary, pure as the driven snow; her blessings and mystics into one coherent story on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary of Agreda, it also includes many episodes described in the. Semiotics, Snow White and Mary: A Mystical Rose by Any Other Name? David Tracy opines that any "classic" tale that communicates profoundly and powerfully to a . White, suggests innocence and purity, as in the idiom, "pure as the driven snow. From there it is a short trip to Marian interpretations, for many scripture.

Its glory exists in nothing but the events it commemorates. The lone touch of grandeur at the Cova da Iria will be found in the great basilica that has risen above the humble land. This is a crowning structure in the manner of the Italian Renaissance, stately and reverent in its setting, and built of the stone, the labor, and the love these hills have returned to their Lady for the visits she paid them less than 40 years ago.

In the classic pattern of great Catholic shrines, remarkable and documented cures have been effected at Fatima. People seem either unduly devoted to miracles or else made furious by stories concerning them, but a great shrine without miracles would be to many like a song that lacked a lyric. There is clinical certainty that at Fatima the blind have had sight restored, while men and women stretcher-borne have risen from their litters to cry hosannas to the Power that can in one moment banish cancer, loosen the fist of the tightest paralysis, or render whole and clean the shrunken lungs of abandoned tuberculars.

More than a hundred contradictions of the natural physical law have been registered at Fatima, and held to be valid only after the most exhaustive and scrupulous examination of all available evidence. The author has himself been present at many miraculous cures, but to those who do not require the spangles of visible prodigy to know that God is in His heaven, the spiritual message of Fatima remains of infinitely greater importance.

We should pause long enough to reflect that it is not strange for God to speak to us, since He loves us far more than the best of us loves Him. Through all human history He has given His counsel to the conduct of our lives, His light to our doubts, and finally, through Calvary, the blood of His only-begotten Son as a ransom for our sins. Angels and prophets and saints have spoken for Him, but the most glorious of His messengers has been Mary. At Fatima the world has received, through Mary, God's own prescription for peace. As to another Bethlehem, all hope and charity are carried in her to the lonely Portuguese hills, and to the shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, whose total and wonderful story I am privileged to tell.

Within the parish of Fatima, which is itself a small and modest place, there is a little hamlet called Aljustrel, and to find a less pretentious part of the world, you would probably need an angel for a guide. It is in the precise geographical center of Portugal, some say, though I have never measured it. Actually it is a group of aged and whitewashed houses, some detached and others joined, that tumble at a slight grade down a rocky lane where donkeys and sheep are happy, and an automobile, to proceed in peace, would require the gearing of a goat.

It is little different now from the days of , when it was the home of the three little children to whom our Lady appeared. These children were as ordinary, by all the fair accounts of those who knew them best, as bread and fish, as gaiety and tears, as simple games of fancy, as flowers in the summer fields. They were not conspicuous for their gifts or their delinquencies. Lucia Santos was older than her little cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. She was born on March 22,, in the last of these whitewashed houses on the left-hand side of the descending road.

Scrubbed and posed and supplied with a halo, she could neither then nor now fulfil the holy-picture concept of a flowering saint. As a child, her features were blunt, her eyes alone being luminous and soft. Her lips were too thick and her nose was too flat. Her eyebrows, black as crepe, appeared to form one horizontal line. Yet Lucia was gay and bright and loved by other children. Her lightness of spirit gave a shine to the dull facade and managed most times to chase the gloom away and out of sight.

It was less a redeeming factor in her personality than it was a dividend of goodness. This story of Fatima treats of Lucia in her years of childhood and early adolescence. We know a great deal about her, not only from her memoirs and the gracious help she has herself supplied, but in the endless testimony of living people who knew her well and loved her more These documents are abundant, and throughout the text we will quote them with exact fidelity. Lucia's oldest sister, Maria dos Anjos which means Mary of the Angels , is a plain woman, middle-aged, as practical as a loaf of bread, and herself a stranger to angels.

She recalls her sister with quiet and non-rehearsed affection:. We loved her because she was so intelligent and affectionate Maria has told us. Even when she had grown to the age of ten and was believed old enough to be trusted with the flocks, she would run to my mother and sit on her lap to be cuddled and kissed. We who were older used to tease her and say, "Here comes the cuddler! But it made no difference.

It would be the same the next day. You should have seen her when my first baby was born. She came home from the fields and locked up the sheep and ran as fast as her legs would carry her to my house, which was just across the street from my mother's house. She clutched at the baby and covered it with kisses, not at all like the others around here who thought a baby was just a baby.

Lucia loved children and they adored her. Sometimes a dozen or so of them would collect in our yard and Lucia would be perfectly happy just decorating these little ones with flowers and leaves.

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She would make little processions with make-believe saints, arranging flowers and thrones and singing hymns to our Lady, just as if they were all in a church. I can still remember the ones she liked best. Here Maria dos Anjos hummed a well-known Portuguese hymn to our Lady. And she would finish the hymn by giving the "blessing. No one could beat Lucia at games.

