By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
CHILLICOTHE — Three children stood awestruck by the gleaming sight of a beautiful lady who appeared out of a cloud. She spoke only to the oldest child, but all three immediately wanted to obey her implicitly. The story of the apparitions and of Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco soon became known and talked about throughout the world. And no, this wasn’t Fatima, Portugal in 1916; this was Chillicothe, Mo., in 2011.
The children and the lady were members of the cast of The Lady, the Children and the Message, a play written by Steve Whitson, a member of St. Columban’s Parish. He had been considering writing a play for the parish and school (Bishop Hogan Memorial) for some time, and had discussed it with Father Tom Hermes, pastor of the parish.
“The Lady, the Children and the Message” was completed last year, and parishioners, students and people from Chillicothe and nearby towns auditioned for roles. The play premiered April 14, with performances April 16 and 17 at Bishop Hogan Memorial School. Whitson, who said he had acting experience in several plays and skits, debuted as director.
Whitson described The Lady, the Children and the Message as a theatrical production that tells the true story of Fatima, Portugal, at the height of the First World War. Three time periods are interwoven to describe the historical events that occurred during those times, and to tell the story of Fatima and its message.
The story, which begins about 1980, is narrated by a fictional author, Lewis Clives, and the character of Sister Lucia, the only one of the children then still alive, who has become a Carmelite nun. Clives is interviewing Sister Lucia for a book, one that will “get to the bottom of the mystery” surrounding Fatima, and their conversations, which all take place during the third time period, lead the audience through the story.
Scenes from the New Testament are depicted in the first time period — the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, including the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, and Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple. Real people were involved in the actual events, and the actors portrayed them as real people, even to Mary and Joseph having a short argument about whose fault it was that Jesus had been lost for three days in Jerusalem.
Lewis Clives: You’re sure this was an actual angel, not just a child’s imagination?
Sister Lucia recalled what she and her cousins witnessed during the late spring and summer of 1916. The Marian apparitions at Fatima, then a small village about 70 miles north of Lisbon, occurred during the second time period.
Sister Lucia: Mr. Clives, not even in the wildest imagination of a child was that angel anything but real, as real to me as I am to you sitting here right now.
During World War I Pope Benedict XV made repeated pleas for peace to the governments of Europe, to no avail. Finally, in May 1917 the pope made a direct appeal to the Blessed Mother to intercede for peace in the world. The response was Mary’s first appearance at Fatima just over a week later. However, it was in the spring of the previous year, 1916, that 10-year-old Lucia Santos, and her younger cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto had their first supernatural vision, perhaps to prepare them for their eventual meetings with Mary. As they were looking after their families’ sheep one day, they saw a dazzling young man, seemingly made of light, who told them he was the Angel of Peace and invited them to pray with him. The angel appeared to the children once more, later in the year.
Sister Lucia: He (the angel) told us to pray and to pray a great deal. He asked us to offer prayers and sacrifices continually to the Most High.
Then on May 13, 1917, the three children took the sheep out to pasture in a small area known as the Cova da Iria. After they had eaten their lunch and prayed the rosary, as they usually did, they suddenly saw a bright lightning-like flash in the clear sky, followed by another flash.
Lucia later said they saw “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water, lit by burning sunlight.” The children stood, awestruck, and the Lady smiled and said: “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you.” Lucia, the spokeschild, asked her where she came from.
The Lady pointed to the sky and said: “I come from heaven.” Lucia then asked her what she wanted: “I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour. Later I shall say who I am and what I desire. And I shall return here yet a seventh time.”
Francisco Marto was eight, almost nine years old, a handsome child who loved to play games. He saw the Lady, but could not hear her. His seven year old sister Jacinta was a pretty charmer, who loved to dance. She was a little willful and would pout if she didn’t get her way. One of her favorite pastimes was gathering armfuls of flowers and making garlands for her cousin, Lucia. Lucia, youngest of the seven Santos children, was an attractive child, a natural leader.
The children tried to follow the Lady’s instructions, but were hampered by the disbelief shown by their parents, the parish priest and nuns, the townspeople and the mayor.
The Lady, the Children and the Message portrayed the difficulties the children faced, the determination they showed in trying to do what the Lady asked of them, and their sincere persistence, which finally won them, and the Lady, tens of thousands of supportive believers. Over the course of the apparitions, the Lady predicted a number of events, requested the building of a chapel in her honor at the Cova, and told Lucia three secrets. Lucia revealed the first two secrets in 1942. The first secret was given in a vision of hell, and how to prevent souls from going there after death. The second secret requested the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and communion of reparation on First Saturdays of each month. The third secret was written down and secreted, not to be revealed until 2000.
Francisco and Jacinta both died of the flu, which devastated Europe in the aftermath of World War I, Francisco in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920. Lucia was educated and became a nun, eventually deciding to join the Carmelites.
Lucia was able to witness many of the Lady’s predictions coming true, including the end of World Wars I and II, the building of a chapel, now a basilica, at the site of the apparitions, and attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition of Fatima. The pope was shot four times and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Aca, a trained Turkish sniper. The pope survived, attributing his recovery to Mary’s protection. He released the Third Secret of Fatima on June 26, 2000, saying that the attempt on his life in 1981 was the fulfillment of the secret.
A month before the release of the secret, Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta, and declared May 13 as the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. Sister Lucia was present for the beatification. She died in 2005, at the age of 97.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI said the Message of Fatima is the most prophetic message of the 20th century. That message asks all mankind for prayer, reparation, repentance sacrifice and the abandonment of sin. It is a simple reminder from Mary to follow her son, Jesus Christ.