Historical Context of Portugal
When the Queen of Peace came to that country in 1917, it was in a state of complete turmoil: "Economic failure, aggravated still more by the recent entrance into the war, disorder and anarchy, dissensions and murders, assassination attempts which had become everyday occurrences all these created the atmosphere of a real civil war. The Church had been banned from society, reduced to silence, persecuted in every way. In short, Portugal in that hour experienced the darkest period of its history." 1
For over a century Portugal had been steadily declining due to Freemasonry, which dominated government and society. The Portuguese Revolution of 1910 had deposed the ruling monarchy and proclaimed the Republic, which was primarily composed of high-ranking Freemasons. The Church was the prime target during the revolution: Churches were pillaged, convents attacked and religious harassed. The fiercest and most targeted attack, however, came through the anticlerical legislation the Republic passed. Immediately after the proclamation of the Republic, all convents, monasteries and religious orders were suppressed, the religious themselves were personally expelled and their goods confiscated. The Jesuits were forced to forfeit their Portuguese citizenship.
Then laws and decrees that aimed to destroy the countrys morality were passed, one after another: a divorce law was passed; then a law on cremation, on the secularization of cemeteries, abolition of the religious oath, suppression of religious teaching in the schools, and the prohibition of the wearing of the priestly cassock. The ringing of church bells and times of worship were subjected to certain restraints, and the public celebration of religious feasts was suppressed. The government even interfered with the seminaries, reserving the right to name professors and determine the programs. In 1911 the persecutions culminated with the law of Separation of Church and State. The author of these ferocious laws, Alfonso Costa, declared: "Thanks to this law of separation, in two generations Catholicism will be completely eliminated in Portugal." 2 It seemed that this prediction would prove true. But the Freemasons underrated the fervor of the Portuguese faithful and the strength of Pope Saint Pius X.
Saint Pius X rejected all attempts of compromise with Portugals atheistic government, and his strong condemnations of it supported the Church hierarchy in that country. Therefore, with the faithful solidly behind it, the hierarchy steadily refused all compromise with the government, and even publicly resisted it. As a result, the majority of the countrys bishops were exiled and many priests were imprisoned. Yet through the strong leadership of Saint Pius X, the Portuguese Church was able to retain its faith, untainted, and remain united in the midst of this fierce persecution.
The revolution ruthlessly continued its destruction: politically there was anarchy; disorder was everywhere, through strikes and street violence. Canon Barthas summarizes the desolation brought on by the revolution: "Masonic impiety took advantage of the disorder to sow irreligion in the masses. Freedom of worship was hindered by numerous restrictions, the carrying out of apostolic works became almost impossible. The religious orders were suppressed or paralyzed. Moreover, little by little the seminaries emptied, and the clergy, impoverished and chained by restrictive laws, became too scarce to maintain a profound religious life. The Catholic press was suffocated, reduced to a few weeklies in the provinces, without serious influence on the masses.
"The times were evil. The future was even more somber." 3
Many of the Portuguese saw that this desolation in their country was steadily worsening, and that the countrys only possible salvation lay in the mercy of Heaven. Therefore, many of the faithful turned with confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, begging Her through the Rosary Crusade movement to save Portugal.
Then, in 1916, the Angel Guardian of Portugal appeared at Fatima as a Precursor. His appearance demonstrated that God had heard the anguished cries of the Portuguese faithful, and that He soon intended to deliver them.
1. The Whole Truth about Fatima, Volume II: The Secret and the Church. Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité. Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989, p. 303.
2. Declaration to the Congress of Free Thought, March 26, 1911, quoted by Barthas, Merv. XXs, p. 256.
3. Quoted in The Whole Truth about Fatima, Volume II, p. 317.