She was always the organiser. It is certain that Lucia was gay and content as a child, not only from the testimony of those who lived with her and grew up with her, but from her own self-possessed and unfaltering recollections. Piety of a melancholy strain never touched Lucia sufficiently to erase the natural delight she found in costuming and fancy frills. She loved dearly to dress for festas, in the bright adornment of jingling gold chains, elaborate earrings, and shawls made gay with feathers and dazzling beads.

In that neighbourhood Lucia has testified no other girl was dressed as prettily. I think my sisters and my godmother, Teresa, were surprised to see that one so plain could look so nice. The other children would please me by crowding around to admire my pretty things.

She seemed to think I would get part of the inheritance she hoped for herself. There is evidence that Lucia as a child was somewhat supercharged with dancing energy and an inclination to jabber endlessly. Her uncle, the good and patient Manuel Marto, does not indict her for this perpetual motion of lip and limb, he merely states it to have been so. He was fond of her, and recalls her depths of affection. She called him "Father.

Lucia's home life was orthodox. Her mother, Maria Rosa, was a plain, industrious, unpampered woman who permitted no nonsense. The guiding hand in the house was matriarchal, due perhaps to Antonio Santos's frequent lapses in religious practice, and his surrenderings to thirst.

Maria Rosa worried over her husband's bad example to their children, and was an aggressive champion of virtue in a very literal and sometimes muscular way. But of her devotion and fidelity to the teachings of the Church there is no doubt. Maria dos Anjos has attempted to describe her mother's approach to their spiritual growth during those early years.

Our mother knew how to read printed words but could not write. Every night during the winter she used to read us some part of the Old Testament or the Gospels, or some story of Our Lady of Nazare or Lourdes. I dearly remember her saying to Lucia at the time of the apparitions: In Lent we knew that readings would be about the Passion of our Lord. Afterwards Lucia would give her own account to the other children.

Mother taught us doctrine, and would not let us go and play until we knew it properly by heart. She did not want to feel ashamed, she said, when the parish priest examined us. And she had no need to be, for the priest was very pleased with us and even when we were quite small, he allowed us to teach other children in the church. I could not have been more than nine when he made me a catechist. Mother was never satisfied with our just being able to repeat the words of our catechism.

She tried hard to explain everything so we would really understand the meaning of the words. She used to say that just repeating catechism without understanding was worse than useless. We used to ask her all kinds of questions and it seemed that she explained them even better than the priest in church. One day I asked her how it was that the fire of hell did not destroy the damned like the wood in the fire. She asked us if we had ever noticed how a cone cast into a fire could seem to burn and burn without being destroyed. This rather frightened us, and we made firm resolutions not to sin and fall into that fire ourselves.

But it was not only to us that mother taught catechism. Other children and even grown-ups used to come to our house for lessons. All through May, as well as in the month of the holy souls, we said the family Rosary at home by the fireside, and when we went out with the flocks our mother would always remind us to take our beads with us.

Anthony, so the sheep will not get lost. My mother always insisted that we be home by nightfall, no matter what the occasion. Days of festa made no difference because, with her, the supper hour was sacred. She wanted us to be humble and hard-working and truthful. The least little lie would mean the broom handle for us. From the beginning mother taught us to love the Church, and especially the Blessed Sacrament. In those days first Holy Communion was not made until children were about ten years old, and we had to know our doctrine well.

But Lucia made her first Communion when she was six. And I can still remember how happy mother was, and what a festa we had at home! Her conformity seems to have been rigid, sincere, and touched with her personal gloom. She displayed, for instance, undeviating faith in all pronouncements by Father Manuel Ferreira, the parish priest at Fatima, who one day declared that dancing, indulged in beyond the threshold of the home, was a sinful exercise that made the devil jig with glee.

This was uncomfortable news to Maria Rosa and her nimble daughters, none of whom enjoyed the happy practice more than Lucia. But once proscribed by the parish priest, that was the end of the dancing. Lucia, after long years in the convent, seems still to be puzzled by this local interdict:.

Someone asked my mother how it was that up to that time dancing had not been considered a sin, but with the coming of the new priest had become one. My mother replied, "I don't know, but the Reverend Father does not want dancing; that is clear; so my daughters will not go to dances. They can dance a little at home because the Reverend Father says that in the family it is not wrong to dance. For Maria Rosa the voice of the priest was in all things the voice of the Lord. This unvarying confidence in the judgments of Father Ferreira may to some degree explain her long and stubborn reluctance to concede that the Mother of God could have appeared to the likes of Lucia.

Father Ferreira vehemently denied any possibility of the apparitions being true, and suggested to Senhora Santos that the violent nonsense in her young daughter's head could be of diabolic inspiration. This judgment surely did not assist any flood of sympathy in Senhora Santos for the tearful and tender pleadings of her little girl: Francisco Marto and his little sister, Jacinta, were Lucia's first cousins.

