The Secret of the Thing
From July 13, 1917, when Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta had been shown the vision of Hell and told about devotion to the Immaculate Heart, people in increasing numbers began going to the Cova da Iria to say the Rosary. For the three seers and especially for their parents, the crowds were only a cause of painful trials.
The adult Sister Lucy recalled:
My poor mother was more and more afflicted in seeing the number of people who came there from everywhere.
Maria Rosa's motives were simple:
Those poor people certainly come here to be deceived by your lies and truly I don't know what to do to undeceive them.
She made a new effort to oblige me to confess that I had lied, was how Lucy characterized the pressure from her mother, when she accompanied Lucy to the house of the priest for a second visit about the apparitions.
In front of Jacinta's and Francisco's house, Maria Rosa stooped to give Lucy stern instruction. When you arrive, you will kneel down, you will tell him that you lied and you will ask his forgiveness.
Jacinta came to the doorway and whispered, I'm going to get up and call Francisco. We are going to pray near the well. On your return, come and meet us there.
On the veranda of the priest's house Lucy was compelled to ask her mother: But Mama, how could I say that I have not seen what I have seen?
Listen well! What I want is that you tell the truth. If you have seen, say what you have seen, but if you did not see, admit that you lied.
Once inside Father Ferreira listens kindly and attentively, a noticeable difference in his attitude from the first visit.
The good parish priest received us with great friendliness, Sister Lucy relates, I should even say, tenderness. He questioned me with such gravity and delicacy, while employing some tactics to see if I was contradicting myself or if I was putting one thing in place of another.
Looking at Maria Rosa, he said, I do not know what to say nor what to make of all that!
Later, behind her house, Lucy ran down the slope toward the well. She saw Francisco and Jacinta.
On returning I ran to the well. There they were, the two of them, on their knees, praying. Jacinta rose and ran to Lucy, hugging her.
You see, she cried, we need not be afraid of anything. Our Lady helps us! She is such a friend to us.
But she is sobbing almost uncontrollably as she says this. They went to kneel by the well with Francisco, and are soon lost in talking about the events of that morning.
We had chosen that site as a place to talk, for our fervent prayers, and also to often shed our bitter tears. We mingled our tears with the water from the well, to drink them later at the same source where we had shed them. Would that well not be the image of Mary in whose Heart we dried our tears, and drank of the purest consolation?
All these accounts show the degree of heroic suffering Lucy had to undergo in order to certify the truth of her testimony. But she had a friend in her father, Antonio. That evening near sunset, near the well, he sat alongside her.
Gently he asked her: Listen. Right now you are going to tell me the truth. Yes or no, did you see that Lady at the Cova da Iria? Don't be afraid to say that you didn't see Her; whether you said that for your own amusement and for the people to believe, or whether, simply, you lied. There are many people in the world who lie. That is not important. People will stop going to the Cova and all that will finish.
Well, it is true, replied Lucy. Since I saw Her, how can I say that I did not see Her? And the Lady says She will come again each month until October.
Antonio rose from the well. Tomorrow, very early, you will go with your sheep to the Cova da Iria. I will go with you.
At the first glimmer of dawn, the sounds of sheep led Antonio and Lucy toward the pasture of the Cova, now showing signs of being completely trampled by the repeated crowds.
Twenty bushels of corn lost, as well as the beans and the pumpkins that were sown in the middle (a heavy sigh). Patience!, said Antonio. We will not harvest anything but some olives, acorns or arbutus berries that will be left high on the trees.
Near the holm-oak, Antonio studied the small tree thoughtfully.
Is that where Our Lady appeared?
How many times will Our Lady come?
If, then, Our Lady doesn't come anymore, the people will cease coming, and next year, we will begin again to cultivate the Cova da Iria as before.
Antonio looked pensively at Lucy. What do the people come to do? he asked.
They come to recite the Rosary and everyone wants me to pray with them.
Antonio said affectionately, Well then, say the Rosary also with me.
Yes! she said.
They knelt down before the little holm-oak and took out their Rosaries.
Later Antonio told Maria Rosa, This year we cannot count on the harvest of the Cova da Iria, everything has been destroyed. But, if it is Our Lady Who is appearing there, She will help us.
Maria Rosa shook her head. Our Lady? Would to Heaven it were Our Lady! But no! It is more likely the devil who has introduced himself into our home. We were so happy, and now we are prisoners of those people who come unceasingly to knock at the door, who wish to see the little one and speak to her. If we don't go to get her, they won't leave. If you were here more often, you could help chase them away.
Antonio, with a heavy sigh, said, I would not know what to say to them and I cannot mistreat them in order to make them go away ...
And so the pious and the curious, the wealthy and the poor, continued to make the journey to the homes of the children. So different from today's sophisticated communications systems, people had to leave the comfort of their homes and, without being aware of the extent, greatly added to the discomfort of the dos Santos and Marto households. Lucy's mother, becoming more exasperated each day, only wanted Lucy to admit she was lying about Our Lady's visits so her family's way of living could return to some semblance of normalcy.