The most beautiful story in all of history since the birth, death and Resurrection of Our Lord was saved by Heaven for the 20th Century. The whole world knows at least some of the details of the wonders that took place in a pasture in Portugal in the year 1917. Mention the name Fatima and immediately images of the Mother of God, a small holm-oak tree and three small children come to mind. But few people know, much less have been able to understand, the mysterious event that launched the story two years earlier than that.
About 20 years after the great events in the Cova da Iria, Lucy dos Santos, the sole survivor of the three seers of Fatima, began writing her memoirs at the order of her bishop. She would go into the attic of her convent in Tuy, Spain, and there, sitting on a box, would write down her recollections. It was only then that we learned the beginning of the great Fatima adventure had actually taken place in 1915, when Lucy had just turned eight years of age.
The story began with Lucy and her companions from the village of Aljustrel: Teresa Matias and her sister Maria Rosa. Already, at that early age, the children of Fatima had adult duties to perform — on this day, the herding of sheep. The sound of sheep bleating and bells jangling filled the air.
“From what I recall of the weather, I think this must have happened between the months of April and October in the year of 1915. Together with our flocks, we climbed almost to the top of the hill.
Lucy wrote: “At our feet there were olives, oaks, pines, holm-oaks and so on. Around midday, we ate our lunch.
“After, I invited my companions to pray the Rosary with me, to which they agreed. We had hardly begun when, there before our eyes, we saw a figure poised in the air before the trees. It looked like a figure made of snow, almost transparent in the rays of the sun ... a cloud in human form, almost transparent.
Teresa Matias called out, “What is that?”
Maria Rosa answered, “I don’t know.”
“I resolved to say nothing,” continued Sister Lucy, “but my companions told their families what had happened the very moment they reached home. The news spread ...”
Lucy’s mother, the formidable Maria, who was to play such a critical role in the great events to come, in reacting to the first rumors stepped onto the world stage for the first time.
“... My mother questioned me,” is how Lucy described it.
“Look here!” exclaimed Maria, “They say you’ve seen I don’t know what up there. What was it you saw?”
“I don’t know. It looked like a person wrapped in a sheet. You couldn’t make out any eyes or hands on it.”
Alas, for Lucy and her young shepherd friends, they would continue to be the object of jibes and ridicule for, on two more occasions in 1915, the mysterious happening repeated itself.
Village children hurled mockery at the three children.
“Did you see someone wrapped in a sheet?” was the familiar taunt.
After some time the girls were able to return with their flocks to the same place.
Once again the wind, bees and birds of the hillside created a beautiful natural setting for a most unnatural arrival.
Lucy reported, “And the very same thing happened again.”
Her companions once more told the whole story. But that was not the end.
After a brief interval, the same thing was repeated. Later, much later, Lucy would recognize in this mysterious snowy white figure the same angel she was to contemplate again in 1916.
In her Memoirs, Lucy wrote: “It was the third time that my mother heard all these things being talked about ... Some people started making fun of us.”
Lucy was being tested by God and it seemed that she knew, even then, the necessity of keeping some things secret.