They lived up the road a bit on that rocky and dusty lane that leads through Aljustrel. They were the sixth and seventh children of their good and durable parents, Manuel Pedro Marto and his wife, Olimpia, who became and have remained the warm, valued friends of the author of this book. We first met Manual Marto in , when brought to his house by Father Carlos de Azevedo, the director of the publication, Voz da Fatima.

We got to Aljustrel by walking through fields that in proper season cry out with beauty, but have always been poor and stubborn under that gay dress of flowers worn in summer. What fertility these acres possess was gained the hard way, by the sweat of toiling peasants through succeeding generations.

When the Lord sends rain there is a harvest of wheat for June, and in September the land yields back to the worker a fair measure of maize, and grapes for making wine. The olive groves are treasured for the oil they give, and there are the sheep. These things together provide the total and uncomplicated economy of this mountain range, or serra as it is called. Father Carlos led us past several cottages to one that was hardly different from the rest. These dwellings, almost always of sun-stained stucco, are one story high, and to modern, metropolitan eyes would at first glimpse, suggest all the comforts of an abandoned mineshaft.

The neighbourhood lacks, in a loose order of its under-privilege: The people here are neither gadget-blest nor gadget-bound, but sufficient to the tasks and needs of every day and, consequently, free. To sympathisers they would likely say: A group of children probably relatives were playing in front of Ti Marto's house that afternoon in Since it wasn't Sunday, they were shoeless, and by late afternoon as efficiently filmed with earth as young potatoes rooted from the field.

Father Carlos asked one of them, "Is Ti Marto home? But Senhor Marto had already heard us and had come to the gate. In the Portuguese custom he leaned to kiss our hands, then led us into his straw-strewn yard. Senhor Marto is a spry and ancient gentleman who gets around. He was past seventy then, and is past eighty now, yet the chances are fine that he will still outlive whatever donkey is currently toting the wood.

He is a lean and straight-standing man whom work has fibred like an old stalk of asparagus. He is sincere and kind, and as modest as a prayer should be. Like most of the working people on the serra he can neither read nor write, yet is an intelligent and learned man. A stranger to books, he does not know the intellectual fashions or those choking deposits of pride that erudition too often leaves in the minds and spirits of men who have believed themselves to be in chaste pursuit of God.

As a priest, I have been astonished and humbled by his knowledge of theology. Do not ask me how it came to him, but do believe that in the things that matter most he speaks with Pauline clarity, as though the lightning of the Lord had struck him, too. This is Marto, the father of Francisco and Jacinta.

In this story he will be our witness many times. On my first visit to Ti Marto's house I was welcomed into the parlour or living room. It is humble here but not without comfort and a certain abiding charm. It is dominated by the hearth that heats the house when heat is required, and where, at all times of the year, the cooking is done. There are some adornments. A table along one wall holds a variety of religious objects. There are pictures, chief among them a likeness of Pius XII, his hand raised in fatherly blessing to the people of this house.

Senhora Olimpia came in. She moves rather briskly, and she is lively and spirited, and a few years older than her husband. She was the widowed mother of two children before she married Ti Marto, and had seven more by him. She came bearing a great heap of grapes, fresh-picked for her visitors, and a basin of water and a towel for the washing of our hands. Neither my husband nor I drink wine.

We began to talk, as we have talked a great deal ever since. This is not an embellished story, but a restrained and honest one, told with love and in good conscience by people who have been very close to God. It seems agreed by all who remember Francisco Marto that he was a handsome boy, and photographs confirm this. The one or two that have been most published present him at his slick and Sunday best in an outfit almost dudish. The boy's glance at the camera in these pictures appears both solemn and suspicious, but whether of the photographer or his own Sunday clothes, it's difficult to know.

Sister Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, in her accounts of him reports that unlike his spirited sister, Jacinta, with her capacity for frolic and self-assertion, Francisco at the age of nine was such a calculating and determined pacifist that a lack of courage would appear to be the only explanation.

He was devoted to games and the company of other children, yet by Lucia's testimony was without any appetite for the routine conflicts and tests of will that go with children's games. He was either indifferent to his personal rights or unwilling to defend them. When he was robbed of a treasured possession, Lucia recalls, he would not even protest.

Once each year, we are told, there was glad commotion in Aljustrel when Lucia's, Francisco's, and Jacinta's godmother Teresa made her annual trip to the seacoast. There's evidence that this good lady must have been godmother to everyone in sight and faithfully remembered to return from her journeys with a gift for each child she had sponsored. One of her gifts to Francisco was a lovely handkerchief on which was stamped the image of Our Lady of Nazare. He prized it dearly and displayed it with pride among his friends.

