Illustração Portugueza, 2.ª série, n.º 610, 29 October 1917
Translated by CPHRC Editorial Services
Breaking a silence of more than twenty years and with the invocation of the days in which we live in a fraternal camaraderie, illuminated by a common faith and strengthened by the same purposes, you ask me to tell you, sincerely and meticulously, what I saw and heard on the moor at Fatima, when the fame of heavenly apparitions brought to that desolate wilderness tens of thousands of people driven more, I believe, by the supernatural than impelled by curiosity or fearful of missing out.
There are Catholics who disagree about the importance and significance of what they witnessed. Some were convinced they had fulfilled obligations from on high; others are dubious about the uncontroversial reality of a miracle. You were a believer in your youth and you are no longer. Family members dragged themselves to Fatima in the colossal wave of people who joined them on October 13. Your rationalism is challenged and you want to establish a secure opinion based on trustworthy accounts such as mine, for I was there only in the performance of a very difficult mission: to provide an impartial report to a leading daily newspaper, O Século, stating only the facts as they unfolded before me and all that was curious and insightful to them. It is not to satisfy your desire, but surely our eyes and ears have not seen or heard different things, and how rare were those who were insensible to the greatness of such a spectacle, unique among us and of any point worthy of consideration and of study.
What did I hear and take with me to Fatima? That after the Feast of the Ascension the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children, two young girls and a boy, urging them to pray and promising to appear there on an oak tree on the 13th of each month until October when she would give them a sign of God’s power and make revelations. The news spread for many leagues and flew from mouth to mouth to the ends of Portugal, and the number of pilgrim believers increased from month to month, until on October 13 some 50,000 people, depending on the calculations of dispassionate individuals, appeared on the moor at Fátima. At the preceding meetings of the faithful, there was no shortage of those who expected to see astronomical and atmospheric events that were taken as evidence of immanent divine intervention. There were those who spoke of a sudden drop in temperature, of stars that appeared in the skies in the middle of the day, and of beautiful clouds surrounding the sun. There were also those who repeated a belief that Our Lady had called for penance, the construction of a chapel at that place where, on October 13, the infinite goodness and omnipotence of God was revealed to all.
This was how, on that celebrated and long-awaited day at Fatima, with all the hardships involved in travelling, thousands flocked there, some walking miles in all weathers, others who were carried in a variety of vehicles, from the almost prehistoric to the most recent and wonderful models of automobiles, and many still who endured the troubles of the third class on the trains, on which many hours were lost travelling relatively small distances long hours — even days and nights! I saw groups of patient women enraptured as if in a dream, as they walked barefoot to the site while singing hymns and chanting the Rosary. The sudden change of temperature, with the rain turning the dust into the mud and when the sweetness of autumn was replaced with the rigour of winter.
Now crowded around the little tree of the miracle, tearing branches to keep as relics, now spread across the moor over which the Leiria road crosses and which is dominated by the most picturesque and heterogeneous competition of cars and people on that memorable day, waiting patiently for the supernatural manifestations, without fearing the cold would harm them, diminishing their splendour and grandeur.
I noticed that discouragement did not invade the soul, but that the confidence remained alive and ardent, despite the unexpected setbacks, and that the composure of the multitude of mostly peasants was perfect. In their opinion, the children were blessed to receive demonstrations of the most intense affection on the part of those who knelt, discovered and prayed at his command as the hour of the “miracle”, the hour of the “sensitive signal”, the mystical hour and the longing for the contact between heaven and earth approached.
And then I no longer imagined I saw anything more impressive than an eager and peaceful crowd animated by a common obsession.