Who Is Our Lady of Fatima and Why Are People Honoring Her?

Wednesday is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in the Catholic Church to honor three visions of the Virgin Mary that are said to have appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal.

During the first World War, Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto saw three visions of a figure who later identified itself as the "Angel of Peace" and instructed the children to pray constantly to bring an end to World War I, according to Catholic News Agency.

On May 13, 1917, the children saw a new vision of "a woman all in white, more brilliant than the sun," according to CNA. The woman dressed in white held a rosary and told the children that she came from Heaven. The apparition then appeared to the children five more times. It told the children to pray the rosary every day to end the war, and also told the children that family and friends would not believe that they had seen the vision. During her second appearance, she also said that both Martos children would die and be brought to Heaven soon, but dos Santos would live longer to spread her message.

During the final apparition, the woman revealed who she was to the children. The woman told the children that she was the "Lady of the Rosary" when asked. There were 70,000 other people who gathered at Cova da Iria, where the children had seen Mary, to see the apparition for themselves. According to CNA, the crowd saw the sun perform zig-zagging motions in the sky.

The apparition also shared three prophetic visions with the children. The first was a flash of souls perishing in Hell, accompanied by the apparition asking the children to pray. The second prophecy warned about the second World War and that Russia would start persecuting the Church, if the country was not consecrated by the Virgin Mary. The third secret wasn't revealed until the turn of the century. It was, "The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated," according to CNA. That message has apparently been interpreted as a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, which occurred on May 13—the same day that the children said they witnessed the first vision.

our lady of fatima
An image of the Virgin is seen in the inter-diocesan Seminar "Our Lady of Fatima", where the "national dialogue" is carried out between the sectors of the civil society and the Nicaraguan Government in Managua on June 15, 2018. MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty

Bishop José Alves Correia da Silva declared the visions authentic in 1930, and Pope Pius XII gave canonical coronation to the image of the Virgin Mary at the Chapel of Apparitions.

Both Martos children died during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Dos Santos began school for the Sisters of St. Dorothy in 1922, becoming a nun when she turned 18. She reported occasional visions throughout her life and died in 2005, at the age of 97.

According to the Franciscan Friars, the message of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima is simply to pray. Catholics around the world will honor her by praying the rosary.

Mother of the Lord, Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary, show us the power of your protective mantle. From your arms come the hope and peace of which we are sorely in need. #OurLadyOfFatima

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 13, 2020