But a tragic thing occurred. His precious handkerchief was pirated by one of his companions. Faithful friends went sleuthing, and the culprit was revealed. But on Francisco's part there was no call to arms. Lucia has confessed that his docility and habitual yielding inspired her less than it annoyed her:. He would play with all the children without showing preference, and he never quarrelled.

But if something happened that he did not like, he would sometimes leave the game. If asked why he left, he would reply, "Because you're bad," or simply, "Because I want to. His peaceful temperament sometimes used to get very much on my nerves. If I ordered him to sit on a stone, he would meekly do so, as if I had to be obeyed. Later I would be sorry for my impatience and go to him, and he would always be as friendly as if nothing had happened.

The softness of his nature is confirmed by Ti Marto who recalls that Francisco was an affectionate, obedient boy and rarely, if ever, an obstacle in the path of family discipline. But Ti Marto fails to agree with Lucia that he was a thornless personality at home, or a timid defender of his interests. He also dissents from Lucia's view of Francisco's and Jacinta's comparative courage. This is the view of Ti Marto:. He was more courageous than Jacinta. He didn't always have as much patience, and often, for small reason, he would run around like a young bull calf.

He was anything but a coward. He would go out at night, alone in the dark, without a sign of fear. He played with lizards and snakes and would roll them around a stick and make them drink out of holes in the rocks. Fearlessly he hunted hares and foxes and moles. Senhora Olimpia recalls Francisco's talent for capturing lizards and other portable wildlife that are unpopular indoors. She says that his habit was to bring these specimens into the house while her own inclination was to sprint for safety.

She marvelled then at the boldness of her son, and today states with certainty that he was never afraid. But kindness appears to have been a controlling trait. He gave warmth and pity to all the creatures of earth. Once, it is known, he paid the great price of the only penny he possessed, or was for some time likely to acquire, to purchase freedom for a bird another boy held captive.

The actual plundering of a nest filled him with horror. Music thrilled him, and he is said to have been adept at coaxing tunes from a reed pipe, in accompaniment to which both Jacinta and Lucia were happy to sing and to dance. Indications are strong that Francisco was a nice little fellow and, on the evidence, at nine years of age, neither a hoodlum nor a shining saint.

Jacinta Marto was a lamb of the Lord, who remains the delight and living lesson of the Fatima story as it is known to date. Because Lucia loved her so, and has made her own earliest memoirs almost a sheer biography of her cousin with the apparitions mentioned hardly at all , we have a heroine, small but complete, dainty yet brave, and as gay in the paths of sorrow and trial as only the saints can be. She never grew much bigger than a plaster cherub, anyhow.

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She died when she was not quite ten years old, already on speaking terms with actual angels, and with Mary, the Queen of the Kingdom. It was the running head-start to heaven that Jacinta had clearly earned. She was two years younger than Francisco, whom she resembled. Her prettiness was an asset that undoubtedly pleased her, and it was marked enough to prompt the special attention of her mother. Her expression was soft and her features exquisitely modelled.

Her health was excellent; her energies endless; she flowed into motion with easy grace and dancing was one of her joys. She liked to have her hair tidy and I used to do it for her every day. A little jacket and a cotton skirt and shoes were what she wore each day, for I was always able to keep my children shod. Jacinta's grasp on the affections of all who knew her is made clear by endless testimony. This is almost excessive praise from the just and moderate Ti Marto, whose inclination would not normally be to raise the prestige of a single child like a bright flag over the rest.

She was always gentle and sweet, and she was like that from the beginning. If she wanted anything she would let us know in her own way, or just give a tiny cry, and then no more trouble at all. When we went out to Mass, or for some other reason left the house, she did not mind. We never had to go through any nonsense because of her. She was naturally good and was the sweetest among our children. When her mother told her some little fib, such as that she was only going to the cabbage-patch, when she was really going much farther, Jacinta would always detect the deception and not hesitate to scold her own mother.

Such rectitude in a child of this age may seem smug to some, or to others suggest a precocious and self-conscious scold. But there is no reason to believe that this was so. The three-year difference in their ages was no barrier to their friendship or freedom of communication. Their love was rare and undoubtedly touched with grace. Envy or competition did not exist between them, though Jacinta now and then moved out from under any premature halo long enough to pout and be unhappy when she was unable to possess each of her cousin's waking hours.

When Lucia attained the age of ten and was assigned by her parents the daily task of tending the family sheep, a crisis arose. For Lucia it meant a graduation from endless games with other children to responsible chores in sometimes distant pastures; and for Jacinta, held to village doorsteps, it meant a desolate loneliness that she was not at this age willing to bear. Olimpia Marto solved this problem by permitting Jacinta a few of their own flock to take along with Lucia. Jacinta's desire to praise and to please the older shepherdess is displayed in touching detail by Lucia's own testimony:.

