In the year 1917, in a mountainous region at the center of Portugal, the Mother of God appeared six times to three young children. Elsewhere on the continent the “Great War” raged, that would cost Europe an entire generation, over 37 million lives. Besides sending her own sons to die (in France and North Africa) Portugal was in political chaos at home. There was a dizzy succession of governments following a revolution in 1910. The monarchy had been replaced by a republic, with a new liberal constitution separating Church from state. Government officials, under the influence of Freemasonry, were not sympathetic to the Faith. But for the people themselves, the Faith was the air they breathed, as in the village of Aljustrel, a collection of whitewashed houses on a dusty road in the parish of Fatima.
There Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were born and raised in homes where the catechism was their daily bread, stories from the Bible their recreation, and the word of the village priest was law. Lucia de Jesus Santos was born, the youngest of seven children, to Antonio and Maria Rosa Santos, on 22 March 1907. She was a plain child with sparkling eyes and a magnetic personality, a natural leader to whom other children looked with confident affection. Blessed with an excellent memory, Lucia was able to learn her catechism, and make her First Communion and Confession, at age six. She herself became a catechist at nine. Lucia would be the constant guide and companion to her first cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, through the trials that accompanied the apparitions of the Blessed Mother...
In rural Portugal of 1916 it would not have been unusual to see children leading their family flocks to pasture. This is what the children of the Marto and Santos families, cousins all, did on many days. Often it was Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, who gladly undertook this chore, grateful for the chance to be outdoors and to play as the sheep silently grazed. They would take their families few sheep to graze on small plots of land owned by their parents in different parts of the sera, the mountainous plateau on which was located the village of Fátima (where the parish church was) and Aljustrel (where the children actually resided).
Two favorite grazing areas were the hillside facing Aljustrel, near an outcropping called Loca do Cabeco (Place of the Head) and the Cova da Iria (Cove of Irene) at some distance beyond Fátima. At first one, then the other, would occur the apparitions which would change the course of the children's lives and the history of the 20th century.
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