My cousin went one day with her mother to a first Communion ceremony at which tiny "angels" strewed flowers before the Blessed Sacrament. After that she would often leave us at our play to gather armfuls of flowers which she would throw at me in the same way. When I asked her why she did it, she said she was doing what the angels did.

By Lucia's account, the gospel stories and the personality of Jesus were in Jacinta's firm possession long before the apparitions raised the faith of these children to a status of angelic knowledge:. When she was five years old, or less, she would melt with tears on hearing the story of the Passion of our Lord. But in the rocky fields of the serra, Jacinta was happy. She had Lucia for the length of every day, and the sheep had become her precious friends. Out of her affection she gave them the choicest names her fancy could provide: She used to sit with them Lucia says , holding and kissing them on her lap.

At night she would attempt to carry a little one home on her shoulders to save it from tiredness, as in pictures of the Good Shepherd she had seen. It was her habit to gather them in volume and myriad colours to festoon her hair with their brightness, and especially to make garlands for Lucia. Her aesthetic appetite was not only sharp but, for such a knee-high apprentice to the world's delights, voracious.

She had a romantic label for all the natural beauties she was able to behold. The stars were to her "the angels' lanterns," and she would challenge Francisco to eye-crossing, sense-rocking contests in which they would attempt to count each one of them. The sun, casting soft light on the rough hills at the end of the day, was to Jacinta, "our Lady's lamp.

Lucia says that her cousin's singing voice was sweet and that she was fond of perching on some high hill now and then so that her voice-could echo in the valley. Dancing, of course, was an enterprise that flourished endlessly with both of them, and according to Lucia, Jacinta brought to it a special talent and grace. All this is very nice, and very sweet; yet fairness requires those few descriptions by Lucia that reveal some moth bites in her little cousin's mantle of innocence.

She could, at times, be disagreeable:. The least quarrel, when she was playing with other children, was enough to put her into a fit of the sulks. To make her return to the game it was not enough to plead and pet; she had to choose both game and partner. Possessiveness was another fault in Jacinta, and her accustomed success at games, plus pampering, seem now and then to have shaken a little salt on the angels who hovered so near. I was very upset with her Lucia has said , because after a game of "buttons" I would have none on my dress when I was called home to meals.

She nearly always used to win them from me, and this meant a scolding by my mother. But what could I do when, in addition to sulking, she would not give them back to me? Her plan was to have them ready for the next day's game without having to use her own.

It was only by threatening not to play again that I managed to get them back. Lucia's honest memoirs also provide an admission that in those early days prayer was not as popular as play:. We were told we must say our Rosaries after our lunch on the serra, but as the whole day seemed too short for prayer, we thought of a good way to get it done quickly.

We simply said, "Hail Mary, Hail Mary," on each of the beads, and then, at the end of the decade, "Our Father," with a rather long pause. That way, in a very few minutes, the Rosary was off our minds. On those days when Francisco and Jacinta were allowed to join Lucia in taking the sheep to pasture, their mother would wake them to the darkness and the mountain chill preceding dawn. Still half asleep, they would mumble the required prayer of the day: Senhora Olimpia remembers that they did not always respond with model devotion; they were much too groggy.

Children of that age very soon get tired of praying. This ultra-early rousing, of course, was not a calculated penance but a sound concession to the preference of the sheep for nibbling in pasture still fresh with the dew of the night. While the children were dressing, Olimpia customarily produced for them a breakfast of soup and chewy bread made moist with a splash of olive oil.

There's no indication that the morning menu ever got much fancier. For lunch they would carry with them bread and olives and dried fish or sardines, supplemented with anything else the cupboard could provide. The aim of the children was not food, anyhow, but the company of Lucia and the gladness of the day. Lucia would wait with her flock, and make the choice of pastureland. Sometimes she chose the fields near Fatima or those close by a village known as Moita.

But best of all she liked a place called the Cabeco, where her family owned part of an olive grove. This was a pasture on a rise of land that overlooked their village, near home, and lumpy with odd-shaped stones. Grazing was good at the Cabeco, while the olive and pine trees gave pleasant shade when the heat of the day was high. Other shepherds often joined them here at Lucia's invitation, the sheep to dine off the countryside, the children to play at their games. This mingling of flocks appears to have gone well enough, with never a crisis of ownership, since sheep, like puppies, or sociable cats, always know to whom they belong.

Consistent with her habit of leadership, Lucia was the organiser and leader of the games. Being then, as now, a combination of excellent humour and practical energy, her leadership stirred no resentment. It was natural, and it was encouraged by the dependence of the others. Time and again, not from Lucia's own testimony, but from the willing evidence her old companions provide, their affection for this markedly plain little girl is evident. A middle-aged housewife of Aljustrel, named Teresa Maitias, remembers happily the games they used to play:.

Lucia was very amusing. She had a way of getting the best out of us so that we liked to be with her. She was also very intelligent, and could sing and dance and taught us to do the same. We always obeyed her. We spent hours and hours dancing and singing, and sometimes forgot to eat. Besides the hymns we sang in church I remember one to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel that I still sing as I go about my work, and which all my children have learned. We sang folk songs, too, that I can't remember now, and the little boys used to play their pipes while we danced.

It was at a time that remains uncertain, though she was probably eight years old. Her own recollections set the event between April and October of and it must have occurred during one of her first assignments with the sheep. She was with three other girls who still remember, though in a kind of grey confusion, what happened that day on the slopes of the Cabeco.

It was transparent and in human form. The exact emotional reactions of these children are not clear, and later awareness that the figure was an angel has not prompted them to colour the event with imagination. The figure, or visitor, was vague, and admittedly did not etch itself very clearly in their minds. One of the children reported home to her mother that she had seen something white on a tree and that it looked like a headless woman.

This account was enough to raise some lively speculation, but it was a puzzle so beyond solution that, when curiosity had wearied, the problem was shrugged away. Twice again in the days that followed the same strange figure appeared to these children, leaving with Lucia a reaction she could neither describe nor explain. A year or more passed. Lucia, now a veteran shepherdess, was an almost daily companion to Jacinta and Francisco. Only then did the angel appear with radiant clarity at the Cabeco. This was not a gauzy, uncertain citizen of paradise.

Its identity was overpowering. Lucia confesses her complete inability to deal with the event in adequate words, but at least has tried her very best. This is her account of what happened in the spring of We went on that occasion to my parents' property, which is at the bottom of the Cabeco, facing east. It is called Chousa Velha. About the middle of the morning it began to drizzle and we climbed up the hill, followed by our sheep, in search of a rock that would shelter us. And so it was that we entered for the first time into that blessed place.

It is in the middle of an olive grove that belongs to my godfather, Anastacio. From there one can see the village where I was born, my father's house, and also Casa Velha and Eira da Pedra. The olive grove, which really belongs to several people, extends as far as these places. We spent the day there, in spite of the fact that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining in a clear sky. We ate our lunch and began to say the Rosary. After that we began to play a game with pebbles. We had only been at it a few moments when a strong wind began to shake the trees and we looked up to see what was happening, since it was such a calm day.

And then we began to see, in the distance, above the trees that stretched to the east, a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent, and as brilliant as crystal in the rays of the sun. As he came near we were able to see his features. We were astonished and absorbed and we said nothing to one another. And then he said: I am the angel of peace. He knelt, bending his forehead to the ground. With a supernatural impulse we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say:. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love You.

The hearts of Jesus and Mary are ready to listen to you. He left us in an atmosphere of the supernatural that was so intense we were for a long time unaware of our own existence. The presence of God was so powerful and intimate that even among ourselves we could not speak. On the next day, too, this same atmosphere held us bound, and it lessened and disappeared only gradually. None of us thought of talking about this apparition or any pledge of secrecy. We were locked in silence without having willed it. This silence was long maintained. The weight of mystery was on them heavily.

Their games and songs and dances were begun again, but as though by a controlling plan they chose now to play less with other children, and to remain much more by themselves. It should be mentioned here that while Francisco witnessed and felt the power and glory of the angel, he did not hear what was said. Later, too, in all the apparitions that followed, the partial privilege of seeing and knowing but not hearing the words of our Lady was to be his allotment. When it is summer on the Serra da Aire, the sun of the middle day is merciless.

It parches the hills and wilts nearly everything. The sheep are therefore pastured in the early and the late parts of the day. Always before noon they are returned to the sheep folds while the shepherds themselves find shade from the sun and ease from their morning tasks. The children often spent these glaring hours in Lucia's garden where an old well rests in shade.

The well in summer is covered by a great flat stone, since it is not spring-fed, but is rather a kind of catch-all, used to gather what water it can in the brief season of rain.

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The children liked to sit and play on the great rock covering the well, shaded by the laden limbs of fig, almond and olive trees. One day, in the time of siesta, the angel came to them again, and this is Lucia's account:. The hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. You must offer your prayers and sacrifices to God, the Most High.

In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you. Again Francisco, hearing nothing of what the angel had said, could hold his curiosity no longer than evening.

But Lucia was so stunned by the weight of the supernatural that she asked him please to wait another day, or else to ask Jacinta. But Jacinta, too, found herself not willing or prepared to repeat a word of the angel's message. On the following day relates Lucia , the first thing Francisco did was ask me, "Did you sleep last night? I was thinking all the time of the angel and what he could have said. I then told him everything the angel had said in the two apparitions. But it seemed he did not understand all the words.

But my own spirit was not yet free to talk of these things.

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I asked him once more to wait another day. He seemed content then to wait a little, but at the very first chance he was asking questions again, which caused Jacinta to say with some alarm, "Be careful; one should not talk about these things! It is strange, but when we talked about the angel, I cannot explain how it was that we felt.

Jacinta said, "I don't know what it is that I feel. I can't talk or play or sing or anything. The angel is better than anything. Let's think of him. It was no problem to dwell on the angel. For days they were without capacity to think of anything else. The exhortation to "Pray Their senses were barely able to carry the weight of what had been said. The value of sacrifice was for the first time clear. Suddenly we knew its appeal to God and its power to convert sinners.

From that moment we began offering to Him all that mortified us, all that was difficult or unpleasant, except that we did not then seek extra sacrifices and penances as we later learned to do. We did, however, spend hours and hours prostrated on the ground, repeating and repeating the prayer the angel taught us. The summer passed and siesta times were over: Now the sheep were pastured in the fields the length of every day. The children understandably had become more thoughtful, their prayers habitual.

One day, Lucia re members, they led their flock from other fields to the slope of the Cabeco. And there by a strange, high-standing stone, they knelt to say first the Rosary, then the prayer the angel had taught them. While we were there Lucia has testified , the angel appeared to us for the third time, holding in his hand a chalice, and above the chalice, a Host, from which a few drops of blood were falling.

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Leaving the chalice and Host suspended in air, he prostrated himself on the ground and repeated three times this prayer:. Afterwards, he rose and took again the chalice and the Host and gave the Host to me and the contents of the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco, saying to them:. Repair their crimes and console your God. Once more he prostrated himself and repeated with us three times the prayer, "Most Holy Trinity As in the other instances of the angel's appearance, exhaustion and the lock of silence held both little girls. Only Francisco, not having heard the angel, had a question to ask.

Didn't you see the blood that dropped into the chalice from the Host? The little boy, rich with the Feast that was in him, seemed satisfied. Some feeling of impudence must invade any writer who attempts by himself to interpret the work of God. Yet it seems here so entirely clear that the angel, in addition to preparing the children for the spiritual privileges yet to come, undertook to demonstrate and underline for our theological health and guidance that the binding orthodoxies of the Church have not been vitiated by time or error.

The centuries have left them undamaged. The frailties of all men, including the Church's membership, or even the sins and weaknesses of her priests, so often pointed at in triumph by the Church's enemies, have not chipped the Rock of Peter, nor diminished in any way the irreducible God who supplants the bread in the uplifted hands of any ordinary priest.

But here, at Fatima, it does appear that an angel has walked among us with a catechism open in his hands. I don't know why, but the apparitions of our Lady produced in us effects quite different from the angel's visitations We felt in both instances the same intimate happiness, peace and joy, but instead of the physical prostration the angel imposed, our Lady brought a feeling of expansion and freedom; and instead of this annihilation in the divine presence, we wished only to exult in our joy.

There was no difficulty of speech when our Lady appeared; there was rather on my part a desire to communicate. Any wise missionary, for good or for evil and God is the wisest missionary of all , treasures for his cause the conversion and allegiance of children. If it is impossible for a child to encounter a whale reading The New York Times on 42nd Street, New York, this does not mean that he is psychologically unprepared for such an experience.

The barriers to his credulity are usually in ratio to his limited frame of reference. His personality is like a huge house only occupied in part; a skilled adult may enter hand-in-hand with Christ, or else, by his own election, with any of several beguiling anti-Christs, and have an excellent chance of settling down in comfortable residence there. This is one of the reasons why Jesus has so sternly and repeatedly warned us against giving scandal to children: He wants them for Himself.

God has set up an honest enterprise. His tap on the shoulder is an invitation but not a lease to paradise. He does not undermine this merit system by making angels of men. He does something fairer than that, and even more thrilling than that. He gives them a chance to become very much like Himself, or like His Mother, who is a person, and not an angel. The fulfilment of this opportunity is not easy; the ascent is invariably steep, with God providing the legs and the power, plus the free choice to climb or not to climb that rests with every man.

But God does not make this decision for us.

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That is our own. And by His own rules there is not much else that God can do. The children of Aljustrel, for instance, did not forget about the angel they had seen, but their zeal wore thin with the games and private interests that absorbed them in the winter months. Like Peter and James and John, who slept a stone's cast from their Master at Gethsemane, they had not yet been transformed into lovers of the cross, and perhaps with a better excuser.

On the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension, the village people walked to the parish church at Fatima, some dutiful feet encased in shoes, and as many more unshod. God preserved us Jacinta and Francisco's aged mother still declares from missing Mass on Sunday.

We always went, and we brought the children, too, as soon as they were old enough to understand. I used to get up early and leave everything to my husband who would go later. The only children we did not take were the toddling ones who could not know what was going on, or let you hear Mass properly yourself. They went leisurely along so the sheep could nibble at what random nourishment the roadside would provide.

It was a vivid day, and very beautiful. In May-time, then as now, the fields near Fatima are unbelievably gay. The spring flowers bloom in such exaggerated and festive glory that any field you pass attracts the eye like an acre of Easter hats in our own more fashionable precincts. The sky on this wonderful Sunday was cloudless.

The bells of the Fatima church were tolling as the sheep strolled into the field. The children had lunch while their sheep were grazing. They had no expectation this would prove a day that millions would in time commemorate. Lunch was particularly good, with a Sunday dividend added by their mothers. Some of this they saved for later in the afternoon. They said grace and then a Rosary, as was their habit every day. After this they led the sheep to a fresh pasture, higher on the slopes of the Cova da Iria.

They began to amuse themselves by building a little house with odd-sized stones they picked from the field. Francisco was the architect and principal mechanic in this venture, his sister and cousin supplying the rough materials. Their party had just begun to go well, when they were startled by a vivid flash of light. They dropped the stones from their hands and looked about. They hadn't expected lightning on a day so fair, but lightning, whether logical or not, meant to them a thunderstorm. Yet the trees were still. There was no wind. The sky was blue as it had ever been.

They began to gather their things and look to the sheep, when suddenly another flash of light, strange and unexplained, held them in speechless wonder. Without volition of their own, they walked a few steps forward, and then, as though compelled, they turned their heads to the right. They saw a Lady, and she was so beautiful that they were never after able to describe her in terms they believed fitting to her radiance and glory. It was a Lady Lucia has written , clothed in white, and brighter than the sun, radiating a light more intense and clear than a crystal cup would be, were it filled with sparkling water and lit with burning sunlight.

She looked at them a bit sadly, as though to reproach their lack of confidence. Lucia responded to this reassurance. Politely, but directly, she addressed the Lady. This seemed to the children entirely reasonable. They knew of heaven, both from their catechism and the visits of the angel. It simply was that they had never before been able to conceive that even heaven could produce anyone as radiantly beautiful as the Lady standing before them. They gazed in rapture. The Lady wore a white mantle of breathless purity.

It was edged with gold and fell to her feet. In her hands the beads of a rosary shone like stars, with its crucifix the most radiant gem of all. Still, Lucia felt no fear. The Lady's presence produced in her only gladness and confident joy. And I shall return here yet a seventh time. Its gifts and wonders had to be beyond all wild imagining. Somewhere in his little heart the Lady must have read a fault that others could not see. She remembered two of her companions who recently had died. And of the Lady then, in her charity, she anxiously asked: That was sad, thought Lucia.

Her eyes filled with tears. She looked once again to the Lady, as though there might be something they could do for Amelia. The Lady then asked them a question that concerned not only Amelia, but all the sons and daughters of earth. In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners? As she pronounced these words, she opened her hands, and we were bathed in a heavenly light that appeared to come directly from her hands.

The light's reality cut into our hearts and our souls, and we knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it. By an impulse of clear and exterior grace we fell to our knees, repeating in our hearts: The children remained kneeling in the flood of this wondrous light, until the Lady spoke again of things that seemed to them strange. Actually they did not know about war and peace. Amelia and Maria Neves were far more real, but they would obey, just the same; they would remember this, and the Lady seemed to know that they would.

She was leaving them now. She was rising and passing from sight She began to rise slowly Lucia has testified , moving to the eastward until she disappeared in the blaze of light that cut her path away and beyond our vision For an uncertain length of time the three children remained kneeling near the little oak tree, their eyes fixed on the patch of sky that had received the Lady and taken her from view.

Slowly they returned from ecstasy and began with some alarm to seek the sheep they had forgotten. But the sheep were grazing near, the flock intact. All had gone well. The children's hearts swelled large with happiness and peace. She had been silent in the Lady's presence, but now began to chatter breathlessly, and for her happiness, review each small detail of the experience. Her heart danced with her gladness. Her gentle and effusive nature overran itself with more joy, seemingly, than such a small and dancing vessel could contain.

Mere recollection of her was so exquisite an experience that it was touched with pain. Lucia held close in memory the words the Lady had spoken, and from that moment began to possess a literal understanding of what the words implied. In her mind they spread like a veil of sorrow across the glow of remembered joy. The gate of heaven did not seem like a needle's eye to her; it was wider by far than the blue sky over Portugal. There were no misgivings or shadows of sorrow in her sight, for she had not yet turned the coin of salvation to see its other side.

Not even my mother," Jacinta said firmly. As for Francisco, the little boy just walked along, his hands in his pockets, his thoughts his own. The sheep, strolled after them. Lucia went home that Sunday evening guarding preciously her knowledge of the Lady who came from heaven. Whether she believed the incident too holy to be communicated to others, or instinctively feared the reaction of her family, it is hard to say. Maria Rosa feared God and His Mother perhaps a little more than she loved them, and appears to have lacked the breadth of heart or imagination that could tolerate, even sentimentally, any "Cinderella" aspects of religion especially in the case of her own daughter.

Lucia was prudently silent.